Field projects


Smallholder Forage Based Dairy Production


In Tonga milk production has largely been confined to a small number of farms run by various religious organizations and several larger landowners (on Tongatapu). The Government of Tonga now wishes to broaden the base of the industry and develop smallholder dairying with a particular focus on women farmers. There is an urgent need for technical assistance to provide the farmers with appropriate skills and technology packages.

Through training and extension and focus on a number of key progressive smallholders (particularly rural women) and extension agents, while at the same time including as many farmers as possible in field days and other forms of training, it is anticipated that the foundations can be laid for a fairly rapid expansion of smallholder dairying. Training opportunities and resource support should enable farmers and extensionists to more confidently and effectively play their role in developing the small holder dairy sector and in so doing increase the incomes of smallholder farming families. 

This project aimed to provide training and essential equipment and supplies needed to allow training benefits to be fully capitalized upon. Pasture and forage technologies proven in other Pacific Island Countries were  introduced and demonstrated. It also aimed to improve farmer and extensionist planning, problem-solving and management skills, establish a number of on-farm demonstrations, which would illustrate to the farming community an appropriate set of technologies for integrating dairy production into the 'api farming system and suitable for adoption by novice dairy farmers. It also provided urgently needed equipment for the Livestock Division to allow Livestock Officers and consultants to visit farms, carry out the project workplan and provide much needed support to farmers. 

The design recognised the varying levels of dairy development in the different island groups: on Eua assistance concentrated on developing current production towards a town supply system using micro-processing; on Ha’apai and Vava’u smallholder home supply and the sale of boiled milk were developed; while in Tongatapu assistance was based on increasing smallholder milk supplies to the milk treatment facility (provided under project TCP/TON/4556 which mainly focused on providing a processing facility for the main island of Tongatapu). 

Additional potential benefits should accrue from improving the nutritional, economic and food security status of rural families headed by women and those living in remote islands. In particular the project aimed to: (i) decrease the need for internal migration to urban areas by increasing rural family incomes (particularly those headed by women); (ii) promote food security in remote areas by diversifying production, and decreasing reliance on imports; (iii) facilitate more intensive and profitable land use by integrating forage production into the smallholder cropping rotation, and in doing so simplify land preparation for crops, improve nutrient cycling and decrease risk factors by broadening the enterprise base of the farming system. Nationally the project will have a positive effect on the stagnating areas of crop production (squash, watermelon and coconut exports are all areas which have suffered downturns in the recent past) and promote improvements in Tonga’s trade by way of import substitution. 


The project had the following objectives: (i) to create a core group of smallholder dairy farmers (particularly women) as well as livestock and women extensionists covering all the main island groups of Tongatapu, Eua, Ha’apai, and Vava’u, trained in dairy husbandry, particularly cut and carry and grazed forage production, animal feeding and management, and milk production and handling, (ii) increase awareness and utilization of non-forage feed resources for dairy cattle, (iii) strengthen the capacity of MAF Livestock Division and Women in Development Section, Extension Division to support smallholder dairy development.


The anticipated project outputs were:

  • a core group of trained smallholder dairy farmers (8) Livestock Extensionists (4) and Women in Development Extensionists (2) in selected island groups and production areas, able to provide industry leadership and share their expertise with other farmers;
  • 300 farmers exposed to new technologies through a series of training courses and field days;
  • dairy farmers more conversant with feeding of dairy animals and in particular the use of both forage and non-forage feed resources;
  • an increased Government capacity to support smallholder dairy farmers through improved extension and breeding services.
  • increased local milk production through improved cut and carry, grazed pasture production and management, and the use of locally available feed resources. 

Project staff and farmers discuss pasture establishment during a Farmers Field Day on Ha'apai

Elephant grass nursery on farmers 'api

The project had links to GCP/SAM/007/FRA under which a regional dairy training workshop was held in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga and under which a CD-ROM entitled "Dairying in the Southwest Pacific" is being produced for distribution in the region.

Actual outputs:

  • farmers steadily developed areas of improved pasture for grazing and cut-and-carry;
  • farmers increased their use of supplementary feed resources and improved their dairying skills over the project period;
  • a core group of fourteen smallholder dairy farmers, extensionists and women in development extensionists was trained;
  • several hundred farmers were exposed to new technologies through a series of training courses and field days;
  • over a two year period the project worked closely with some 40 to 50 dairy farmers on Eu’a, Ha’apai, Vava’u and Tongatapu;
  • quantities of fresh, pasteurized milk are now available for home consumption and sale on all four main island groups;
  • foundations have been laid on which future developments can take place and a work plan has been prepared for future follow up with farmers by Government extension workers.


