Today I was chairing a session on livestock feeds at the All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture. Feed is a key input to livestock systems particularly as systems intensify and the demand for high quality feeds increases.
The session began with a plenary presentation from Michael Blummel of the International Livestock Research Institute (Download his presentation).
Michael’s talk focused on crop residues (CR) as a livestock feed. Crop residues are becoming an increasingly important feed resource for livestock as human population pressure leads to pasture land giving way to arable production. Predictions indicate that CR will account for 60 % of livestock feed dry matter in India by 2020. Despite their importance there has been limited attention to the potential for improving crop residue nutritive value.
The presentation showed the potential for improving stover quality digestibility by use of existing cultivars and through inclusion of stover quality traits in crop breeding programs. The talk also showed the possibilities for formulating “complete diet” feed blocks consisting of 80% crop byproducts which are capable of sustaining per cow milk yields of 12 litres per day. Use of improved crop residues can increase this to 16 litres per day.
Michael’s talk concluded that crop residues are a neglected livestock feed resource in terms of nutritional research and that the way forward is through greater collaboration between livestock nutritionists, crop breeders and the private sector.
The second plenary speaker was Christie Peacock of Farm Africa. Christie’s presentation was titled “Making livestock services accessible to the poor”. She started with a quote: “We do not want to be treated as recipients of aid, we want to be treated as business partners”; this was the sentiment of all the African speakers at last week’s World Food Prize presentation in Des Moines, USA. A show of hands at the conference showed broad agreement with this sentiment – we need to move towards stronger business models for livestock development.
She went on to highlight the various drivers of livestock systems including increased demand for livestock products, land appropriation by private investors and climate change impacts. Livestock are coming in for some bad press especially in the developed world. In Africa we need to acknowledge this and focus on commercializing livestock production in a way which takes account of negative externalities (e.g. climate change) and which does not set livestock in competition with human food production.
Livestock commercialization is a challenge in Africa however because of constraints such as capacity of service providers, physical distance, input price and quality, information and socio-cultural barriers.
Christie argued that there needs to be increased focus on strengthening private sector input supply. Her vision for the future was delivery of services by a dynamic, competent, well-regulated private sector. Currently private sector service delivery is nascent and is often undermined by large development programs.
In her view, Government needs to focus scarce resources on infrastructure and regulatory aspects of input supply. We need new business models that serve the needs of the poor (e.g. the Bottom of the Pyramid approach). Those at the bottom of the pyramid are not just poor recipients of aid but customers for business inputs and need to be recognized as such.
Christie’s talk continued with some examples of application of some of these principles in FARM-Africa’s program. Despite many local successes there are still problems in bringing successful models to scale. Franchising is a promising possibility since it deals with issues such as quality assurance, scalability and economies of scale.
In conclusion, Christie highlighted the need for more enterprise-based development and inclusive business models, innovative public private partnerships and more private investment in order to unlock the potential of livestock for Africa’s livestock keepers.
My reflections on the conference: