Maize is a major food crop in the lowlands and mid-highlands of Ethiopia, but its stover is not utilized efficiently as animal feed, particularly in rain-fed maize production systems. Rain-fed maize producers’ target is commonly grain production which requires that the cobs be harvested at full maturity of the maize plant thereby leaving the stover too dry. Dry stover is low in nutrients (e.g. 3.7% crude protein as compared to 8.8% in green stover), is less palatable and is not well suited to conserve as silage.
Irrigated maize production offers an opportunity which the rain-fed maize farming does not. Farmers in Fale Kebele of Meta Robi District in Oromia region, like most farmers in irrigated maize systems in Ethiopia, harvest green maize at its milk stage to be sold for roasted cobs. This production strategy is governed by the need to harvest early in the rainy season before the cropland is flooded, which is a common occurrence in low-lying irrigated fields in the wet mid-highlands. Similarly, irrigated maize is usually harvested while green in the moist highlands in order to maximize the benefits from irrigation such as the ability to do multiple cropping. In most cases, sweet-corn provides green fodder as the cobs are meant for fresh use and harvested while the plant is still green. Irrigated maize and sweet-corn production thus allows production of green and fresh stover, which is more nutritious and palatable for livestock than dry stover.
However, similar to dry stover, green stover is also not utilized efficiently by Ethiopian farmers in Fale and elsewhere. The common practice is either to graze the stover in situ or collect, store and feed whole stalks to animals. Such practices result in wastage from trampling by animals and loss of nutrients due to drying and leaching from exposure to sun and rain because of inappropriate storage practices.
A farmer youth group in Fale was introduced to an innovative way of taking advantage of fodder opportunities offered by irrigated maize farming. Known as the ‘livestock technology-led agribusiness approach’, the method involves twin fodder processing and conservation technologies that use a mechanical feed chopper and small-scale plastic-bag-silage making. This fodder technology package reduces wastage, allows mixing total ration, conserves nutrients in green fodders and improves palatability. The agribusiness approach coaches private entrepreneurs or groups of livestock producers to run small-scale fodder chopping services using mechanical feed choppers/shredders. To this end, the farmer youth group in Fale is being coached and mentored by the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) Project to start a fodder processing and conservation business.
Written by Solomon Gizaw (PhD) with contributions from Abule Ebro (PhD) and Addisu Abera.