A dairy cow looks out from her stall in a village in central Malawi (Photo by ILRI / Mann).
Agricultural experts argue that a 'breadbasket approach' to development without livestock is 'an unbalanced diet' and that capacity building from the halls of parliament to the milking shed is key to the success of highly competitive African agriculture.
Over 800 agricultural experts, government officials, private sector leaders, and farmers gathered in Accra last week to promote investment and policy support for driving agricultural productivity and income growth for African farmers.
Participants at the African Green Revolution Forum agreed to pool efforts and resources to scale up investments in the 'breadbasket' approach and in agricultural growth corridors. At the end of the three-day conference, the Forum issued a detailed plan of action to the delegates, which included the need to make better and wider use of 'mixed' crop-livestock farming systems.
ILRI Director General Carlos Seré led a dynamic and informative panel session on livestock systems at the Forum, drawing participants from all facets of the agricultural community—from a Mozambican farmer interested in applying the 'best-bet' tactics of the East Africa Dairy Development Project in his own country, to 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta.
'A "breadbasket" approach without livestock is an unbalanced diet,' said Moses Nyabila, Regional Director of East African Dairy Development Project, during the panel session.
Nyabila went on to stress the crucial role of the smallholder farmer to the success of EADD. 'We cannot replace our people with tractors and other things. We need to work with them. The East African Dairy Development Project model is a very important platform going forward, and it is one that can be repeated in other African countries.'
The panel participants called for mixed crop-livestock systems to be integrated into the corridor and breadbasket development strategies to increase the income of the smallholder farmer and improve his or her resilience to market fluctuations, climate change, and other challenges.
Livestock demand is already a major driver of economic growth for the continent, and this demand is rapidly growing driven by rising incomes and urbanization. Capacity-building from the halls of parliament to the milking shed is key to the success of highly competitive African agriculture, panelists said. The policy environment must also be conducive to the specific conditions in which small-scale farmers are operating and good governance must be built into the producer organizations.
'The key breakthrough here is organizing smallholder farmers to make service delivery efficient and to attract partnerships. Once these livestock farmers are organized, opportunities for investment and synergies with other agriculture sectors—seeds, fertilizer, etc—come flowing in,' Seré said.
The panelists also agreed that to boost the competitiveness and viability of livestock systems, the public sector must support rapid learning and results-driven research on markets, technologies and resource management. Examples include finding new ways of providing livestock insurance and financing the development and distribution of vaccines that reduce risks to farmers.
Seré presented the main outcomes and action steps from the livestock panel discussion to all Forum participants on the last day of the conference, pointing to mixed crop-livestock systems as the backbone of African agriculture. 'When you look at African agriculture, you see that mixed crop-livestock systems are eminent,' he said. 'Livestock is absolutely a motor of the agricultural economy.'
Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Forum, also acknowledged the outcomes of the livestock panel at the closing plenary on Saturday, stating that 'livestock is key to food security in Africa, and [an African green revolution] must include mixed crop-livestock systems.'
This article was contributed by Megan Dold, of Burness Communications, who attended the African Green Revolution Forum in Accra, Ghana, 2–4 September 2010.
Read more about the outcomes of the African Green Revolution Forum, media releases and a summary of the African Green Revolution parallel sessions here and in an earlier blogpost by ILRI.