The road back to Rio: Turning straw into gold — Crop ‘wastes’ at the heart of greener livestock development

Cow consumes the wastes of a crop harvest in West Bengal

A West Bengal cow consumes straw (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Key findings were presented today on ways to enhance the value of coarse crop ‘wastes’—better termed ‘residues’—as feed for cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats and other ruminant farm animals. The talk was given at a ‘learning event’ that is part of Agriculture Day at the Rio-20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Carlos Seré, former director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) now serving as chief strategist for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), delivered this presentation on behalf of Michael Blümmel, an animal nutritionist based in ILRI’s office in Hyderabad, India, who could not make the event as scheduled.

The gist of the presentation is that wheat and rice straw, maize stover, groundnut haulms and other residues of crops that remain after their grain or pods have been harvested for human consumption are major feed resources for livestock in developing countries. Widespread and increasing shortages of arable land and water in these countries are increasing the importance of these crop residues for livestock feed, and their importance will only increase over the coming decades as human population grows and as more and more people move out of poverty and begin adding more milk and meat to their diets.

In recent years, livestock and crop improvement researchers have worked together to improve the fodder value, in terms of both quantity and quality, of crop residues at their source. They’ve done this in crop improvement programs that incorporate fodder traits in crop selection, breeding and new cultivar release criteria. Key cereals and legumes are tackled and both conventional and molecular breeding techniques are employed. Fodder traders and feed processors have started employing additional interventions to further improve the superior crop straws and stover.

The following examples illustrate the many promising findings from this collaborative fodder research.

01  Nutritionally significant variations exist in crop residue fodder value among existing cultivars that can be exploited through simple phenotyping without detriment to primary crop traits such as grain and pod yields.
As a ballpark figure, 5 percentage units in digestibility can be exploited in crop residue fodder quality without detriment to gain or pod yield in all key cereal and leguminous crops. The advantage of daily milk yield accruing from 5% difference in digestibility of basal diet in well designed ration is about 5 kg per day due to a multiplicator effect from both higher energy concentration in the diet and higher intake.

02  Simple and network-sharable food/feed/fodder nutritional phenotyping techniques have been established, such as near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) platforms that support whole-plant crop improvement paradigms and programs.
ILRI NIRS platforms in India and Ethiopia are being used by other research programs (e.g., the new CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish) and research organizations (e.g., the International Center from Tropical Agriculture and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas). Staff of national agricultural research institutions from the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have been trained in the NIRS technology and have access to network-shared NIRS equations. NIRS is increasingly being used to test for more qualitative grain traits such as lysine, tryptophan, iron, zinc and polyunsaturated fatty acids, with the aim of optimizing whole plants. This collaborative research is facilitating the analysis of 50 to 100 cultivars every day and gaining information about all their pertinent grain and crop residue traits.

03  Fodder value can be further increased through conventional crop breeding (such as recurrent selection) and molecular crop breeding (such as quantitative trait loci [QTL] identification and backcrossing).
Identification of stay-green QTLs and their backcrossing into elite sorghum varieties could increase stover digestibility by 3 to 5 percentage units while also increasing the sorghum plant’s drought resistance and water-use efficiencies.

04  In mixed crop-and-livestock agricultural production systems, the rates of adoption of new crop cultivars improved for both food and feed/fodder traits appear to be better than that for adoption of new cultivars improved for food traits only.
In a recent maize project in East Africa, farmers ranked stover traits 2.4 and grain yield 2.9 on a scale of 3. Farmers were most likely to adopt new maize cultivars that had improved stover as well as grain traits. Anecdotal  evidence from groundnut adoption studies in India suggests that farmers prefer relatively small additive advantages—say 10% more pod + 10% more haulm + 10% more haulm quality—over (often theoretical) drastic increases in pod yield.

05 Participants in fodder value chains for straw and stover profit from superior straw and stover.
Price premiums for 3 to 5 percentage units in digestibility are in the range of 10 to 30%. There is higher demand for higher quality crop residues and superior sorghum stover is now regularly transported more than 400 km in parts of India. There are significant employment opportunities in harvesting, chopping, transporting and selling these crop residues.

