Making the most of feed resources

Expand smallholder participation in growing livestock markets


Help farmers that mix crop and animal production
make use of the Livestock Revolution
to lift themselves out of poverty.

Exploit new technologies to increase feed efficiencies
and build links among all actors in feed systems
to source new feed supplies for the poor.

The rising demand for livestock foods in developing countries
opens new and sustainable pathways out of poverty for
several hundred million small-scale crop-livestock farmers.

Small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farming is the backbone of agricultural economies throughout the developing world. Remarkably, these smallholder farming systems provide 70% of the world’s meat and 90% of the world’s milk. The smallholder farmers themselves are entering an era of new opportunities and challenges, with change occurring at unprecedented rates due largely to the developing world’s rising human population, urbanization and household incomes. These trends are greatly increasing demand in developing countries for milk, meat and eggs. Hundreds of millions of crop-livestock farmers could make use of this on-going Livestock Revolution to raise their living standards by intensifying their farm production to produce more animals or animal foods for the growing livestock markets.

What stops many of them from doing so is extreme poverty. Subsistence farmers in developing countries lack basic resources and capacities, including those needed to adapt to the new opportunities presented by the Livestock Revolution. One of the first constraints they face in increasing their livestock production is lack of feed for their animals. Most of these farmers subsist on tiny plots of land, which are often degraded or located in marginal areas, while any common lands around their farms on which they might graze their ruminant animals are shrinking. What’s needed are new ways for these farmers to exploit their natural resources more efficiently so that those resources can support higher levels of livestock production without being further degraded.

Smallholder farmers also need new options that will help level the playing field so that they can compete with bigger players in livestock markets. They need ways to access appropriate markets for livestock feeds and products. They need new options that will encourage and allow them to respond to changing circumstances resulting from globalization, such as increasing fluctuations in the price of livestock, livestock products and livestock feeds and potential reductions in feed supplies due to more land being put to production of biofuels. They need information and support to adapt to the local impacts of climate change, such as drying or wetter climates, more erratic rainfall, and increased flooding. And they need cost-effective ways to reduce the amount of methane gas their ruminant animals produce, which account for a significant amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.

We propose to work with partners to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia exploit the Livestock Revolution to intensify their farm production and lift themselves out of poverty. Three areas we think are promising are the following.

  • Identify technical solutions for more cost-effectively converting biomass to milk, poultry, pigs and meat. Adapt results of public- and private-sector research to the challenges of sustainable and profitable small-scale farming in resource-poor countries. Focus on improving dual-purpose food-feed crops (that feed people as well as their farm animals), optimizing farmer combinations of traditional feeds and forage crops, and improving smallholder feed formulations with cost-effective strategic supplements of minerals, vitamins and other feed innovations developed by the private sector.
  • Investigate new institutional arrangements for providing smallholders with cheap feeds and other inputs. Engage a diverse range of actors, including the private sector, entrepreneurs and civil society groups, in networks, consortia and other new institutional arrangements that give poor livestock keepers greater access to improved feeds and information on how to use them. Once established, these pro-poor supply systems could later also provide livestock breeding and animal health inputs.
  • Develop policies that encourage smallholder participation in livestock markets in the face of changing global supplies, demands and prices.

ILRI has a wealth of personal and institutional relations among local, national, regional and international groups either researching smallholder crop-livestock systems in developing regions or providing aid to their farmers. Much of this research and development work has focused on developing, refining or promoting technologies to improve feeds and to use livestock to improve management of natural resources. The present proposal aims to improve those technical options substantially while also delivering these more widely and cheaply via new service arrangements.

We propose expanding current research conducted by ILRI and its partners. This research now focuses on widening use of genetically improved varieties of food-feed crops, enabling poor livestock keepers to make more efficient use of their natural resources for fodder supplies, widening access by the poor to livestock feed and product markets, and assessing trade-offs in crop-livestock systems (e.g., when to use crop residues to feed livestock, to plough back into soils and to burn as fuel). We’re interested in building on this work by engaging local entrepreneurs and civil society groups in new institutional arrangements that link smallholder farmers, especially those in remote areas, to private-sector knowledge on feeds and feed issues.

Below are examples of what farmer organizations and national programs say are high priorities for them in livestock research and development.

  • Ethiopia and Mali require new feed and fodder markets to serve growing domestic and regional markets for meat. The large body of research outputs on food-feed crops should be linked to new feed issues, such as feedlot demands in Ethiopia and new feed products and producers in Mali.
  • Countries of South Asia and West Africa want to increase smallholder participation in their rapidly changing milk and feed markets. There is opportunity to build on extensive food-feed crop research in these regions and collaborative work enhancing small-scale fodder innovation systems to provide farmers with better access to private-sector information.
  • Small-scale farmers in Vietnam and other developing countries of Southeast Asia are looking for ways to manage their highly diverse feed resources efficiently as well as intensively. These farmers are intensifying their livestock production systems in response to fast-growing domestic livestock markets. Building local links between farmers and entrepreneurs and other actors will help the farmers gain access to new feed supplies.
  • Small crop-livestock farmers in southern Africa also want to take advantage of new livestock market opportunities but find themselves unable to compete with larger producers. The limited fodder supplies of smallholders will not support their raising more animals or raising the higher-yielding crossbred animals that require high-quality feeding. These poor farmers are looking for new sources of feed supplies.


ILRI is looking for intellectual as well as financial partners with whom to conduct this work. If you are interested to collaborate or want more information, please contact any of the ILRI staff below.

Shirley Tarawali: director of people, livestock and the environment theme, Addis Ababa,, +251 11 646 3215

Michael Blümmel: ruminant nutritionist, Hyderabad,, +91 40 3071 3653.

Steve Staal: director of enhancing markets theme, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3400.

Bruce Scott: director of partnerships and communications, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3205.

John McDermott: deputy director general for research, Nairobi, +254 20 422 3207.

Carlos Seré: director general, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3201.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.