Improving the performance of crop-livestock systems

Last week, the CGIAR System-wide Livestock Programme (SLP) held its annual planning meeting in Addis Ababa.

In this short video, John McDermott, ILRI Deputy Director General for Research introduces the SLP. He argues that its focus on the intensification of crop-livestock systems is critical: More than a billion people in developing countries are involved in these smallholder systems.

The SLP brings together 12 CGIAR centers, and, he mentions, “one of the key things we’ve been struggling with is how to improve the performance of these [crop-livestock] systems” – so people can get more income and more benefits from them; also so the systems can be more sustainable.

Reflecting on the just-completed SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, he highlights one of the major issues under discussion: how the crop biomass from these systems can be used more effectively – as food, as animal feed, and as fuel. Furthermore, how the crop residues can be fed back into the soil.

“Now we are turning our attention more to this tradeoff between whether you actually feed these residues to animals or whether some of them should stay with the soil.”

Watch the video:

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To market, to market, to sell a fat pig

Asia is home to more than half a billion pigs that provide food security and livelihoods to the majority of its rural population. Demand for pig products is soaring, but markets are consolidating. Will smallholder pig producers be able to participate or are they likely to get squeezed out?

The ubiquitous pig is a familiar sight in Asian villages in non-Islamic countries where it mingles with other small stock such as poultry and goats and with large stock, like buffalo and cattle, raised by households in mixed crop-livestock systems where livestock are an important source of cash to meet household consumption needs due to the seasonal nature of crop production.

The demands for and domestic supply of pig meat have been increasing steadily as a result of rising incomes, increasing human population, domestic market liberalization, increasing demand for livestock food products and urbanization.

Pig meat and byproducts

Pig meat provides an important source of protein and other nutrients; it is especially rich in thiamin (vitamin B1) which helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and fat to produce energy, and is also essential for the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system. Thiamin deficiency is common in low-income populations with diets high in carbohydrates and low in thiamin (eg milled or polished rice). Beriberi, the disease resulting from severe thiamin deficiency, was described in Chinese literature as early as 2600 B.C. Breast-fed infants whose mothers are thiamin deficient are vulnerable to developing infantile beriberi.

Byproducts of pig production also provide important inputs in crop production in the form of fertilizer, thus also providing an efficient way of nutrient cycling to reduce environmental pollution.


Demand for pig meat continues to increase
Given the rising income and rapid urbanization that the region has been experiencing during the past decade, consumption patterns have also shifted towards more protein-based diets, specifically animal-source diets. Pig meat has traditionally been the most preferred meat in diets in South East Asia, and recent major outbreaks of Avian Influenza have induced a move from poultry meat to pig meat.  This, plus the relatively high population growth rates in the region, as compared with the rest of the world, will engender higher demand for pig meat in the coming years, with subsequent implications on the region’s ability to meet this surge in demand and to meet it in the most efficient and equitable manner.  Even in countries not normally associated with pig production, such as India, pig meat consumption is increasing and has traditionally provided a source of meat and livelihoods to many millions of people in tribal communities. Recent trends in demand for quality and food safety are also shaping the way the food supply chain is reorganizing to accommodate these market requirements.

Two key development policy questions thus emerge, namely:
(1) who will supply the demand requirements for pig meat in the region? and
(2) will smallholder producers be able to remain competitive in the changing market for pigs and pig meat?

ILRI’s pig research agenda has been shaped by these development policy issues and is aimed at providing evidence-based policy options to inform the policy debate on pro-poor livestock development in the region.  Specifically, ongoing work with national partners in the region are largely focused in improving competitiveness of smallholder pig producers in the context of changing demand for pig meat, and include among others an investigation of viable institutional arrangements that will enable smallholders to become active participants in the emerging supply chain for pigs and pig meat that are increasingly driven by consumer preferences for quality (lean meat) and safety (hygienic, chemical free), as well as niche markets for traditional quality attributes that are priced at a premium by high-income, urban consumers including special export markets, e.g., organically raised, local breed pigs.

Smallholder pig producers are constrained to effectively respond to changing market demand due to a number of factors, foremost of which is the lack of adequate resources (physical, human, financial, and social), and more importantly the prevailing bias in the policy environment that is stacked against smallholders. There is no denying that in order to meet the increasing demand for pig meat that production has to increase and in an efficient manner. This can only be feasibly done by modernizing the livestock sector through use of modern technology in all aspects of the production systems, e.g., breed, feed, animal disease control.  It is also unavoidable that policymakers usually equate modernization with large-scale industrial systems, following the models from the West. However, history shows that the Western models have also created second-generation problems that are related to important issues such as climate change and environmental degradation.  Thus, Asia could benefit from these economic development miscalculations by following a more sustainable and equitable path by ensuring that policies that will be put in place should be aimed at generating public good outcomes.

