Grassland and forage to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty


S.G. Reynolds, C. Batello, S. Baas and S. Mack
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy

Key points

1. Grasslands contribute to the livelihoods of over 800 million people including many poor smallholders where government focus will have the biggest impact on poverty and livelihoods, but development must be done within local communities with their full participation.

2. Rapid urbanization has increased demand for forages for peri-urban smallholder dairies. In temperate areas provision of reliable winter fodder or feed remains the biggest need.

3. Greater use can be made of forages under tree crops and agroforestry systems. The food potential of grassland plants in semi-arid areas is neglected.

4. Management of extensive grasslands must consider the public good as well as production; policies are needed to remunerate pastoralists who manage grasslands to safeguard watersheds and provide public goods and services.

5. In some areas such as Eastern Europe there is a move away from intensive systems to extensive grassland use combining grazing and wildlife management, which provides income while preserving biodiversity.

Keywords: pastoralists, development, smallholders, policy


The world’s population has doubled to over six billion in forty years (FAO, 2002a) and is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.  Unsustainable and environmentally unsound policies and practices have caused widespread degradation of the environment and increased people’s vulnerability to food shortages (UNEP, 2002).  The crucial agricultural dilemma is how to satisfy the demand for food and at the same time sustain the natural resource base.  In 1999 some 23% of the population of the developing world (1.2 billion people), had incomes or consumption levels below one US dollar a day; 2.8 billion lived on less than two dollars.  Three quarters of these live in rural areas with nearly half in Southeast Asia and a quarter in sub-Saharan Africa, where the problem is growing (IFAD, 2001).  In developing countries half the population is involved in agriculture compared to 5.5% in the developed world: it is highest in sub-Saharan Africa with 58.3%, 53.9% in east and southeast Asia and 49% in south Asia.  The agricultural population is 87% of the rural population, although income may be diversified with other activities.  FAO estimated that in 2003 some 840 million people lacked enough food to lead healthy, active lives.  The share of international development assistance going to agriculture has fallen from about 20% in the late 1980s, to only 12% in 2000 (IFAD, 2001). Bilateral development assistance to agriculture from OECD countries fell from US$4.1 billion in 2001 to US$3.8 billion in 2002.  Poverty is widespread and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000) include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, with two targets, between 1990 and 2015, of halving the proportion of people whose income is less than US$1 a day and halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger). What role can grasslands and forages play in improving this situation?

The context

Estimates of the proportion of the earth covered by grassland vary between 20 and 40%, depending on definition.  Natural pastures cover more than twice the area of the world’s cropped land.  Grasslands are a source of food, forage and energy, a wildlife habitat, a place for in situ conservation of genetic resources, for carbon and water storage, and recreation, while protecting the catchments of many major river systems.  Grasslands contribute to the livelihoods of over 800 million people (White et al., 2000) and for almost 200 million people in the more marginal areas (particularly arid and semi-arid regions) grazing livestock is the main source of livelihood.  Much of the best land of the world’s major grassland areas is now under crops. Many of the world’s poor depend on mixed farming in humid and sub-humid regions where climates permit cropping and livestock contribute to intensification, nutrient recycling and diversification of income thus providing a buffer against risk (Thornton et al., 2002; Wright, 2005).  Livestock feed is derived from fodder crops, crop residues, fodder trees and by-products and from marginal land, fallows, and roadsides.

Dixon et al. (2001) emphasise that small farmers produce most of the developing world’s food but are much poorer than the rest of the population.  Dealing with poverty and hunger means tackling the problems of small farmers in their daily struggle for livelihood security.  FAO (2003a) notes “no sustainable reduction in poverty is possible without improving livelihoods in rural areas”.  As well as listing five main strategies (income diversification; extension of land area; intensification of land use; increased non-farm income; and leaving farming altogether), Dixon el al. (2001) propose elements for reducing hunger and poverty: refocusing of institutions, policies and public goods; trade liberalisation and market development; enhancing agricultural infrastructure and human capital, and improving techniques and management of natural resources.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines livelihood as “a means to a living”.  Ellis (2000) suggests that “a livelihood comprises the activities, assets and the access to these that together determine the living gained by an individual or household”, and stresses that they alter as they adapt to change.  In the context of grasslands, livelihoods mean not only cash incomes or higher livestock production, but livelihood outcomes may also be the provision of food for home consumption, or power to cultivate crops, as grasslands are multifunctional (Hervieu, 2002) providing goods and services as a common good.

This paper examines some opportunities for increased or alternative use of grasslands and forages to improve livelihood security and reduce poverty.

