Improving water productivity of crop-livestock systems in drought-prone regions

Today saw the publication of a special issue of Experimental Agriculture guest edited by Tilahun Amede, Shirley Tarawali and Don Peden. It presents evidence from Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and India, and captures current understanding of strategies to improve water productivity in drought-prone crop-livestock systems.

Crop-livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are mostly rainfall-dependent and based on fragmented marginal lands that are vulnerable to soil erosion, drought and variable weather conditions. The threat of water scarcity in these systems is real, due to expanding demand for food and feed, climate variability and inappropriate land use.

According to recent estimates, farming, industrial and urban needs in developing countries will increase water demand by 40% by 2030. Water shortage is expected to be severe in areas where the amount of rainfall will decrease due to climate change. The lack of capacity of communities living in drought-prone regions to respond to market opportunities, climatic variability and associated water scarcity also results from very low water storage facilities, poverty and limited institutional capacities to efficiently manage the available water resources at
local, national and basin scales.

The spiral of watershed degradation causes decline in water budgets, decreases soil fertility and reduces farm incomes in SSA and reduces crop and livestock water productivity. In areas where irrigated agriculture is feasible, there is an increasing demand for water and competition among different users and uses.

Strategies and policies to reduce rural poverty should not only target increasing food production but should also emphasize improving water productivity at farm, landscape, sub-basin and higher levels. In drought-prone rural areas, an increase of 1% in crop water productivity makes available at least an extra 24 litres of water a day per person. Moreover, farming systems with efficient use of water resources are commonly responsive to external and internal drivers of change.

Articles included in the issue are:

Amede, T., Tarawali, S. and Peden, D. Improving water productivity in crop livestock systems of drought-prone regions. Editorial Comment

Amede, T., Menza, M. and Awlachew, S. B. Zai improves nutrient and water productivity in the Ethiopian highlands

Descheemaeker, K., Amede, T., Haileslassie, A. and Bossio, D. Analysis of gaps and possible interventions for improving water productivity in crop livestock systems of Ethiopia

Derib, S. D., Descheemaeker, K., Haileslassie, A. and Amede, T. Irrigation water productivity as affected by water management in a small-scale irrigation scheme in the Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia

Awulachew, S. B. and Ayana, M. Performance of irrigation: an assessment at different scales in Ethiopia

Ali, H., Descheemaeker, K., Steenhuis, T. S. and Pandey, S. Comparison of landuse and landcover changes, drivers and impacts for a moisture-sufficient and drought-prone region in the Ethiopian Highlands

Mekonnen, S., Descheemaeker, K., Tolera, A. and Amede, T. Livestock water productivity in a water stressed environment in Northern Ethiopia

Deneke, T. T., Mapedza, E. and Amede, T. Institutional implications of governance of local common pool resources on livestock water productivity in Ethiopia

Haileslassie, A., Blümmel, M., Clement, F., Descheemaeker, K., Amede, T. Samireddypalle, A., Acharya, N. S., Radha, A. V., Ishaq, S., Samad, M., Murty, M. V. R. and Khan, M. A. Assessment of the livestock-feed and water nexus across a mixed crop-livestock system’s intensification gradient: an example from the Indo-Ganga Basin

Clement, F., Haileslassie, A., Ishaq, S., Blummel, M., Murty, M. V. R., Samad, M., Dey, S., Das, H. and Khan, M. A. Enhancing water productivity for poverty alleviation: role of capitals and institutions in the Ganga Basin

Sibanda, A., Tui, S. H.-K., Van Rooyen, A., Dimes, J., Nkomboni, D. and Sisito, G. Understanding community perceptions of land use changes in the rangelands, Zimbabwe

Senda, T. S., Peden, D., Tui, S. H.-K., Sisito, G., Van Rooyen, A. F. and Sikosana, J. L. N. Gendered livelihood implications for improvements of livestock water productivity in Zimbabwe

View the full issue

Overcoming the Napier grass disease threat to East African dairy farmers

Also called elephant grass, Napier grass is planted on farms across East Africa as a source of feed for dairy cows. Farmers cut the grass for their livestock, carrying it home for stall feeding.

It is the most important forage grass in the region, constituting 40 to 80% of forages used by smallholder dairy farmers. In Kenya, half a million smallholder dairy producers rely on Napier grass to feed their cows. In Uganda, 90% of farmers rely entirely on Napier grass as fodder for their improved dairy cattle.

The livelihoods of these farmers are threatened by outbreaks of stunt and smut diseases affecting the Napier grass. To tackle the threat, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) funded a three-year project to determine the extent of the disease problem, to collect disease-resistant Napier grass clones identified by farmers, and to identify best management practices used by farmers to mitigate the impact of the diseases.

After three years researching the problem in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, project researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute, Rothamsted Research, the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda) and the National Biological Control Programme (Tanzania) will meet with colleagues from the region to share results and recommendations, promote good practices and draw other scientists into the project.