Overview of ILRI’s pig research in Asia
Improving the Competitiveness of Pig Producers in an Adjusting Vietnam Market
Many of Asia’s poor and marginalized populations keep backyard pigs in remote regions from Northeast India, Cambodia and Vietnam. ILRI is furthering its work with partners to improve the competitiveness of these smallholder pig producers in the face of rapidly increasingly demand for pig meat so that they can participate in the emerging supply chains for pigs and pig meat that are increasingly being driven by consumer demands. There are also opportunities to exploit niche markets for organically raised local breeds for poverty reduction. This project is funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Improving the pig and pig market chain to enable small producers to serve consumers needs in Vietnam and Cambodia
This project is looking at the existing and potential market opportunities that can be feasibly accessed by smallholder pig farmers. Large farm/processors tend to capture high-end markets that pay premium price for quality products, while smallholders have limited access to such markets. This trend limits the livelihood opportunities of many smallholders, especially women. This project is EU-DURAS Project grant funded.

Northeast India pig systems appraisal
The expected outcome of this project is to find viable options for improving productivity of traditional pig systems to respond to increasing demand for pig meat in Northeast India. This project is funded by ILRI and the Government of Assam.

Contract farming for equitable market-oriented smallholder swine production in Northern Vietnam
This project seeks to characterize and quantify the true costs and benefits of contract farming of pigs in Northern Vietnam to identify a set of policy and intervention options that will facilitate and promote profitable market-oriented livestock farming partnerships and to understand the barriers that prevent the poor from participating in contract farming and other similar marketing arrangements. The project is being carried out in three provinces in Northern Vietnam that supply Hanoi market with slaughter pigs. This project is funded by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative (PPLPI).

Sweet potato pig systems

While demand for livestock products is increasing in China and other Asia countries, livestock research can help mitigate the impacts that increasing demand will have on small scale producers. With rapid change, knowledge about how to adapt farming systems is essential. Pig production accounts for four fifths of total meat production, however there are many challenges ahead including how to feed the increased number of livestock and the impact on natural resources. Mixed farming systems that integrate crop and animal production form the backbone of small-scale Asian agriculture. From 1999 to 2004, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) collaborated with the Sichuan Animal Science Academy, the Yunnan Beef Cattle and Pasture Research Center, and national agricultural research systems in four Southeast Asian countries in a Crop-Animal System Research Network (CASREN), funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). ILRI worked with the International Potato Centre (CIP) and Chinese partners to employ a livelihoods approach to enhancing smallholder pig production in Sichuan through improved pig feeding with ensiled sweet potato vines and roots. The extra biomass that farmers have been able to conserve has radically changed the pig production system. After harvesting, the vines are wilted to reduce moisture content. The roots and vines are then chopped, mixed with supplements and stored in airtight plastic bags, providing a nutritious feed that can support pig herds for up to nine months of the year. Improved feed has also allowed farmers to keep high-yielding cross-bred pigs, replacing much smaller and slower growing scavenging pigs that spread zoonotic, diseases such as cystercercosis. Other improvements have also been observed, including better husbandry practices, animal housing, and use of feed supplements and drugs, and these have increased the weight of pigs and greatly raised farm income. The success of CASREN’s work in Sichuan, where many farm households more than doubled their incomes by adopting CASREN potato silage technologies, has led the CGIAR System-wide Livestock Program (SLP) to fund related research within China and Southeast Asia.

African animal feeds: Two decades of research now freely available on the web

The most comprehensive and authoritative web-based resource on the nutritional values of livestock feeds in African agriculture has just been launched.

This month sees the launch of the ‘Sub-Saharan Africa Feed Information System’. This new web-based resource provides free access to a comprehensive database providing the nutritional values of feedstuffs used by small-scale farmers in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. SSA Feeds provides data on 14,571 samples of 459 livestock feeds, including herbaceous forages, fodder trees and shrubs, cereals and legumes, roots and tubers, other food crops, concentrate feeds and agro-industrial by-products, mineral supplements and other less common feeds. These feeds were analyzed in the animal nutrition laboratories of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the information made available through an initiative of the Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


SSA Feeds: Authoritative, comprehensive and freely available online
This unique resource is the culmination of 26 years of extensive research and data collection. The newly launched product makes available twelve years of initial data collection that started in 1981. This resource is now being updated with thousands of additional entries encompassing 14 years of subsequent research. This makes SSA Feeds the Web’s most comprehensive and authoritative resource on the nutritional values of livestock feeds in African agriculture.

Salvador Fernández-Rivera, a Mexican livestock nutritionist based at ILRI’s principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who coordinates SSA Feeds, is excited. ‘This is the first time that we have pulled together more than two decades of our research on animal feeds. SSA Feeds will be an invaluable resource for extension and development agents as well as livestock researchers. SSA Feeds will help them design optimal and scientifically based feeding systems for meat, dairy and draft animals. Better nourished and healthier livestock will enable Africa’s small-scale farmers improve their food and economic security.’

What the experts have to say about SSA Feeds
SSA Feeds was developed in conjunction with world experts in animal nutrition. These experts are already using the new resource and benefiting from having access to such depth and breadth of critical information on African animal feeds.

Adugna Tolera, an expert in animal nutrition and associate professor at the University of Hawassa, Ethiopia, advises his country’s feedlot industry on use of local feed resources. 

