Smallholder farmer Tesfaye Aregawi runs a farm on a small plot of irrigable land and a dairy cow in Hadish-Hiwot kebele, in Tigray Region. Tesfaye has recently adopted an uncommon irrigation farming practice – he grows Alfalfa on a plot of about 300 square-meters for his dairy cow alongside his high-value vegetable crops. Allocating irrigable plots for fodder production has until now been unthinkable among smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. Neither do smallholder farmers grow sole fodder crops in rain-fed agriculture, where lower-value cereals are produced.
Tesfaye’s story is not an isolated one. Quite a number of farmers in LIVES intervention kebeles have opted to grow fodder in their irrigation and rain-fed plots. For instance, Gebretsadik Abay in Dura kebele, Tigray is delighted that his crossbred heifer conceived at an early age of 20 months, which he attributes partly to feeding alfalfa from his irrigated plot. Similarly, a woman farmer, Lemlem in Genfel kebele, Tigray grows Alfalfa under her irrigated fruit trees, a land which is normally used to grow food crops. She believes that supplementing her cow’s daily ration with Alfalfa increased daily milk production by about one liter. Fodder production in croplands is not limited to Alfalfa only. Grasses are also creeping onto croplands. In Amhara region in Enguti kebele, where LIVES introduced efficient delivery of AI through hormone-synchronization of estrus, farmers like Addis Alemu and Sintayehu Sinishaw, among others, allotted about 225 square-meters of their irrigated land to Napier grass production.
Likewise, farmer Tafere Zemene in Debremawi village decided to grow a productive Rhodes grass in his rain-fed plot of 1500 square meters. The farmer plans to set aside part of his grass plot for seed production thereby providing a source of input for other farmers.
Besides growing sole fodder crops in croplands, other innovative entry points for fodder production are being sought by farmers. No ‘wasteland’ is actually wasted by farmers like Keshi Tewolde-Birhan who lives in Dura kebele, Laelay-Maichew district, Tigray and grows Alfalfa & Napier grass on a 260 square-meter gully. Awareness is rising among farmers coached by LIVES and livestock production is becoming a market-oriented business for them.
What is driving the winds of change in fodder and livestock production? A thorough inquiry may be required to understand the driving forces. However there seems to be two obvious reasons. Farmers may be forced to seek for other sources of feed in the face of dwindling grazing resources. Yet, a shift in livestock development approach might have also played a significant role. Livestock development approach includes coaching of farmers on knowledge-based livestock development and linking them up with input suppliers such as fodder planting materials and market in order to adopt improved farming practices. This is the market-oriented value chain approach for livestock development adopted by LIVES.
The changes being witnessed could be considered as successes. However, to sustain irrigated fodder production in competition with high value irrigated crops and realize a market-oriented system that is envisaged by LIVES, the following needs to be considered. Economies of scale should be addressed as most farmers keep only one or two cows. Fodder productivity from small irrigated plots need to be further improved and fodder processing and conservation technologies should be introduced to sustain higher scales of production. Mechanical feed choppers help ease laborious manual chopping, reduce wastage and facilitate feed conservation through small scale silage making. LIVES’ strategy is to work with clusters of farmers in its intervention kebeles in collaboration with Bureaus of Agriculture, Livestock Development Agencies and other partners in the value chains. Transfer of best practices to learning kebeles will be through a spill-over effect and active dissemination by partners through capacity building and joint planning. It is thus imperative that partners actively collaborate to disseminate the best practices witnessed in fodder development.
Written by Solomon Gizaw, with contributions from Yayneshet Tesfaye, Gebremedhin Woldewahid, Dawit Woldemariam, Haile Tilahun, Zeleke Mekuriaw, Teshome Derso, Worku Teka, Mesfin Tefera