Some major opportunities

The most obvious indicator of opportunities is the likely rise in demand for livestock products: per capita consumption in developed countries will be relatively constant over the next 20 years but will increase in developing ones (Delgado et al., 1999). Much of the demand is for white meat (Delgado et al., 1999; Upton, 2004) but the projection is for a doubling of beef consumption and a 2.3-fold increase in milk consumption between 1993 and 2020 in the developing world (Table 1), especially in China and Southeast Asia where there is rapid economic growth.


Table 1. Projected trends in production and consumption of selected livestock products (million tonnes) (Delgado et al., 1999)

Developed world

Developing world








35 (32)*

38 (36)

22 (22)

44 (47)


348 (245)

371 (263)

164 (168)

401 (391)


*Consumption figures in brackets

As indicated above, grasslands support a range of livestock systems in addition to other functions and therefore the opportunities (as well as the constraints) are numerous:

  • the demand for livestock products will present opportunities for both:
    extensive systems: including the introduction and wider use of supplementary winter and dry-season feeding and the sustainable use of irrigation for localised forage production, and,
    intensive systems: particularly sustainable crop-pasture mixed farming and cut and carry systems for smallholders;
  • with increased urbanization there will be a major focus on peri-urban systems, especially in terms of dairy production, which provides an opportunity for increased fodder production;
  • an opportunity frequently mentioned but so far under-exploited is the forage available under various tree crops and in agroforestry and especially sylvopastoral systems;
  • in semi-arid areas various grassland species have considerable potential for food production (as well as for medicinal purposes, energy and as a genetic resource for much greater future exploitation). To date (on a world scale) only 100-150 forage species have undergone selection or been cultivated out of a total of some 10,000 species of grasses (Peeters, 2004);
  • mountain grasslands and other areas with a strong consumer brand image have a potential in terms of the development of niche products, and for many natural grassland areas there is a considerable potential to add value to livestock production in terms of ‘natural’ products, organic meat/milk/wool, and from the harvesting of wildlife meat and products. With increasing public interest in the methods employed in food production (Younie & Baars, 2005) and concerns about food safety, there is considerable scope for focus on the nutritional quality, hygiene issues and food safety aspects of products from ‘natural’ systems, which in the public’s view is often identified with grasslands. For example, recent FAO assistance to the mountainous and remote farming communities of Babine and Brodarevo in Prijepolje Municipality in the Sandzak region of Serbia and Montenegro, has identified a strong demand and well-developed marketing outlets for the distinctive cheeses from this area (FAO, 2004a).
  • a major aspect that will have increasing significance in future is the issue of carbon sequestration, and whether farmers and pastoralists should be compensated for providing carbon sequestration services (Lipper & Cavatassi, 2003);
  • use of grassland areas for watershed protection as reserves and protected areas and habitats for wildlife. Likewise should pastoralists or mixed farmers be compensated for safeguarding watersheds (Pagiola et al., 2004) by adopting appropriate grazing management policies?
  • there is also the ethical dimension and the importance particularly, but not exclusively, of some of the arid and semi-arid grasslands in terms both of cultural heritage (Wright, 2005) and religious significance for pastoralists, such as in Tibet and also in Dolpo, Nepal where the pasture of Kunasa is considered a ‘beyul’ (sacred, hidden land) by the Bonpo communities of Phoksundo (Aumeeruddy-Thomas et al., 2004).

While there are major opportunities for increased or alternative uses of forage and grassland to improve livelihoods in developing countries, there are constraints, and a need for successful, applicable models wherein the factors for success and the actions needed can be identified.

Case studies and projects

This paper focuses on a number of the above opportunities and in particular stresses five areas for increased or alternative uses of forage and grassland to improve livelihoods in developing countries:

  1. fodder production and livestock in small mixed farming systems;
  2. grazing under trees in agroforestry systems;
  3. grazing systems with winter fodder in temperate areas;
  4. extensive grazing systems, and protected areas;
  5. grasslands as a source of traditional food in the semi-arid/arid tropics.

