On 28-29 May we wrapped up the Ethiopian Livestock Feeds Project with a synthesis workshop in Addis Ababa. This brought together the whole project team, the core of which were colleagues from Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute. We have been working together on refining various tools including FEAST, Techfit and a simple value chain assessment checklist.
This suite of tools is designed to help with developing ideas and plans for feed interventions at local level. This was our chance to review results of using the tools in the field. Also, we used the opportunity to review the tools themselves and look for ways of improving them.
The results showed that the tools are a rapid way of developing a good overview of the farming system and some of the constraints to improved feeding. Generating ideas for feed intervention was more challenging and probably requires an existing insight into what might work. However the tools were helpful in guiding thinking, and in ensuring that suggestions for feed improvement took into account system constraints such as land and labour availability. These tools are certainly not recipes for generating workable feed interventions but the process of working with the tools at field level could help to arrive at interventions which are more likely to succeed – especially if researchers work with development people in applying the tools.
What struck me at the workshop was the context specificity of successful feed interventions. The presentation from EIAR Holeta on a FEAST assessment in a dairy system showed that two areas in close proximity had completely different constraints. In the village of Robe Gebya there are plenty of cross-bred cows and farmers derive much of their livelihood from sale of milk. In nearby Berffetta Tokkoffa, horticultural crops are the dominant livelihood option and most cows are indigenous and primarily kept for draught purposes. Interestingly when farmers were asked about key solutions to improve their livestock-based livelihoods those relying on indigenous cows suggested various feed-related interventions including backyard forage and improved use of crop residues. Those with cross-bred cows were more concerned about arrangements for milk marketing – they seemed already to have sorted out their feeding. This contrast illustrates the dangers of blanket recommendations to improve feeding strategies and is one reason why many previous efforts to improve feeding have been disappointing.
As I stressed in my closing remarks, I hope that as this work develops we can move to the next stage which is working with farmers to test some of the interventions that the tools are coming up with. Time to get our hands dirty….
View the final day presentations:
This project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); it is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.