Improved feeding and forages at a crossroads: Farming systems approaches for sustainable livestock development in East Africa: uri icon

abstract

  • Dairy development provides substantial potential economic opportunities for smallholder farmers in East Africa, but productivity is constrained by the scarcity of quantity and quality feed. Ruminant livestock production is also associated with negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution, high water consumption, land-use change, and loss of biodiversity. Improved livestock feeding and forages have been highlighted as key entry point to sustainable intensification, increasing food security, and decreasing environmental trade-offs including GHG emission intensities. In this perspective article, we argue that farming systems approaches are essential to understand the multiple roles and impacts of forages in smallholder livelihoods. First, we outline the unique position of forages in crop-livestock systems and systemic obstacles to adoption that call for multidisciplinary thinking. Second, we discuss the importance of matching forage technologies with agroecological and socioeconomic contexts and niches, and systems agronomy that is required. Third, we demonstrate the usefulness of farming systems modeling to estimate multidimensional impacts of forages and for reducing agro-environmental trade-offs. We conclude that improved forages in East Africa are at a crossroads: if adopted by farmers at scale, they can be a cornerstone of pathways toward sustainable livestock systems in East Africa.

publication date

  • 2020
  • 2020