Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Insight needed to improve livestock feeding practices

Greater understanding of smallholder farmers’ experiences could help improve livestock feeding and aid productivity and income, research shows.

Research is needed on improving feeding practices for livestock, to enable increased productivity and boost livelihoods for smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, a study has found.

There is a lack of evidence of how changes to livestock feeding – such as altering the type of feed or how it is distributed – may lead to improved incomes, according to a comprehensive review of research.

Better insight would support steps towards improved feeding, which is recognised as key for improving productivity in livestock for many of the 1 billion farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America who depend on livestock for their livelihoods.

Studies assessment

A team of researchers, led by the International Livestock Research Institute, assessed evidence from previous studies on improved livestock feed options implemented by small-scale producers.

Their study was carried out under the Ceres2030 initiative, which aims to bring together experts in science and policy to target world hunger, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2, of Zero Hunger.

Smallholder management

The team was surprised to find that from more than 22,000 studies relating to the topic of feed interventions, only a handful addressed the impact of the changes.

These took into account evidence of changed practices, the effect the change had on livestock productivity, and how it affected farmers’ livelihood.

They recommend that in making improvements to feeding, a key step is understanding smallholder farmers’ experience and identifying farmers who are likely to make the necessary technological investments.

Those involved in supporting farmers to improve livestock production should consider whether farmers are likely to use their available land and labour resources for purposes other than feeding animals, the team found.

Whether farmers have the social and economic incentives and knowledge to succeed should also be a consideration, the research showed.

The study, published in Nature Plants, was carried out in collaboration the Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security in the UK, Cornell University in the US, the College of Business Education in Tanzania and the international Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia.

Productivity in smallholder farming in developing countries is low – cow milk yields in Western Europe are 20 times higher than in Eastern Africa – and improved livestock feeding has been identified as the most important step towards higher productivity. It’s important that we seek to understand how best to make changes that will benefit farmers and their animals.

Professor Alan DuncanGlobal Academy for Agriculture and Food Security

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