The workshop will be held at ILRI Ethiopia from 1 to 3 June, 2010.

More information:

Project website

Project outputs

Project news item from Kenya

ILRI’s Alan Duncan on livestock and poor people in Ethiopia

In October 2009, Danielle Nierenberg of the Worldwatch Institute’s ‘Nourishing the Planet‘ project began a visit to Africa to document agricultural innovations. Her aim: “to tell stories of hope and success in food production from all over Africa.”

Early in the trip she visited the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa; she has subsequently been in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa … reporting on the project blog. This month, Danielle’s blog includes a profile of ILRI’s Alan Duncan, member of the project’s advisory group.

Responding to a question on the association between livestock production and climate change and other negative environmental impacts, Alan argues that “the blanket condemnation of livestock as ‘polluters of the planet’ misses the nuances of differences between livestock’s role in the rich North and the poor South. Limiting intensive livestock production which oversupplies protein to those in developed countries is probably good for the planet. But in places like Ethiopia, livestock are a crucial element of poor people’s livelihoods and their nutrition. They utilize byproducts of cereal production (straw) and turn them into high-quality protein (meat and milk) for hungry people. They also serve as a source of security in marginal environments, acting as a buffer against disaster in drought-prone environments. Reducing livestock numbers in Africa would have a relatively minor effect on global GHG emissions but would have many negative consequences for the world’s poorest.”

Read more … (Nourishing the Planet Blog)

Follow Danielle on the the Nourishing the Planet project blog

Alan Duncan’s Blog

ILRI 2.0: Web communications update

Early in October you may have noticed some changes to the ILRI web site – the front page mainly, but also a few other pages.

Apart from some design and layout changes, the biggest change is the way we use dynamic content from different sources to build up these web pages.

This dynamic combining of different content streams is part of what many people call ‘web 2.0’ or the ‘social web’. It is a fundamentally different approach to publishing, sharing and communicating on the Internet. It helps us make all kinds of information and knowledge more accessible. It allows us to ‘decentralize’ the creation and sharing of our information.

We will be making much more use of such tools and approaches as we move towards a new website in the first quarter of 2010.

We are also introducing a lot of other ways to share and communicate our knowledge, including:

  1. RSS Newsfeeds. You will begin to see some small orange icons with the word ‘subscribe’ on our website (and across the web generally). If you click on these buttons, you can sign up to receive automatic alerts each time the service is updated. These alerts can be through email or an newsreader like google or bloglines. This link on our website takes you to some newsfeeds that you can subscribe to:
  2. Photos. All across ILRI, we ahve numerous photos. Until recently, we tried to capture a lot of these in an internal database – that was rather underused.  To try and make the photos more visible – and more used – we have set up an ILRI account at
  3. Presentations. One of the most used, and often most difficult to retrieve output from our work is the powerpoint presentation. Hundreds are created and delivered each year, they usually remain on our laptops or usb sticks. We have started to collect and share some of these at – using the possibilities of this specialized tool. In time, we hope to publish all our powerpoints – and posters – here.
  4. Video and audio. We traditionally publish a lot of text, enlivened perhaps with photos. We also made some video and film and recorded audio, but it was costly and technically difficult to share this online. This has all changed and we have many more ways to communicate and publish using online video and audio. You can see some ILRI video at (they are also on YouTube); we have also started to produce some audio podcasts at
  5. Publications and reports. We have begun work on a complete repository of institutional outputs, using Dspace: . In line with institutional and donor requirements that we have a complete inventory of our various research outputs, we aim to index and collect them all in our repository – named Mahider. The strength of the Dspace system is that it allows us not just to collect and index outputs, we can also publish alerts and RSS feeds for use on our other websites and the content is automatically harvested by AGRIS, Google, CABI, etc. The repository is not yet complete. We aim to be complete for 2009 in early January, we will migrate records for older outputs in 2010.
  6. Google Books. For older documents and books, we – and other CGIAR Centers – are working with Google Books to make full text versions of all our reports and publications available. Search the 500 plus online books at
  7. Calendar of events. We have begun to use Google calendar to track and present upcoming events on our Addis Ababa and Nairobi campuses. We also track relevant events organised by others that are relevant to our work. Our calendars are online ( – you can also add our events to your own Google calendar.

A fundamental benefit from using these tools is their openness. Anything we put into them is normally open for all to view. Anything we put in can normally be re-used and embedded back on other web sites. So our photos on Flickr or presentations on slideshare can be part of a blog story or used on a Theme or project web site. The principle we aim to follow is ‘create once, re-use often.’

The end result should be that ILRI – and our partners – can all publish, share, access, and re-use  a wider range of information and knowledge ‘outputs’ from ILRI, in much easier ways than in the past. We will also have a much better insight into how they are being used, and who by.

This work is a joint effort by staff in our knowledge managmenrt and information services and public awareness groups, with strong support from our colleagues in IT.

Story by Peter Ballantyne