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Optimizing the role of livestock in mixed farming systems to enhance food production

Rapid population growth has continued to increase the demand for agricultural products in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Sustainable agriculture, which entails the production of food using farming methods that also protect the environment, has been hailed as one of the solutions to meeting this growing demand for food in the continent. Researchers have continued to investigate the role that livestock can play in increasing the productivity and supporting the sustainability of farming systems. Manure from livestock allows nutrients to be recycled in the soil to enhance crop production in mixed-crop livestock systems.

Cattle in a crop field in Niger

Cattle corralled on a crop field in order to deposit manure, to improve soil fertility in Fakara, southwestern Niger (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have reviewed the Role of herbivores in sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, the state of  knowledge of the role of herbivores in sustainable intensification of key farming systems in the continent was assessed. They found that:

‘Livestock deliver many “goods” in smallholder farming systems in SSA including improving food and nutrition security, increasing soil fertility and adding value to crops by turning them into nutrient-rich foods. They also contribute to income generation and livelihoods. Narratives on livestock “bads” or negative environmental consequences have been largely shaped by the production conditions in the Global North but livestock production in SSA tells a different story. In SSA, livestock are an integral component of mixed farming systems and they play key roles in supporting the livelihoods of a majority of the rural population. Nonetheless, the environmental consequences of livestock production on the continent cannot be ignored.’

These findings affirm the critical role that livestock play in sustaining the livelihoods of rural populations in Africa and in enhancing agricultural sustainability on the continent. But the environmental consequences of livestock production on the continent were also recognized.

‘Better integration of livestock into the farming systems, efficient nutrient management systems, and provision of necessary policy and institutional support can help to optimize livestock’s role in mixed farming systems to maximize livestock ‘goods’ while minimizing the ‘bads’, the authors say.

Role of livestock highlighted at the International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores

ILRI researcher Augustine Ayantunde recently emphasized the multiple roles of herbivorous livestock in smallholder farming systems in SSA at the 10th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores (ISNH) in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on 2–6 September 2018.  In a keynote presentation at the symposium, which was attended by over 400 people from 48 countries, Ayantunde explained how livestock is supporting sustainable agriculture in the continent, the opportunities and constraints in livestock-mediated intensification of the continent’s farming systems and the environmental consequences of livestock in sustainable agriculture.

‘Livestock deliver a range of ‘goods’ in smallholder farming therefore the over-emphasis on the environment should be moderated by the enormous importance of livestock for livelihood of many poor rural households. Unprecedented demand for animal-source food, will continue to soar in developing countries and this provides great investment opportunities in livestock sector to increase productivity, income and generate employment opportunities’.

At the conference, Ayantunde was nominated to join the International Advisory Committee which will organize the next ISNH conference in 2022 in Brazil. The ISNH takes place every four years. He was also interviewed by La Montagne, a regional French Newspaper which covered the symposium where he spoke about the need and ways of addressing the challenge of food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa

Augustine Ayantunde is a principal scientist in the Sustainable Livestock Systems program and regional representative for ILRI in West Africa. He is based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Read the whole review of the ‘Role of herbivores in sustainable agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (paywall). You can also read an article on a study in Burkina Faso that quantifies the impact of sustainable intensification on household food security.

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