On 22 May 2015, the updated FEAST data application and e-Learning course were launched in Addis Ababa (see Alan Duncan’s presentation)
Organizations like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) regularly develop approaches and tools to understand and tackle tough problems. Feeding livestock is one of these challenges and scientists at ILRI and the
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) worked with partners to produce a feed assessment tool (FEAST) to guide decisions on relevant feed interventions.In late 2014, to extend the use of this tool, ILRI upgraded the application and created an e-Learning course on FEAST.
Feed is a key issue in developing world livestock systems upon which at least 500 million smallholder farmers depend. Farmers regularly point to lack of feed as the key limiting constraint to improving their productivity.
Recognizing this, the livestock research and development community has placed considerable emphasis on improving feed supply. The standard approach has been “technology promotion” focusing on a limited number of fairly standard feed interventions including planted forages, treatment and chopping of residues and supply of concentrate feeds.
Often what is promoted does not achieve success and tends to fizzle out as projects end. The reasons for this include: researcher-driven solutions are often not suitable for the local context and do not really deal with the key constraints, farmers and other local stakeholders are often not closely involved in the selection and design of feed interventions, and, finally, classical feed interventions regularly fail to take account of wider system constraints such as labour, markets and input supply. The result is that well-meaning feed interventions don’t take off or they fade away once project inputs withdraw.
What is FEAST?
The feed assessment tool – FEAST – is a way to tackle these failures. It emerged from work by scientists at ILRI and CIAT who concluded that a more systematic approach to assessing feed contexts and issues was needed. It starts by recognizing that involvement of farmers and other local stakeholders in processes to design feed interventions is key. It is based on the notion that having the right conversations with the right people in a systematic way could help design more promising feed interventions. FEAST was developed with these in mind.
FEAST (the feed assessment tool) is a systematic approach to understanding the overall feeding system and thinking with farmers and other stakeholders about possible interventions. The approach has a number of elements.
First, focus group discussions are held with the local community which involve asking some key questions about the overall farming system, livestock holdings, feed resources, labour issues and so on. This discussion leads to sharper constraint and solution identification.
Second, a sub-set of farmers completes a short farm-level survey and the data from this standardized survey is entered into the FEAST data application.
Third, the application generates a series of standard charts, figures and tables which are used to populate a FEAST Report. This guides discussion on interventions and priorities.
When was FEAST developed?
FEAST originated in the IFAD-funded Fodder Adoption Project (https://feeding-innovation.ilri.org/?s=fap). Project staff realized the need for a simple tool to guide feed interventions and a dedicated workshop was convened in Hyderabad, India in 2009. There were different views among participants about what the tool would look like. Some felt that a quantitative questionnaire-based approach was the most promising while others believed that the tool should be based around participatory rural appraisal approaches. What resulted was a mixture of the two: a structured questionnaire generating simple graphics to illustrate some of the feed issues along with a structured conversation with farmers to tease out the subtleties of their situation.
The tool was further developed by interns, CGIAR staff and partners through various other projects including in Ethiopia, India and Kenya. Key projects that contributed to this included the East Africa Dairy Development project, Africa RISING, the Livestock and Fish CGIAR research program in Ethiopia, the MilkIT project in India and Tanzania, the Ethiopia Livestock Feeds project, and the HumidTropics CGIAR research program.
The tool has improved greatly through this collaborative development from a fairly ugly excel spreadsheet through to a macro-driven excel program to the latest version which does not rely on proprietary software and is database driven giving future options for data aggregation.
The focus group discussion guide has also been refined through extensive use to arrive at its current form. The tool continues to evolve through use.
It continues to be made openly accessible to the world as a public good application.
Where has FEAST been used?
The FEAST software has been downloaded in more than 20 countries and used in at least 12. Half the users are researchers with the remainder extension personnel, NGO’s and others. With development of a new suite of learning material around the use of FEAST we expect its uptake to increase.
FEAST is especially useful when researchers or development people first think about engaging with a community around feed interventions. Many ILRI feed projects now begin with a FEAST assessment to lay the groundwork for subsequent feed interventions in action research mode.
FEAST, so what?
FEAST was originally conceived as a decision support tool to help researchers, local communities and other livestock stakeholders think through feed intervention strategies.
The tool provides ideas for interventions that are appropriate, locally owned and which fit the local context.
As the tool has been applied, one of its strengths has been the way it encourages good conversations among researchers, extension agents and farmers around the feed issues in a particular location. These lead to good decisions.
An added and perhaps more important benefit is that application of FEAST and the process of engaging farmers in conversation around feed issues can lead to broader thinking among researchers and other “higher-level” stakeholders. These conversations can lead to better understanding among feed professionals of the constraints under which farmers operate and the feed interventions that result are therefore, we hope, more sensible.
Where next for FEAST?
While FEAST has proven itself as a useful community engagement and feed assessment and diagnosis tool (https://feeding-innovation.ilri.org/2015/02/16/milkit-feast), it is just an input to design and deliver actual interventions and changes that improve livelihoods and food security for livestock keepers.
- FEAST is being combined with another tool – TechFit (https://feeding-innovation.ilri.org/techfit) – that guides recommended feed interventions for different situations.
- The FEAST approach more generally and its specific use has been turned into a blended e-learning course for wider uptake and use of the tool.
- A FEAST aggregated open data platform is being built as a location to document, share and analyze the various data generated through the various FEAST surveys.
- Other livestock disciplinary communities are looking at FEAST as an approach to help understand and address other problems related to animal genetics and health.
The FEAST web site at https://www.ilri.org/feast gives access to all the various tools and documents.
All reports, documents and other information materials are accessible through the FEAST repository at https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/16490.
ILRI and partner work ad news on feeds is reported and shared at http://feeding-innovation.ilri.org. See especially the many reports on the development of FEAST at https://feeding-innovation.ilri.org/tag/feast.
ILRI’s new e-learning platform that hosts the FEAST blended learning course is at https://learning.ilri.org.
FEAST was originally developed by ILRI and CIAT. It has been tested and further developed together with many partners and projects in South Asia as well as East and West Africa. Supporters of the ongoing testing and development of the tool include ACIAR, the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, the Humidtropics CGIAR research program, the Water, Land and Ecosystems CGIAR research program, and USAID (through the Africa RISING program). Development of the e-learning course was supported by the Humidtropics CGIAR research program.