Animal Feeding / Feeds / Fodder / Forages

Synthesizing the feed in smallholder systems symposium

Keith Sones writes…

As part of my support to the FAP end-of-project meeting I was asked to synthesise the outputs of the one-day mini symposium on ‘feeds in smallholder systems‘, held on 18 November as part of the wider meeting.

The process for the mini symposium was innovative and useful (and one I plan to borrow for future workshops!): a dozen or so tight food-for-thought presentations delivered in a strict ‘7 slides in 7 minutes’ format, complemented by small group discussions with the presenters which allowed everyone to drill down to the detail.

Although my knowledge of fodder is limited, it was extremely helpful that, as a key part of my current workload as an independent consultant, I have spent much of the past 18 months or so working on the DFID-funded Research Into Use (RIU) programme getting to grips with innovation systems thinking.

At first innovation systems seem very confusing and fuzzy but, with time, some clarity descends – really!

It was encouraging to see that the lessons that are emerging from the RIU programme resonate with the experiences and lessons from FAP – and also its first cousin FIP []: for example, the importance of private sector involvement and the challenges of fulfilling the innovation broker role come out strongly in all three.

Below is the synthesis I presented at the FAP meeting in Luang Prabang, which was strengthened by the incorporation of some very helpful suggestions made by workshop participants. Some participants seemed to find this useful – if you do too, or if you don’t, why not tell us by posting a comment here?

Synthesis – short version…

There is huge complexity in relation to addressing fodder/feed issues within a broader systems approach:

  • (fodder/feed but also: health, breeds/breeding, markets, crops, intersecting value chains, other biomass uses…policy and institutional environment…)

Approaches based on innovation systems principles which are embedded in livestock commodity value chains with in-built flexibility seem to offer advantages over technology transfer or farmer participatory research approaches – but:

  • are difficult!
  • need scarce, highly demanding facilitation/ brokering skills
  • are slow to yield impact
  • are expensive in terms of resources (human and financial)
  • present problems with attribution of impacts
  • and may not be applicable everywhere – seem to work better with more able farmers with better market access ?

Synthesis – longer version

Unstoppable drivers of change:

  • population growth
  • urbanisation
  • income growth
  • livestock Revolution – demand-led growth for meat, milk, eggs
  • climate change
  • increased global trade

All tend to promote intensification – more output per unit; trend to larger production units (with some exceptions, for now at least, eg dairy Kenya and India)

Mixed-crop livestock systems currently produce most food in developing countries


  • huge complexity…
  • incomplete knowledge: e.g. don’t know what feed resources are available
  • bad practices: eg, inappropriate forage species recommended; inappropriate usage of concentrates/supplements
  • sub-optimal research-for-development approaches: technology transfer didn’t work well; some progress made with FPR, but still a challenge; research based on innovation systems principles/embedded in commodity value chains with in-built flexibility shows promise – but is very challenging
  • weaknesses in linkages between research-extension-farmers, and also with private sector
  • livestock ‘bads’: current water usage patterns are not sustainable; greenhouse gas emissions demand action
  • competition for biomass: livestock competing with Conservation Agriculture for crop residues; biofuels…
  • much good research done on feed/fodder – but research knowledge not applied, stays on shelf
  • understanding what farmers want – some appear to be content with status quo; traditional values and functions v. market-oriented foci


We could/perhaps should (in no particular order):

  • recognise smallholder systems are in transit – and may not be sustainable; but need to manage this transition…
  • collect and keep updated information about available feed resources: ‘better information on what’s available is a good starting point for better feed management’
  • promote/facilitate more involvement of private sector at different levels, e.g. forage seed supply; compound/supplement feeds targeted at poor livestock keepers; small business opportunities, eg on-farm pulverising services…
  • have better enforcement of regulations for feed quality, especially compound feeds – but to do this also need better feed testing capacity
  • facilitate better linkages between researchers-extensionists-farmers plus private sector and policy makers – multi-stakeholder networks/platforms may be an effective way to do this
  • develop and make available practical guidelines at farmer level: forage species selection and utilisation; use of feed-food crops; decision-support tools for feeding based on available resources and production levels…and empower farmers to ‘learn by doing’
  • develop guidelines for establishment and facilitation of pro-poor, equitable innovation platforms/multi-stakeholder networks and for scaling up successful innovations (technologies and processes): who leads/facilitates, who are partners, how, where, when…
  • increase capacity for innovation amongst local partners to ensure sustainability
  • produce more biomass, eg with fertilizer, but consider long-term as well as short-term implications/trade-offs – livestock production v. returning residues to fields
  • don’t consider fodder/feed in isolation – but as one possible entry point to bringing about systems change: health, breeds/breeding, input and output markets…
  • create incentives for active participation in networks:
    • farmer – greater productivity, better market access – higher income and improved food security
    • private sector – access new, growing markets; benefit from more enabling environments
    • researchers: interesting new experience/threat, chance to make a difference – but professional evaluations needs to recognise new order; new skills needed – contributors to not leaders of the process
    • extension workers – need to recognise new approach may be a threat but can be an opportunity – need news skills (facilitation)
    • policy makers – opportunity to bring about change – to be more responsive to tax payers/voters
  • develop new ways to capture the lessons and impacts, including behavioural change, long-term changes and unexpected outcomes
  • provide a balanced picture of pros and cons of this approach

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