06  Further improvement of superior straw and stover, in the form of supplementation, fortification or densification, can be done in feed processing, with productivity levels achieved from such processed but largely by-product-based feeds being four or more times greater than current levels of production.
Complete rations based on more than on 80% by-products (50–60% straws and stovers) can support 15–16 kg of milk daily in dairy buffaloes, about 1 kg live-weight gain in cattle and 120–130 g in sheep. Complete rations are suitable for smallholder farmers because the rations need not entail complex feed processing options; simply chopping and supplementing residues can suffice.

07  Increasing current yields of animals in India, such as by doubling the average daily yield of 3.6 kg of milk (across buffalo, crossbred and local cattle herds), would reduce levels of greenhouse gases dramatically, decreasing methane emission from dairy production by more than 1 million tons per year.
This is straightforward; increasing average daily milk yields in India from 3.6 to 6 to 7 kg per animal per day would reduce methane production from dairy animals relative to the same amount of milk produced by about 1 million tons per year.

In addition, there are good prospects for mainstreaming such multi-dimensional crop improvement outputs. For example, new CGIAR Research Programs (such as those on maize, rice, dryland cereals, and grain legumes) have already adopted the approach and have incorporated fodder value as high-priority traits in these crops.

Read more
Read more about the context for this livestock feeds learning event at Agriculture Day at Rio+20 on this ILRI News Blog:
The Road Back to Rio: ‘LivestockPLUS Learning Event’ shows how better feed reduces poverty AND livestock ‘hoofprints’, 18 Jun 2012.

Follow the presentations and discussions of this learning event on Twitter as @agricultureday and check updates via the Twitter-tags #RioPlus20 and #Rio4Ag and the Facebook page for ARDD. You can also follow CGIAR at Rio on this landing page on the CGIAR Consortium website.

Read more about ILRI’s crop residue research:
Dual-purpose groundnut, pigeonpea, millet and sorghum raise milk yields in dairy-intensive India, 8 Apr 2012.

Food-feed crops research: A synthesis, 17 Jan 2011.

The road back to Rio: ‘LivestockPLUS Learning Event’ shows how better feed reduces poverty AND livestock ‘hoofprints’

NP Llanos51_lo

Cattle graze on Colombia's eastern plains, or Llanos (photo on Flickr by CIAT/Neil Palmer).


Several hundred people in Rio de Janeiro today will be discussing and debating a topic not often included in high-profile meetings. The topic is how we can use improved livestock feed to reduce both poverty and climate change.

The discussions today will take place at one of 13 ‘learning events’ that are part of an Agriculture and Rural Development Day at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Staff from CGIAR  Centres are helping to organize and are participating in events throughout this day.

Given that the key messages of this particular learning event run counter to much current thinking about livestock, the participants will share and discuss scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefits of improved feeding practices, particularly their potential for contributing significantly to climate change mitigation while improving livestock production.

On the table today are both fodders, coarse foods composed of entire plants or the leaves and stalks of cereal crops, and bulky grass or hay forages. The learning event, titled ‘LivestockPlus—How can sustainable intensification of livestock production through improved feeding practices help realize both livelihood as well as environmental benefits?’, will deliver the following three fundamental messages.

New feeding practices can increase livestock production while decreasing its ecological ‘hoofprint’

New livestock feeding practices, like the use of improved dual-purpose crops and high-quality forages, offer significant potential for sustainable intensification of agricultural production to enhance livelihoods while also reducing livestock’s ecological ‘hoofprint’.

Improved forages, like forests, will capture carbon

Improved tropical forages offer the further advantage of sequestering large amounts of carbon—on a scale similar to that of forests—with the possibility of reducing emissions of nitrous oxide and methane per unit of livestock product. There is evidence that the potential of sown forages to sequester carbon (assuming good pasture and livestock management) is second only to that of forests and that sown forages could realize 60–80% of agriculture’s total potential to mitigate climate change.

