Uptake of improved feeding strategies to support market-oriented livestock production does not happen readily in the Ethiopian Highlands. Livestock tend to be fed opportunistically with what is available and a large proportion of the diet is composed of low quality material such as crop residues.
There are many valid reasons for this. See for example here. Feed interventions promoted by development people often fail to take account of the hidden constraints faced by smallholder livestock keepers. These constraints often relate to livelihood endowments – things like financial, human and social capitals. For example, the classic example of an oft promoted but consistently unsuccessful feed intervention is the treatment of straw with urea. There are very few cases in Africa where urea treatment of straw is spontaneously adopted by farmers. Why? Because urea and associated inputs (plastic sheeting or concrete) is expensive and beyond the pocket of many farmers (financial capital) and because the practice requires some skill to succeed (human capital).
If feed interventions are to succeed and take root we need a rapid way of assessing farm level livelihoods and targeting interventions based on the findings. Here at ILRI we have gone some way towards this in the development of the Techfit tool. This tool attempts to score intervention sites according to a series of “context attributes” – things like labour availability, land availability, credit availability and so on. The tool then matches those context scores with a list of candidate feed technologies to come up with a short list of promising options.
We plan to take these ideas further through a new project funded under the Africa RISING programme. Africa RISING recently funded an ‘early win’ project in Ethiopia led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). The project which we are calling Quick Feeds builds on the ongoing Ethiopian Livestock Feed (ELF) Project. This time we will take some of the feed assessment tools we have been developing: FEAST, Techfit and value chain analysis and put them into an overall livelihoods framework. We plan to develop some farm typologies based on livelihood capitals and then apply the feed assessment tools to different farm typologies. We hope this will help to uncover some of the reasons why different feed interventions are suited to different farm types.
The inception meeting for this project will be on 7-8 May on the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. Watch for further updates after that meeting.