SSA Feeds is an important and rich source of information on the nutritive value of a wide range of sub-Saharan African feed resources. It is user-friendly for searching and summarizing the data on a given feed and enables the user to see the average value as well as the variability (range and standard deviation).

It would be useful if the database were further enriched by including similar data accumulated in many of the national agricultural research systems in this region of Africa.

—Dr Adugna Tolera

Hank Fitzhugh, former director general of ILRI and its Addis Ababa-based predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), is an animal geneticist and livestock production systems specialist. He is leading a project to improve meat and livestock exports from Ethiopia. The project, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Texas A&M University, will fund the upgrading of the SSA Feeds database.

SSA Feeds demonstrates impacts from research.

This important database moves over 20 years of research off the shelf and into use by African livestock producers responding to the ‘livestock revolution—the huge increase in demand for meat and milk by consumers in developing countries.

— Dr Hank Fitzhugh

David Hutcheson is a worldwide expert on beef cattle nutrition, involved in projects in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With a long and distinguished career in the university system and US beef industry, he also served on the Committee of the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States that established the current “Nutritional Requirements of Beef Cattle".


I have used SSA Feeds to develop a “Best Cost” ration concept for Ethiopia Feedlots. The database is user friendly and easily adapted to the “Best Cost” Excel program. The arrangement of the nutrient analyses and summary statistics allow for easy manipulation and export of the data into different programs, for applications in both research and producer situations.

— Dr David Hutcheson

Click on the graphic to visit the SSA Feeds website

Fodder innovations for smallholders in India

Improved fodder varieties and technologies offer better quality feed all year through for highly valued livestock in Hyderabad.

The online magazine New Agriculturist published the following article in its March 2006 issue;

Further information on this topic can be found on ILRI's website and its 2004 annual report;

smallholders in IndiaHyderabad is one of India's fastest growing cities. The local markets in the central square sprawl onto the road, sellingcredit:Stevie Mann/ILRI everything from black pearls and embroidered rugs to plastic key rings. Fresh fruit stalls steadied on bicycles cluster by the side of the main road as motorbikes and rickshaws weave their paths through the chaos. Like the markets, the Indian economy is thriving and in the farming state of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad is the capital, livestock produce is at the heart of development. Throughout India, livestock are highly valued for their agricultural products and buffalo, cattle, goats and pigs are the most important source of livelihood for poorer people in the state. Livestock supply daily food and milk, as well as draft power and manure, and the dairy industry provides valued employment for the poor, especially women. But many farmers cannot produce quality fodder – or enough of it – which prevents them from taking advantage of increased market opportunities and demand.

Rapid population growth, particularly in urban areas, has increased demand for produce such as milk and meat. However, the population expansion also means that there is little land available to support fodder production, in addition to the area needed for food crops. Family plots are divided and reduced over generations, making many plots too small to sustain livestock. And while public land is often used as a grazing area for livestock among marginal communities, the areas are shrinking. Consequently, over 40 per cent of fodder resources in India come from crop residues and are of poor quality.

Food and fodder

To help the poor in Andhra Pradesh benefit from India's livestock revolution, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is co-ordinating a project under the Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP) enabling smallholders to build on their assets by exploiting the growing market for livestock products. The aim of this work has been to improve fodder varieties and technologies in order to provide livestock with more and better quality feed throughout the year. Under the project, over 500 farmers from 47 villages have tested seed delivery systems and evaluated fodder and feed technologies. This process has included the farmers evaluating their own 'food-feed' crops (those that provide both grain for human consumption and fodder for livestock) and management systems, testing varieties provided by the research team, and evaluating researcher-managed demonstration trials. During the trials, farmers consistently found improved varieties to be superior to local cultivars.

smallholders in IndiaThe project has also supported seed supply for forage crops, since these are scarcely available from the commercial seed companies operating in Andhra Pradesh. Young people and women's self-help groups from several villages have been trained in seed multiplication and distribution, and village seed banks have been given support in sourcing germplasm from the public sector. In 2005 over 350 farmers attended field days and seed multiplication plots to learn about forage seed production.

Including fodder in food crop development

Credit:Stevie Mann/ILRIA third focus has been in raising awareness about fodder quality in India's crop improvement programmes. Nutritional studies have shown a wide variability in digestibility in stover from different sorghum varieties. But is has also been shown that high yield in food (grain or legume pods), can be compatible with high quality and quantity in crop residue. As a result, indicators of stover quality have now been incorporated into the sorghum and millet breeding programmes of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and India's National Research Centre for Sorghum has included stover quality in its release criteria for the last two years.

There is more work to be done, with the researchers continuing to find new ways of working with partners to increase the uptake of the technologies. A particular challenge will be to involve more women and minority groups in testing and evaluating new seed varieties. Partnerships with the private sector are also being explored, to investigate employment opportunities and further broaden seed choice and variety. Private sector dairy companies are being encouraged to promote fodder seeds in locations not served by dairy co-operatives. Looking more widely, the research team are hopeful that lessons from this project can be applied internationally.