The ILRI 2019 Annual Report> It begins in the lab

AVCD/Muthoni Njiru
A farmer in Siaya County, Kenya, feeds her cow improved forage grass

Improved forages: A life changer for East Africa’s pig and dairy farmers

A gendered approach to livestock forage projects helped improve livelihoods for men and women pig and dairy smallholder farmers

By Ben Lukuyu, Irene Mutambo, Emily Ouma, Julius Githinji and Alessandra Galiè

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners collaborated on a study of two projects—one of pig smallholder farmers in Uganda and the other of smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya—to better understand gender dynamics in planted forages work. The study found that introducing improved forages resulted in improved livestock productivity, and, for both women and men, reduced labour burden associated with sourcing of feeds, and created time savings that are spent on other farm and non-farm enterprises. In the dairy sites in Kenya, use of improved forages also created a new income stream through the sale of forages.

I receive additional income from the sale of hay, milk and fresh fodder. I even earn Kenyan shillings 2,000 in a day. I do not borrow money from my relatives anymore.

Both the Ugandan and Kenyan projects aimed to provide the smallholder farmers with opportunities to improve forage production through reduced labour burden, low feed costs, prevention of soil erosion, and effective utilization of the available small land sizes for cultivation. The projects’ objective was to improve pig and dairy productivity through forage feeding options and increase profitability among livestock farmers through the forage marketing income stream.

A woman stands in her field of Kakamega 2 variety Napier grass in Musanze district, Rwanda. (photo credit: ILRI/Ben Lukuyu).

The study focused on Kamuli, Masaka and Hoima districts in Uganda and Vihiga, Migori and Siaya counties in Kenya. It used a qualitative approach implemented through 18 focus groups of 145 (105 men and 140 women) farmers in total: Twelve single-sex groups of men and women and six mixed-gender groups, selected to be representative of the regions under consideration. The mixed gender group discussions were held to explore the emerging and at time contradictory issues that came up during the single sex-groups.

The outcome assessment survey focused on three key issues:

1. Time spent on cultivated improved planted forages as compared to collected forages:

Because they did not have to spend as much time searching for forage, the pig and dairy smallholder farmers had time to engage in other social and economic activities such as volunteer work at local community projects, attending women’s group meetings and participating in church activities. The saved time also allowed women to engage in handicraft and other business enterprises like selling in shops, as one man in Uganda told us:

We use the saved time to meet with our friends and socialize and engage in other farming and non-farm enterprises like poultry farming and other business, like brick laying. Personally, I am a trader of coffee, so I wake up to harvest the forage, chop and then begin my movements in the village and search for coffee.

A woman in Kenya also emphasized the importance of time saving:

The time I used to spend going to collect fodder has reduced because my forage garden is close. I harvest, chop and feed my animals. Before I would use up to six hours in search for feeds. But now, if I go to the shamba (her farm) I use less time.

2. The labour burden of collecting forages by women and youth/children affect different domains of women’s social and economic empowerment

Both men and women reported increased income from the sale of milk, pigs and forage seedlings/splits and increased manure as a result of improved forages. This enabled women to meet their basic domestic needs such as buying groceries and clothes for their children and paying school fees and medical bills. As one of them noted, ‘I receive additional income from the sale of hay, milk and fresh fodder. I even earn 2,000 shillings in a day. I do not borrow money from my relatives anymore. Even if someone called me right now asking for fodder, it is available’. Additionally, women and men easily feed their cows and pigs better because of an adequate availability of forages: ‘It reduces expenses on pig feeds. Money spent on buying feeds is saved since there is readily available feed.’

3. The forage production increases women’s inclusion in the dairy and pig value chain

Adequate feeds have facilitated an increase in milk production both for sale and home consumption. This has the potential to improve nutrition among families because household members are able to consume more milk. As one Kenyan woman told us: ‘For my case, fodder production has contributed to high milk production due to availability of quality forage for my animals throughout the year. Yes, additional activities in fodder production and preparation and dairy management have led to additional benefit in terms of increased milk production from 1 litre/cow/day to 5 litres/cow/day’.

Introducing improved forages resulted in improved livestock productivity, reduced labour burden associated with sourcing of feeds, and created time savings

ln addition, farmers reported an increase in the quantity of manure. The manure is used to fertilize cropping land, thereby increasing yields from their gardens. This can contribute to food security within households. As one male farmer told us, ‘‘There is more manure now, and I use it to fertilize my shamba, which has increased my crop yield. For example, before I would harvest just one or two sacks of maize but now the yield has increased to four sacks’.

Overall, the results from this work contributes to a better understanding of how better forages improve the quality of life for affected farmers. This is because the study revealed that planting improved forages provides year-round access to good-quality feeds, increases both the quantity and quality of animal feed while reducing feed costs, reduces the labour needed to both source feed and feed livestock, increases milk and manure production and saves time for both women and men. These benefits have improved the livelihoods, nutrition and incomes of East Africa’s pig and dairy smallholder farmers.