Better feeding practices will allow mixed crop-livestock farmers to produce more food more sustainably

If widely applied by the vast army of ‘mixed’ smallholder farmers, who raise livestock as well as grow crops, and who are the mainstay of global food security, improved livestock feeding practices could deliver huge increases in food production at reduced environmental cost against a background of rising livestock production and consumption in the developing world.

The result of numerous global initiatives and extensive testing, this work offers practical examples of how improved feeds can raise the production and incomes of smallholder farmers. Superior forage grasses widely adopted in Latin America, for example, already generate up to USD4 billion in Brazil alone. And improved tropical forages have also been adopted widely in Southeast Asia since the start of their promotion in 1995. A recent review indicates that continued adoption of improved feeds, including sown forages, could significantly reduce greenhouse gases on a global scale, while enhancing the livelihoods of the one billion people dependent on livestock-cropping systems.

What remains to be done
To scale up these improved feed resources so that they contribute to a transformed food system, we need more precsie understanding of the impacts of livestock on climate change, with the impacts differentiated by specific livestock-cropping systems, as well as of the potential for improved feeding practices to mitigate climate change. To make livestock and crop production in the tropics more climate friendly through improved feeding practices, smallholders must be given stronger incentives to market their livestock products and to sequester carbon through improved land management. Smallholders might be encouraged to adopt sown (and carbon-storing) forages, for example, through schemes instituted to pay them for the environmental services they provide.

What could be achieved
With donor support for research to obtain conclusive data and to provide policymakers with support for their decision-making, a functional system for implementing the LivestockPlus concept and associated strategies could be available within the next 5–6 years.

The program for this learning event
The program for this learning event includes a keynote presentation on the role of forages and livestock production in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by CIAT soil scientist and agroecologist Aracely Castro; this keynote will be followed by three short case-study introductions on the following topics.

Carbon sequestration in livestock production for climate change mitigation: Implications for policy development in Brazil, presented by Embrapa beef cattle researcher Davi José Bungenstab.

Livestock production and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia: Technical innovation for environmental and livelihood benefits, presented by Carlos Seré, former director general of ILRI and now chief strategist for IFAD (note: Seré is speaking on behalf of ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel).

Climate-smart silvopastoral systems for a green livestock economy, presented by CATIE director Muhammad Ibrahim.

These case study presentations will be followed by parallel group discussions on each of the three cases to answer such questions as:
What are the main research findings that support the technological or policy innovation, including evidence of livelihood and environmental benefits?
What were key lessons learned from the research leading to this innovation?
What are the requirements for scaling it up?

The session will close with a moderated panel discussion in plenary with the keynote speaker and case study presenters.

Institutions involved
CATIE is a regional centre of excellence based in Costa Rica that works on solutions for the environment and development in rural communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

CIAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Colombia, works to increase the eco-efficiency of agriculture to reduce hunger and poverty and to improve human health in the tropics.

EMBRAPA is the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, which works for the sustainable development of Brazilian agribusiness.

ILRI, the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Africa, works to reduce hunger, poverty, ill health and environmental degradation through enhanced livestock systems for poor people in the developing world.

Presenters at the event
This learning event will be chaired by Elcio Guimarães, who is director of research for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Discussions at the session will be summarized by Nathan Russell, a key organizer of this session who leads corporate communications work at CIAT. One of the three scheduled case study speakers, Michael Blümmel of ILRI, is unable to attend; his presentation will be made by Carlos Seré, former director general of ILRI and now chief strategist for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Follow the event on the web
Today, 18 Jun 2012, proceedings of the Agriculture and Rural Development Day will be webcast live (the event takes place from 11.30–13.00 Rio time), and you can ask questions and interact with the organizers via Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow the presentations and discussions of this learning event on Twitter as @agricultureday and check updates via the Twitter-tags #RioPlus20 and #Rio4Ag and the Facebook page for ARDD. You can also follow CGIAR at Rio on this landing page on the CGIAR Consortium website.