News and updates on research on livestock value chains by the International Livestock Research Institute and partners

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New research project aims to improve smallholder livestock production and marketing in Botswana

Goats in Botswana
Goats awaiting sale at a market in Botswana. A new collaborative research project aims to improve smallholder livestock production and marketing in Botswana (photo credit: ILRI).

The smallholder sector produces most of Botswana’s meat and over 70% of the country’s agricultural gross domestic product.

Although past policy and research have focused on the beef export sector, rather little information has been generated on the circumstances and potential of the 80,000 smallholders who own most of the country’s cattle, and the 100,000 households that earn livelihoods from sheep and goats.

This leaves strategies and investments for rural development and livelihood generation without a basis in data and analysis.

For both cattle and small ruminants, more competitive smallholder systems can improve livelihoods.

Several factors constrain the production and marketing of surpluses by smallholders: poor animal health is one example, that is often made worse by the complexities of communal grazing, and by limited access to services.

A new 3-year research project, Competitive smallholder livestock in Botswana, asks the following questions, and engages partners in research industry and government to help answer them:
  • What are the characteristics of smallholder livestock producers in Botswana and what factors constrain their livelihoods?
  • How can livestock-related marketing systems in Botswana be improved for the benefit of smallholders and the rural population?

The project has three objectives:
  • To better define smallholder livestock production systems and to identify the factors affecting the productivity of smallholder livestock producers and assess their competitiveness 
  • To understand and improve conditions for market participation and value addition in markets for livestock, livestock products and inputs
  • To strengthen the capacity of agricultural education and extension

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is collaborating in this project with the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis and the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture.

The outcomes from the study will be improved and more sustainable livelihoods among smallholder livestock keepers, and increased uptake and use of scientific and economic knowledge by those providing services to smallholders.

The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and runs from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2015.

For more information, please contact Sirak Bahta (s.bahta @

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Innovative feed assessment tool to aid smallholder livestock farmers develop site-specific animal feeding options

ELF team conducts PRA exercise on feed assessment tools
The Ethiopian Livestock Feed project team carries out a participatory rapid appraisal in Godina near Debre Zeit, Ethiopia to test feed assessment tools (photo credit: ILRI/Kara Brown).

Smallholder livestock farmers stand to gain from better animal feeding options, thanks to an innovative tool that improves feed assessment by taking a broader approach to also analyze factors relating to production, marketing and input service provision and how these affect the quality and availability of animal feeds.

Conventional feed assessments normally focus just on the type of feed and how to boost its nutritive value so as to improve livestock productivity.

The new feed assessment tool (FEAST) builds on this by adopting a broader scope that takes into account the entire smallholder farming system.

It also uses rapid appraisals to quickly and systematically assess feed resources and demand within a particular farming system.

Why use FEAST?
  • It uses participatory approaches to draw on the knowledge and experiences of both farmers and researchers.
  • It is site-specific and thus is useful in designing and targeting of feed intervention strategies for a particular location.
  • It enables analysis of the importance of livestock in local livelihoods and the relative importance of feed-related problems that farmers face.
  • It gives an insight into key factors such as labour, input availability, credit, seasonality and markets for products.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been developing FEAST since 2009 and the tool has been tested in South Asia and Africa.

The collaborative East Africa Dairy Development project has used FEAST as an entry point for other feed-related interventions.

ILRI recently showcased FEAST at an exhibition on the sidelines of the 13th Biennial Scientific Conference of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) that was held on 22-26 October 2012 at the KARI Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Under the theme, Showcasing agricultural products, technologies and innovations, the event featured some 500 exhibitors from all over the country.

The poster below, Developing site specific feed plans using the feed assessment tool (FEAST), gives a summary of how FEAST works, the advantages of using the tool and some sample outputs from the East Africa Dairy Development project.

Developing site specific feed plans using the feed assessment tool (FEAST) from ILRI

For more information about FEAST, please contact ILRI feed specialist Bernard Lukuyu (b.lukuyu @ or visit

Monday, October 01, 2012

Farmer trainers in western Kenya are key in disseminating farm technologies, new study shows

Fodder harvesting
Harvesting fodder on a dairy farm in Kenya. A new study in western Kenya shows that farmer trainers are effective agents in disseminating farm technologies (photo credit: East Africa Dairy Development Project).
Volunteer farmer trainers in western Kenya play important roles in promoting the adoption of agricultural technologies, a new study reports.

In addition, the use of farmer trainers in agricultural extension is a cost-effective method of disseminating technologies to farmers because it is sustainable beyond the lifetime of development projects.

These are among several findings of a study carried out to assess the effectiveness of farmer trainers in disseminating agricultural technologies in western Kenya.

The findings are published in an article in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension.

The principal author of the article Ben Lukuyu is a feed scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The co-authors of the study, which was funded by the East Africa Dairy Development Project, are from the World Agroforestry Centre and the Kenya Forestry Research Institute.

The farmer trainer method of agricultural extension involves farmers sharing their knowledge and experience with other farmers as well as conducting experiments.

Through this participatory approach, a large number of farmers in communities can be reached at low cost through multiplier effects whereby farmers act as the main agents of change and technology adoption in their communities.

The study found that farmer trainers commonly used methods such as farm visits, community gatherings and field days to disseminate information on soil fertility practices, use of crop residues, food crops, vegetables and livestock technologies.

Farmer trainers also played important roles such as mobilizing and training their fellow farmers, hosting demonstration plots and bulking and distributing planting materials.

“The results from the study will be useful to development programs keen on using low-cost, community-based dissemination approaches,” the authors of the paper conclude.

The authors further recommend that the farmer trainer approach be promoted by extension service providers such as governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

However, a cautionary note is sounded that the guidance provided for farmer trainer programs is suited to the conditions existing in western Kenya where the study was carried out and should therefore not be considered as best practices for uptake under general conditions.

Read the abstract of the article

Lukuyu B, Place F, Franzel S and Kiptot E. 2012. Disseminating improved practices: Are volunteer farmer trainers effective? Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension 18(5): 525-540.