Forages and Feeds

  • an appropriate suite of pasture varieties [grasses and legumes] was identified as being suitable for the production needs, local management styles, soils, and climatic variations common in Tonga. For grazing, Signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens) or Koronivia grass (B. humidicola) with the legumes Siratro (Macroptilium atropurpureum), Centro (Centrosema pubescens) and Glycine (Neonotonia wightii) were recommended. A hybrid napier or elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum Hawaiian hybrid) recently imported from Samoa was identified as highly appropriate for cut and carry feeding as were locally occurring types of Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia sepium;

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National project Director To'ifalefehi Moala emphasizing the importance of the establishment phase for a B. decumbens, P. maximum + legume pasture.

  • an extensive network of forage based dairy production demonstrations was established and maintained in co-operation between MAF officers and farmer members of the core group;
  • training was given to farmers and MAF staff in pasture establishment & management, weed control, farm management and dairy husbandry. Much of the training was done on-farm using the most progressive farmers as models;
  • the area and utilization of improved pastures and cut and carry forages has increased very significantly. This is most apparent on private farms and in the island groups away from Tongatapu where previously very little had been done in the way of training or demonstration in pasture improvement. Forage development still has considerable potential for improvement in the Tongan dairy (and beef) subsectors. Pastures and forages represent the lowest cost and simplest feeding system.
  • a rapid assessment of animal feeding practices and the availability of locally made and imported feedstuffs for dairy cattle was made; this included a survey of potentially useful locally available feed resources, mainly agro-industrial by-products was also made. Many of these feed resources are unutilized and are consequently pollutants. Their feed values were assessed and ration formulations prepared.

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A chopped Napier grass, copra meal and molasses mixture for feeding at milking time on the Kings dairy farm, Tongatapu.

  • training material for use by Livestock Extensionists was prepared including a very practical manual on feed preparation from feed resources available in Tonga.

Farming Systems

  • the main types of farming system used by co-operating farmers were identified. These included:

A. the single 'api system – a highly integrated, basically subsistence system concentrating on rootcrops, coconuts, and very limited livestock and small areas of cash cropping [usually farm surpluses].

B. the multi-'api system involving commercial cropping [both traditional and export], subsistence rootcrops, coconuts and varying levels of livestock production.

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National project Director To'ifalefehi Moala and project consultant Steve Lee discussing pasture status with Tongatapu dairy farmer Isope Fonua.

  • the opportunities and potential benefits to farmers of improved and increased forage based livestock production in the different farming systems were identified. The training and demonstration programme was designed to focus on this potential.
  • appropriate systems of forage establishment and management were formulated which integrate well into the farming system. These give considerable benefits in the form of: improved overall farm income, ease of crop establishment, better nutrient cycling and maintenance of the soils productive capacity. Farmers and MAF staff were also given training in problem solving, planning techniques and practical infrastructure development for small dairy farms.
  • a demonstration plot was established on Tongatapu to demonstrate the role of pastures and livestock within the 'api system and crop/pasture/livestock rotations with extension messages such as "cattle control guinea grass regrowth", "cattle provide additional income", "cattle (and the pasture legumes) enrich the soil", and "cattle make future crop establishment easier (by controlling the regrowth)".
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A demonstration of the role of pasture and cattle in the cropping rotation.

Dairy Husbandry

  • training and demonstration was given in the particular needs of dairy cattle if good levels of production are to be achieved. This included animal training and feeding, record keeping, milk procedure and milking facility requirements. The management requirements of different classes of dairy animal was also included.
  • training was also given in dairy animal breeds and breeding. This included selection of cows and bulls. Potential sources of breeding stock were identified and advised to farmers.

Milk Handling and Processing

  • training was given in both 'Eua and Tongatapu on improved dairy cleaning and maintenance programmes. This was done in a class room setting [theory] as well as in the field. It included training in dairy shed inspection for regulatory purposes.
  • technical support for smallscale milk processing was provided. Using simple equipment purchased by the project, farmers were trained in the hygienic handling, pasteurization, packing and transportation of fresh milk. Training and demonstration was also given in very simple "milk pasteurization in the milk can" technique. Some training was also given in the production of other milk products such as frozen milk pops.
  • training emphasised the maintenance of hygiene standards at all stages of milk handling and processing. Good milking technique was demonstrated.

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