Better lives through Livestock

How the other half works:
Making a living with livestock

International Livestock Research Institute2019 Annual Report

Photo credit: ILRI/Georgina Smith
Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general (l) with ILRI board chair Lindsay Falvey(photo credits: ILRI/Alexandra de Athayde and ILRI/Susan MacMillan)


We are publishing the 2019 annual report of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) during a global pandemic whose impacts on human health and the global economy have already proven catastrophic. Both COVID-19 and recent events around the world have shown that inequalities of various kinds—social, racial and economic, among others—remain powerful forces that need to be addressed. At ILRI, we are committed to ensuring that our research on livestock contributes in a multitude of ways to addressing the current crisis, from preventing future pandemics to helping those most impacted by the present one. We are working on livestock solutions that help re-ignite economies, support health and nutrition, and build up sustainable and resilient food systems in the poorer parts of the world.

This report’s focus on gender is especially timely. Few societies in the world are free from inequalities arising from gender, as few are free from inequalities of race, status and multiple other kinds of division.

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A gendered lens: Women, men and the future of livestock

Picture a livestock keeper in the developing world. In all likelihood, you are visualizing a man, perhaps herding cows and goats across a savanna or ploughing a piece of farmland with bullocks. The very term ‘animal husbandry’—which refers to the care, cultivation and breeding of animals—denotes masculine qualities, deriving as it does from late Old English (‘male head of a household’). But of course, it is not only men who keep livestock.

In fact, some two-thirds of the developing world’s hundreds of millions of poor livestock keepers are women, not men. In these countries, women, not men, perform most of the work in farm and herding households that goes into caring for animals. It is these women, not their menfolk, who do most of the day-to-day farm animal management as well as the processing, marketing and selling of the milk and eggs their animals produce. And it is developing-country women, not men, who typically make daily household decisions regarding a family’s chickens and other small stock.

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Nicoline de Haan, ILRI gender team leader(photo credit: CGIAR CRP on Water, Land and Ecosystems)

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The animals they keep

Feature stories highlighting ILRI's gender work

ILRI is a research-for-development institute, dedicated to a world free of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. Its projects and initiatives reach beyond the library or the laboratory to the real world. The four stories that follow depict with journalistic flair and photographic detail the opportunities and challenges facing women and men building a better future for themselves through livestock.

The CGIAR gender platform

A renewed platform on gender aims to give greater voice to women farmers in the developing world Hosted by ILRI, the multi-centre collaborative effort will focus on gender equality and transformative food systems

Women farmers in the developing world face a host of challenges, from balancing domestic and agricultural chores to securing access to land and markets. To help women achieve gender equality in food systems, and to sustainably defeat hunger and enhance nutrition, CGIAR has launched a CGIAR GENDER Platform. The platform aims to create a ‘new normal’-a world in which greater gender equality drives more equitable, sustainable, productive and climate-resilient food systems.
ILRI is proud to serve as host for a new CGIAR-wide platform on gender issues in global agricultural research for development. Known as GENDER (Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results), the platform aims to help transform the way gender research is done, both within and beyond CGIAR, and to help kick-start a process of genuine change towards greater gender equality and better lives for smallholder farmers everywhere.

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, stated, 'GENDER is well positioned to produce far-reaching and enduring impacts because it will aim to give a voice to the millions of women who today are mostly excluded from the extremely urgent efforts to produce enough, and good enough, food under the climate crisis. Only when both women and men are empowered to transform food systems can they successfully nourish families, communities and entire nations, today and in the future.'
Launched in January 2020, GENDER builds on a wealth of research and learning generated by the previous CGIAR Gender Network and the Collaborative Platform for Gender Research (2011–2019). It includes all 14 CGIAR research centres, 12 collaborative CGIAR research programs and 3 other CGIAR system-wide research support platforms and will forge alliances with change-makers in government, academia, national agricultural research extension systems and non-governmental organizations.

ILRI's gender team

It begins in the lab

But extends to the field

Fighting animal disease, planting better forages, preventing the dangerous spread of antimicrobial-resistant infections and improving food safety all require meticulous scientific work. ILRI’s biosciences division provides researchers with the time and resources to carry out that painstaking research. These stories show how ILRI is working to find solutions that will progressively reduce poverty and improve human health.

Building for the future

Making tomorrow’s breakthroughs possible

Tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs can only happen if we invest in people and institutions today. ILRI maintains a variety of programs to enhance mission effectiveness and stimulate global research on livestock in the developing world. Its internship program has hosted scores of undergraduate interns from the world over—the next generation of livestock scientists. Its Ethiopia campus provides a model of how CGIAR centres can work synergistically. And its pioneering genotyping platform is helping scientists throughout Africa to modernize and strengthen breeding programs.

The right policies

The science of livestock systems

Because they are embedded in structures that extend from the family home to global trade, the economics, policies and social science of livestock systems remain ILRI's focus. ILRI’s scientists are helping the Kenyan government develop land-use policies to ensure a viable future for the country’s millions of pastoralists. They are identifying sustainable, bottom-up, stakeholder-led interventions in livestock value chains. And they are ensuring that farmers in Africa participate in climate-smart solutions that maximize productivity while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

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Top 2019 science journal articlesfrom ILRI programs