Supporting participatory livestock feed improvement using the Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST)
Livestock production is central to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, but livestock are often poorly fed which limits their potential for reducing poverty. Efforts to improve livestock nutrition are often driven by supply-push thinking and fail to engage meaningfully with farmers and the realities they face. The Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) was developed as a way of involving farmers more closely in decision making on livestock feed improvement. FEAST is a participatory tool which uses focus group discussions and individual farmer interviews to develop a broad overview of the livestock farming system. FEAST has been applied in many countries in the last 10 years. Examples of intensive use come from the Accelerated Value Chain Development Project in Kenya and the Rwanda Dairy Development Project in Rwanda. In both cases the tool was used to inform feed options with strong input from farmers. Although the primary purpose of FEAST is to support improved feed strategies at farm level, the data collected through the FEAST app and published in FEAST reports are a rich information resource that can be useful for developing broader system-level understanding of livestock feed issues. FEAST data can be uploaded into a global data repository where they are available for researchers. These data are also used to generate visualizations of key feed metrics further extending the use of secondary data. FEAST is an example of a participatory tool that moves decision making in the direction of farmers, while providing insights to researchers working across farming systems. Its widespread use across many countries is an indication that it fills a gap in in the livestock feed development space. Its novelty lies in bridging the knowledge gap (both ways) between livestock researchers and small-scale livestock keepers.