Tropical Grasslands (2003) Volume 37, 207–216

Tropical forage research for the future — better use of research resources to deliver adoption and benefits to farmers

B.C. PENGELLY1, A. WHITBREAD1, P.R. MAZAIWANA2 and N. MUKOMBE2

1 CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Queensland Biosciences Precinct, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia
2 AGRITEX, Wedza, Zimbabwe

Abstract

Successful adoption of forage technology is frequently associated with a need to increase production and income generation. Farmers might be expected to ‘demand’ new forages only when they can see a financial benefit in the short-medium term. Opportunities for farmers to generate income from livestock production are increasing dramatically as demand for animal products increases across Asia and Africa. Most of this increased demand will be met from mixed cropping-livestock enterprises, in which the majority of tropical livestock are currently raised and where production is usually dependent on low-quality crop residues. Forage research in the future will need to provide farmers with the means to meet the increased demand for livestock products. The challenge will be to develop research strategies that identify well adapted forages that can improve livestock production and can be grown within the spatial and temporal constraints of complex and resource-limited mixed cropping-livestock farming systems; in addition, it will be necessary to provide appropriate information on the management and economic benefits of these forages. This paper presents 2 possible approaches.
In a participatory action research program on the use of forage legumes in cropping systems in Zimbabwe, the keys to successful forage adoption in rural communities are seen as: the emerging market for livestock products; a motivated and educated extension service working with a range of research specialists; and the opportunities for beneficial synergies to be exploited from a mixed livestock-maize production system. Focused benchmarking of the communities identified farmers with sufficient resources and appropriate livestock systems to benefit from improved forage.
In a rice-based Indonesian farming system, simulation of forage growth and livestock production is being used to examine the possible whole-of-farm impacts of using planted forages prior to commencement of on-farm research. Identifying the most likely spatial and temporal opportunities for growing forages and incorporating them into the feed calendar can potentially avoid costly on-farm research on practices that have doubtful economic impact; moreover, this approach enables a wide range of options to be compared rapidly.
To avoid the mistakes of the past, researchers need to provide supporting evidence that investment in new forages makes a difference not only to livestock production but also to household income. They will need to focus on farming systems such as mixed crop-livestock systems where farmers have total control over the forage they produce and where adoption can be shown to be economically sustainable. They also need to identify and target those farmers within rural communities with the resource capacity to invest in new farming practices.

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