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Producing more milk, more meat with less water

Don Peden, Scientist, Animal Sciences for Sustainable Productivity

ILRI researcher, Don Peden: many benefits are accrued from every litre of water depleted thus increasing livestock water productivity in sub Saharan Africa

When Sasakawa-Global 2000 and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) provided training and loans to a group of farmers in the Awash Valley, Ethiopia, little did they anticipate what such resources in the hands of hard working, poor, small scale farmers could yield.

The farmers in the Awash River Basin were trapped in poverty, earning a mean annual income of about US$300. Changing fortunes had confined them to this status. The bulk of the land was once riverine pastures used in the dry season and as a drought refuge by pastoral herds; now, it is home to about half of the large-scale irrigated land in Ethiopia. The rest of the basin faces land degradation, high population density, natural water degradation, salinity and wetland degradation. Desertification has set in at the lower end while in the higher part, deforestation and sedimentation has increased. It is here that the small scale farmers are concentrated.

A few local cows and subsistence cultivation sustained them. With the credit of about US$1100 per household received, they were able to construct underground water tanks and establish supplemental irrigation of cash crops such as garlic and onions. Irrigation water was collected from household water catchments. The farmers also replaced local with hybrid cows that combined the benefits of indigenous and Friesen breeds. Farmers also introduced “cut-and-carry” feeding and use of crop residues to feed their livestock.

Consequently, daily milk production rose from about one to almost 20 litres. Farmers converted some milk into butter and procured feed resources. The stored water eliminated the need for children to trek long distances daily to the river to water their animals and enabled them to attend school. Within three years, family income rose more than three hundred per cent (300%). Marketing of vegetables represented fourty per cent (40%) and milk sixty per cent (60%) of their increased income.

The loans were repaid over a three-year period during which time, net farm income also rose. Marketing of dairy products and cash crops along with improved productivity of crops and milk generated increased beneficial income. This, combined with decreasing non-productive water depletion (run-off) resulted in higher agricultural water productivity.

This success story highlights the importance of a multi-dimensional approach to making an impact in development in sub-Saharan Africa. ILRI researcher, Don Peden, sums up more than a decade of work on livestock water productivity in a recent article by the title Improving Livestock Water Productivity: Lessons from the Nile River Basin published online by CTA. He observes that while excessive water use is common in beef production in industrialized countries, a different way of thinking is required to understand water use in small scale livestock systems in developing countries.

This includes the fact that ‘rainfall is the ultimate agricultural water resource’. It not only provides water for the lakes and rivers, but also grows the maize or tef that human beings use for food while the crop residue is used to feed the livestock. That livestock is in turn used for milk, beef and as a household wealth asset especially in unbanked communities such as pastoralists. This means that many benefits are accrued from every litre of water depleted thus increasing livestock water productivity.

The Ethiopian governments’ committment to scaling up agricultural investment in line with continental expectations

Sharing this success story could easily lead to enhanced productivity in the agricultural sector as envisaged by the Ethiopian government in the achievement of its commitments to the ‘Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme’ (CAADP). In its road map for the implementation of the investment policy, Ethiopia emphasizes the sharing of best practices and harmonization between the different project-level steering committees dealing with small scale irrigation. The country also commits to scaling up the budget allocated to research in agriculture and to support livestock breed improvement while strengthening support to animal health and nutrition. Finally on livestock development there is the pledge to support pastoralists by better linking them to market opportunities.

These are all aspects that have been addressed in the case study in the Awash valley and in the review from lessons learnt in the decade long study of livestock water productivity in the Nile and Awash basins. For more on Pedens paper click here. Read more about Ethiopia’s roadmap to achieving its commitment to the CAADP here.. CAADP was established as part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) NEPAD in July 2003 and focuses on improving and promoting agriculture across Africa. It aims to help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development.

Read more on livestock-water productivity here 

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