Examples are given of successful FAO projects and other case studies to illustrate possibilities for livelihood improvement through grassland and forage development and some of the problems faced. These are drawn from various countries and regions: Chad, China, Czech Republic, Kenya, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Patagonia, Southeast Asia, Sudan and Syria.

i. Fodder production and livestock in small mixed farming systems

Mixed farming supplies over 90% of the world’s milk, 70% of sheep and goat meat, and 35% of the beef (de Haan et al., 1997; Wright, 2005).  Most of the world’s poor are associated with small mixed farms, so this area has the greatest scope for reducing poverty. In populous developing countries natural pastures are being converted to crops. Rapid urbanization is increasing the demand for cheap food - by 2005 over half the world’s population will live in cities (FAO, 2002b). In the cities of the developing world (with poverty rates often over 50%), urban and suburban farms supply food to about 700 million – a quarter of the world’s urban population.  Dairying in and around cities is important in many countries where there is a demand for fresh milk but no large-scale dairy sector. The greatest development of smallholder milk for urban consumption has been in India where the “White Revolution” has improved supply and quality (NDDB, 2004).  Horne et al., (2005) estimate that demand for red meat per capita will increase by 40–60% by 2010 in Southeast Asia, compared with 2000.  The major constraint to satisfying regional demand for livestock products is limited feed supply and quality.

Peri-urban dairying in Pakistan

In Pakistan, demand for milk has led to the development of specialised fodder production and long-distance transport of fodder to city dairies, creating a great deal of employment.  Commercial fodder growing and dairying, with good money flows and increased incomes, represents a major opportunity for smallholders. Urban dairying has been important for a very long time, but in the late nineteen-eighties it began to grow rapidly (Dost, 2003); milk production rose by 81% in the past decade. Farmers took up commercial forage production and thousands of jobs have been created in milk marketing, forage production, harvesting, chopping and transport. Peri-urban supply has increased greatly, but costs are lower in the countryside so huge quantities of milk and forage are transported to urban areas. Forty percent of dairy animals, mainly buffalo, are peri-urban and 60% rural; most are stall-fed in the irrigated plains.  Lahore with 250,000 animals has the largest urban herd and finds fodder within 100 kilometres; Faisalabad (100,000) and Gujranwala (150,000) obtain fodder close by. In rainfed areas fodder comes from afar: Rawalpindi (160,000) from up to 350 km; Karachi (175,000) 350 km and Quetta (60,000) over 400 km (Suttie, 2000).

The winter fodders are Trifolium alexandrinum (berseem), and Avena sativa (oats); summer fodders are: Sorghum bicolor (sorghum), Sorghum x drummondii(Hybrid Sweet Sorghum), Pennisetum glaucum (millet) and Zea mays (maize). Forage growing is popular and more profitable than cash crops such as Triticum aestivum (wheat), Gossypium spp. (cotton), Saccharum spp. (sugar cane) and Oryza sativa (rice); cultivation is easier and cheaper as it requires less weeding, sprays, and fewer inputs, and gives quick, regular income (Dost, 2003).  Straw and dried stover forms the bulk of dairy rations. Drying coarse cereals is widespread in rainfed districts; they are bought by big stockists, stored where they are produced then supplied to peri-urban dairies. High forage feeding with low concentrate use is the best system for maximum profit. Net income per hectare was highest for Sorghum x drummondii  (Hybrid Sweet Sorghum) (Rs 146 266) followed by Medicago sativa (lucerne) (Rs 139 990) and T. alexandrinum (Rs 138 925), and was lowest for Z. mays (maize) and Sorghum bicolor (sorghum) (Dost, 2003). Farmers involved only in forage production and sale were satisfied with the business, earning around Rs 100,000 to Rs 150,000 (April 2004, 1 US$ = 57.6 Pak. Rs) from 0.8 - 1.23 ha of forage. Crop production needs more investment and inputs, and little income is available for 4-6 months.  A comparison of economic returns showed that benefits from raising seventeen dairy animals on a hectare (buying some feeds), and selling milk gave maximum profit (Rs 732,113) followed by forage production for sale to urban dairies (Rs 96,250) and mixed farming i.e. animal + crops (Rs 62,550) respectively, compared with all the other agriculture related businesses.

Women farmers and milk production from Napier grass in Kenya

In Kenya dairying is developing around urban areas with a change to stall-feeding. Units are small and local; fodder is traded by farmers who may not own stock, so employment and income are spread throughout the community. In 1996 more than 70% of income on smallholder mixed farms was from dairying; smallholders contribute 56 and 70% of total and marketed milk respectively, from about 2.5 million cattle on 625,000 small farms (Karanja, 1999). Deficits in milk supply are evident, and farmers, especially close to urban centres have responded by intensifying milk production. Supportive policies on milk liberalization allow smallholders to realize the benefits of dairying: regular cash generation, employment creation and improved nutrition.

A typical farmer keeps 2-3 cows with followers on a hectare, and also grows crops (Orodho, 2005). Cattle are mixed exotic breeds or crosses with zebu. Stall feeding of residues and grass is widespread and increasing.  Purchase of fodders or hay is common (Staal et al., 1998). There has been a rapid adoption of Pennisetum purpureum (Napier grass); other fodders include Ipomoea batatas vines, Vicia spp., Desmodium uncinatum, D. intortum and trees such as Calliandra calothyrsus and Leucaena leucocephala.  Farmers buy grain, concentrates and by-products. Increased farm gate prices have encouraged feed conservation for the dry season when the milk price is highest, and hence an increase in forage production on small dairies.  Smallholders with zero-grazing units take the dung straight to the P. purpureum plots. Many households with intensive dairying hire labour, usually from surrounding areas. Increased milk production increases home consumption, and it was noted that the incidence of chronic malnutrition was significantly lower among children of households with dairy cattle than those without. Dairying is evenly spread across income categories (Nicholson et al., 1999). Women are particularly involved in dairying and decision-making in dairy households and do most of the work (except spraying and herding). The contribution to dairy work on small farms was: women – 30%; children – 26%; men – 25%; and hired labour – 19%. Women control income from milk while men deal with cash crops and decisions regarding animal sales and purchases (Staal et al., 1998). A survey of 202 households showed that intensive dairying substantially increased household income, generated secondary employment and improved the nutrition of pre-school children (Nicholson et al., 1999). Profits obtained by farmers growing forages for intensive dairy production are high. However, the currently used clones of P. purpureum are over fifty years old, and Orodho (2005), has indicated an increased incidence of diseases and pests, in particular head smut and stunting. The pressing need is to develop disease resistant P. purpureum cultivars and identify alternative fodders.

ii. Grazing under trees in agroforestry systems

There is considerable opportunity for increasing livestock production through grazing under tree crops in the millions of hectares of agroforestry systems worldwide (Reynolds, 1995). Systems include Elaeis guineensis (oil palm), Hevea brasiliensis (rubber), Cocos nucifera (coconut), Syzygium aromaticum (clove), Anacardium occidentale (cashew), Juglans regia (walnut), citrus and various other fruit trees as well as sylvopastoral systems in both temperate and tropical areas. However, it is in Southeast Asia that livestock-tree crop integration is likely to provide a considerable increase in production for improved livelihoods and poverty reduction, as the large tree crop areas produce as much forage as the region’s pasturelands (Wong et al., 2005). Elaeis guineensis (oil palm) covers 5.2 million hectares, Cocos nucifera (coconut) 6.6 and Hevea brasiliensis (rubber) 5.7 million hectares; young Tectona grandis (teak) plantations are also suitable for grazing and vast areas are presently ungrazed. Over 90% of Cocos nucifera (coconut) are grown by smallholders. Stock raising in plantations can be by cut-and-carry or grazing. Grazing under tree crops and in plantations is not new, and is often a supplementary enterprise to diversify and stabilize income (Reynolds, 1995). Traditionally, grazing cattle in plantations has often raised tree crop yields through weed removal and dung returns to improve soil fertility. Also, low copra and oil prices are a good reason for integration, and in Indonesia cattle may contribute from 50-75% of income in cattle- Cocos nucifera systems. For over one hundred years cover crops like Calopogonium mucunoides and Centrosema pubescens have been sown in young plantations for weed control and soil improvement (Horne et al., 2005).

However, to date the potential of livestock-tree crop integration has been under-exploited and assessment is needed of the key impediments, both technical and institutional. Light levels in plantations vary from almost full daylight at planting to below 10% when the canopy closes and improved forages are replaced by native vegetation. With Cocos nucifera (coconut) light transmission increases again with more mature palms. Introduced forages grow well when plantations are young but poor persistence limits their usefulness.  Finding shade-tolerant forages is as elusive as it was in the nineteen-seventies.  Indigenous grasses like Axonopus compressus and Paspalum conjugatum perform well, and Desmodium ovalifolium, Calopogonium caeruleum and C. mucunoides persist well, but appropriate management is necessary to ensure persistence and productivity. Alternative tree crop spatial arrangements could provide for a considerable increase in livestock production (Reynolds, 1995). Tree by-products for livestock include oil-palm fronds and press fibre as roughage and rubber seed meal, copra cake and palm kernel cake.  Grazing for weed control gives low returns so emphasis is likely to be on high-yielding trees with livestock to increase output per unit area. In Malaysia, estates using cattle rose from 120 in 1998 (with 56,000 cattle), to 167 with 115,400 in 2000.  Positive results in Malaysian plantations have led to a national policy whereby the sector was targeted to contribute 240,000 tons of red meat by 2010 (Wong et al., 2005).

iii. Grazing systems with winter fodder in temperate areas

Thirteen percent of the world’s pastures are temperate grazing systems on natural vegetation (de Haan et al., 1997), mainly in China, USA and South America. Much of these pastures are in relatively good condition, but there are areas where grazing pressure is high such as in China and Mongolia, and grasslands have degraded. However, studies in the eastern parts of temperate Asia (Suttie & Reynolds, 2003) indicate a lack of data to ascertain the extent of poor pasture condition and the evolution of degradation. FAO work in the Altai region of China has demonstrated the complementarity of mobile pastoralism and agro-pastoral development and the benefits of irrigated fodder for winter feed, and shown that technological development should go in parallel with social, environmental and ecological considerations. In the Northern Areas of Pakistan, with the introduction of appropriate fodders and by working closely with farmers it has been possible to achieve year-round fodder availability. In Nepal, where Avena sativa (fodder oats) fit the cropping system and provide green feed in scarcity periods, farmers are adopting new technologies such as small-bag silage, which suit their system.

Winter-feed and transhumant herding by Kazakhs in Altai, Xinjiang, China

Altai prefecture has an extreme continental climate. Transhumant herding is the main land use, and lack of winter feed is a major problem (Li-Menglin et al., 1996). Several countries have tried to settle herders, often with undesirable social results; the Altai project has maintained herd mobility while providing settled bases for herders, where fodder is grown and education and social services for their families are available.  Over half the population of Altai follow transhumant herding (cattle, sheep, horses, goats and camels). Traditional herders have good summer grazing on land above 1,300m only between late June and September. In spring and autumn the transition routes are heavily grazed; winter grazing (December to the end of March) is on desert plains.

Winter feed problems have been solved by developing irrigated land. From 1988 to 1997 over 32,000 hectares were developed for M. sativa (lucerne) hay rotated with crops; the work was assisted by World Food Programme and UNDP/FAO. By 1997 some 6,100 households had been voluntarily settled; a further 26,700 hectares of M. sativa have been established bringing the total to more than 50,000 hectares, and another 20,000 were foreseen in the Ninth Five Year Plan. The project, which transformed desert into farms and herders into herder-farmers, is accepted as a model for further voluntary settlement schemes. Food security of the region and the target population has been dramatically improved without dismantling the socio-economic basis of transhumance. Family incomes have increased steadily as has access to education and medical facilities. In 1999 and 2000, transhumance patterns and socio-economic conditions of project herders and nomads following the ‘old ways’ were studied (Suttie & Reynolds, 2003) and compared. Settled groups were able to over-winter more stock and sold more animals. There are clear income differences between the groups as shown in Table 2.


Table 2. Income (RMB)* of study groups: traditional nomads v project herder-farmers, in Altai, Xinjiang

  1999 2000 1999 2000

Per capita income

2,583 3,303 6,005 8,198

Income per household

17,511 21,658 39,369 55,569

*in 1999/2000 US$1 was equivalent to approx. 8.28 Renminbi (RMB)

The herder-farmer group’s herds are increasing; they have good access to services and are investing in production equipment and household goods.  Although M. sativa yields are far below their potential because herders are loath to provide inputs for ‘grass’, winter weight loss in sheep has been converted to gain; flocks are mated earlier and lambs slaughtered in their first year.  The nomadic group had lower incomes, little access to services and own what they carry in their baggage train; their sheep have to be kept through a second summer.

New forages, winter feed and benefits for smallholders in Pakistan’s Northern Areas

The Northern Areas[1] of Pakistan cover 72,500 km2 of steep, broken land with some of the highest mountains in the world.  Cultivable land is very scarce, but there are three million livestock, which spend summer on alpine pastures but rely on crop residues in winter (Dost, 2001). Cereals and orchards are the mainstay of cropping systems and fodder legumes such as M. sativa (lucerne) and Trifolium resupinatum (shaftal) are intercropped with trees. After harvest there is a potential fodder-growing period of three months in double-cropping areas (1,200-2,000 m) and two months above 2,200 m. Traditionally all lands are open to grazing between autumn harvest and sowing the winter cereal, a serious constraint to fodder growing which has to be addressed by communal agreement.

FAO fodder crop activity began in 1994, and integrated with work of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP).  Traditional fodders were Z. mays in summer, a winter-dormant landrace of M. sativa which gives only three cuts, and T. resupinatum which produces only in late spring and gives 2-3 cuts by late April; green T. aestivum (wheat) was cut in time of scarcity.

Introduced forages and cultivars have had a striking impact. Non-winter-dormant M. sativas are well adapted to much of the area and cv ‘Sundar’ provides 7-9 cuts in double-cropping areas and 4-6 in single crop areas. T. alexandrinum, which was not grown in the region before the project, produces from November-January to late April, and gives 5-6 cuts and 2-3 times higher yields than T. resupinatum which gives 2-3 cuts in March-April. ‘Agaiti’ T. alexandrinum yields 135 tonnes/ha green matter compared with 80 tonnes for T. resupinatum. A mixture of Avena sativa (oats) with T. alexandrinum improves yields and provides feed at a time of great scarcity; improved Avena grow much earlier and are more productive than other winter-green cereals. Multi-cut Sorghum x drummondii(sorghums) produce three or four times as much as local Z. mays. Adaptive research continues along with demonstration, and fodders for the highest areas are still sought. With green feed and hay it is now possible to ensure year round fodder for dairying. By 1997 some 7,000 farms were using improved forage and cereal varieties and these numbers continue to climb. Local merchants stock seed on project advice.  Depending on the area under improved fodder, farmers saved between 6,000 and 10,000 Rs per annum on winter-feed; many also earned 3,000-5,000 Rs from sale of hay. Daily milk yield increased from 1.4 to 4 litres and, in addition to improved family nutrition most farmers earn 5,000-8,000 Rs annually from sale of milk and butter (exchange rate 1US$=Rs 64.25 - September 2001).

Nepal – fodder oats and small-bag silage

Nepalese farming ranges from the tropical Terai to the High Hills where only one crop a year is possible; farms are small.  Urban demand for milk has risen, as has the numbers of improved and crossbred cattle and buffaloes.  In Brahmin areas not only milk but cow dung and urine are essential in domestic rituals.  Straw and crop residues are fed from September/October but run out in January.  Avena spp. are grown on Oryza land but have to be off in time to get the land ready for the new Oryza crop; a few single-cut cultivars are used, but seed quality maintenance is poor (Pariyar, 2002).  An Avena improvement project has focused on poor farmers in the Terai, Low and Middle Hills.  Avena is well accepted by farmers and new multi-cut cultivars being screened and demonstrated are high yielding.  The project assures seed production, works with farmers to assure uptake and is introducing fodder conservation.  At high altitudes, where crop choice is very limited, Avena could be grown for hay.  Avena provides green feed in the winter lean period, from the Terai to the Middle Hills.  Seed supply is through local production with maintenance of stock by local institutions.  Hay cannot be made in wet conditions and ensilage is a better method at lower altitudes.  To avoid wastage associated with small silos a ‘small bag’ system (Lane, 2000) has been adopted and is rapidly becoming popular.  Bags are of 6 or 12 kg (a daily ration for one or two buffaloes).  Silage can be made in summer when fodder is available but conditions are very wet; a few bags can be made at a time using slack periods in the farming day.  A number of farmers have reported significant increases in milk production and income with little additional production cost.  This technology is applicable to like situations in the Himalayas.

iv. Extensive grazing systems and protected areas

Extensive grazing systems are the only feasible form of agriculture in much of the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, Latin America, the Near East and Central Asia where the climate is harsh, rainfall unreliable and the risk factor is high (Upton, 2004; Suttie & Reynolds, 2003).  On communal grasslands there are often problems of grazing rights and pastoralists have difficulty in managing grazing resources sustainably when there is continual likelihood of trespass and conflict.  Each grassland system has its characteristics, cultures and problems but the practical problems associated with production often depend on their method of ownership and management; the problems of commercial stock-raising on privately-owned land require a very different approach from those of pastoralists on communally owned pastures (Riveros, 1993).  In some Near East countries, such as Syria, where the land is State-owned, there has been a breakdown of traditional systems of range management.  Rising population and livestock numbers, and cultivation, have increased pressure and resulted in deterioration of large areas of the rangelands with consequent loss of biodiversity.  In areas of Eastern Europe the break up of collectives has resulted in the abandonment of land, and extensive land-use systems combining grazing and wildlife management offer an alternative for additional income and preservation of natural resources and biodiversity.

Participatory range rehabilitation, wildlife and biodiversity awareness in Syria

Rising population and livestock numbers, and a high degree of mechanisation have caused severe deterioration of large areas of the Al-Badia steppe.  Many recognize a dramatic degradation of the environment over the past 30‑40 years, but show little awareness of the causes and the possibility of remedial action. A project for the rehabilitation of degraded range, re-introduction of wildlife and establishment of a wildlife reserve, biodiversity awareness raising and the re-establishment of sustainable grazing management based on community participation began in 1996. Activities included re-seeding and shrub planting, closure to grazing, preparation of management plans, assessment of alternative energy sources and income generating activities.  Training and capacity building among the stakeholders was stressed, and they participated in planning, maintenance and management of the Talila Wildlife Reserve to which gazelle and oryx have been re-introduced. A holistic approach to resource management and involvement of all stakeholders is crucial for the long-term sustainability of the reserve and its surrounding rangelands; community participation and Bedouin extension were emphasised.  The Palmyra project has changed people's attitudes to biodiversity from indifference to awareness (Serra et al., 2003). This has occurred at a local level through formal training, involving hunters and nomads in the work and through the results of the project, in the form of the reserve, the gazelles and the oryx, and education. At national and international level the spectacular rediscovery of the Geronticus eremita (Northern Bald Ibis) created widespread awareness of the value and significance of Syria's natural heritage.

Grasslands in Patagonia: desertification, depopulation and diversification

On Patagonia’s cool semi-arid grazing lands (approximately 750 000 km2) extensive sheep farming is a monoculture (Borrelli & Cibils, 2005). Supplementary feed is not used and there are mortalities during big snowfalls. Over half the sheep farmers are poor and own less than 10 percent of the sheep; for the rest farm income no longer satisfies their economic expectations. About 400 sheep farms are economically viable and own approximately 40 percent of all sheep. A drought in 1983, followed by a harsh winter when 1.5 million sheep died showed that an ecological threshold had been crossed; grasslands could no longer provide enough forage for sheep survival. Recommendations for grazing management were released, but few farmers followed them. Scientists realized that there was a serious problem, politicians and farmers did not. Displaced persons moved to the cities, looking for aid, not drawn by economic activity. The government tried to keep the farmers and their personnel in rural areas. However, because farmers were paid in relation to labour use, not sustainable land use, this attenuated the signal and maintained the status quo; so more farms were abandoned and rural depopulation accelerated. In Santa Cruz 100 000 km2 have been abandoned in the last decade; half could re-start farming if they combined into large operations or included other economic activities, but the rest are too degraded to support sheep.

Carefully managed sheep do not damage the environment, and can be compatible with range conservation and alternative uses if proper grazing is imposed.  Some Government policies address this: Argentina established a Fiduciary Fund to support five Sustainable Sheep Development Programmes for farmers’ proposals. Access is conditional on the adoption of some basic technologies. Livelihoods could be improved for sheep farmers in Patagonia by focusing on the natural aspect of the native rangelands and aiming to obtain organic or other quality certification so that quality and marketing strategies become the key issues. The aim should be to supply traceable, differentiated lamb meat; increase lamb prices and farm profit, and use market incentives to promote sound grazing management (Borelli & Cibils, 2005).

Risk management for herding in Mongolia

A good example of a livelihood-based approach to grazing land development is the World Bank Sustainable Livelihoods Project in Mongolia (World Bank, 2004) designed with the technical support of FAO.  The programme has four complementary components: pastoral risk management; micro finance outreach to herders; a local initiatives fund to improve social infrastructures in grassland areas; and management and policy support.  These support local asset creation and institutional capacity and create response mechanisms to satisfy locally identified demands relevant to herders’ production systems.  Work began in 2002.  The most innovative part of the project is the Pastoral Risk Management Strategy which pilots and adapts options for 143 districts for managing covariant risk, with emphasis on preparedness.  It aims to reduce the vulnerability of herders and enhance their resilience to weather events and other shocks through four activity areas: (a) risk forecasting and contingency planning; (b) grazing and pasture management, supporting community-based pasture management, and mechanisms for conflict resolution; rehabilitation of emergency grazing reserves in areas of high quality under-utilized pasture (FAO, 2003b); (c) herder self-help initiatives, organisational strengthening with time-bound, matching loans to assist groups to establish revolving funds for livestock investments; (d) hay and fodder development.  Herders’ participation and the interest-driven replication rate from 16 districts in 2002 to 143 in 2004 are strong indicators of the high potential of such innovative approaches.

Grazing and wildlife - multiple land use in the Czech Republic

After 50 years of collective organization, land is being returned to its original owners or given to new owners; as a consequence of this change some agricultural holdings will be small and not economically viable, and in marginal areas may be abandoned. Marginal areas often favour biodiversity and form the basis of an attractive landscape, which are assets for eco-tourism and suitable for extensive grazing.  A project to provide training and introduce pilot techniques on this ‘abandoned’ land provides a model for converting this resource into sustainable grasslands, and promoting and enhancing biodiversity (FAO, 2004b).  Breeding game in reserves has a long tradition in the Czech Republic; currently there is a move to change game reserves to zones of extensive ecological agriculture, which would protect the landscape on the one hand and produce sport and develop agro-tourism on the other.  Livestock may be managed to co-exist with the wildlife.  Grassland in the forest provides fodder and shelter for game; temporary grassland is species poor and regular bush control is necessary.  Maintaining a balance between the forest and the food requirements of the wildlife requires careful management.  Feed for game, grown near to forests, will be managed as crops or permanent grassland, and the needs of specific game must be considered, including cover.  Where storms damage trees, and gaps in the canopy result, this will provide increased herbaceous cover with beneficial effects on wildlife. Various institutes, which have strengths in the biophysical and socio-economic attributes of land-use systems need to collaborate to provide farmers with the advice they need to manage these areas.

v. Grasslands as a source of traditional food in the semi-arid/arid tropics

A wide range of plants is used as emergency and seasonal food in the Sahel, including Sudan and Chad, and contributes to nutrition and rural incomes.  Some are collected every year, others in emergencies.  Leaves are eaten fresh or cooked while fruits are consumed fresh, dry or processed.  Seeds are ground to produce porridge or bread.  Many plants are important items of traditional medicine.  Some have entered local trading activities and are marketed: for instance Adansonia digitata, fruits of Ziziphus, Tamarindus indica, Grewia tenax, Hyphaene and Balanites.  These form an important source of income for rural households particularly in the event of crop failure.  Gathering should be guided and encouraged when compared with less desirable activities like wood collection, tree cutting and cultivation of marginal lands.  Grasses have significant food potential and the seed of several are harvested, known collectively as kreb or kereib; prominent grasses are species of Brachiaria, Cenchrus, Dactyloctenium, Echinochloa, Oryza (ruz al wadi – Oryza barthii - is much sought after and is more expensive than Pennisetum glaucum) and Rottboellia.  In 2003, FAO undertook various field studies on the extent to which harvested foods contribute to food security; their function in the ecosystem; existing species and varieties and in situ conservation practices, with a view to estimate market opportunities and income generation possibilities - especially for women who collect, process, store and sell traditional food from grasslands.  Markets were chosen for study, as they are end points for the products.  Leafy plants are sold locally in small quantities and at low prices while dried fruits are marketed at more regular prices.  In Chad kreb is mainly harvested for domestic consumption, although some is sold; its price varies from half the price of Triticum spp. to the same or double the price of Pennisetum glaucum.  A sample of kreb from N’djamena comprised Echinochloa colona (79%), Panicum coloratum (11%) and traces of Panicum antidotale, Cyperus spp. and Eragrostis spp. with 9% impurities (Batello et al., 2004).  It contained 8.8% protein and 1.4% lipids on a dry matter basis.  In monetary terms a 100 kg sack will fetch between 15,000 and 80,000 CFAF (Communauté Financière Africaine franc, with 655.957 CFA francs/€).  Thus there is a genuine market for kreb, and potential to develop it as a replacement for other cereals, and as a delicacy to be sold as a “niche” product to the people who use it in traditional recipes.

Key factors for success in improving grassland livelihoods and reducing poverty

In the past, failure of development projects was usually blamed on the reluctance of farmers or pastoralists to take up the proposed techniques, on problems of land tenure, or on the inadequacies of administrations; it was rarely attributed to project formulators who did not consult the beneficiaries and failed to understand their needs and expectations.  While the situation has improved, the importance of understanding the role of local institutions and community regulatory mechanisms is still insufficiently stressed.  A review of 800 projects (LID, 1999) found that most had failed to bring about significant sustainable improvements in the livelihoods of the poor, and concluded that “the key lesson is the importance of institutions in defining the success of pro-poor measures”, and the need to respect property rights which provide incentives for land conservation and improvement.  IFAD (2004) recently focused on the failure of present-day policies and practices to consider the needs of rural smallholders, and proposed strategies to help provide rural livestock keepers with the tools they need to overcome their poverty.  Whilst different lessons were learned in the various case studies included in this paper, a number of key features emerged:

1. Project duration, government commitment and farmer/herder participation
Large-scale development programmes should be preceded by small pilot projects and impact assessment studies.  Projects are usually of short duration but address long-term problems; longer (or linked) projects stand a better chance of success.  Governments must be fully committed to providing the resources needed over the long-term and be willing to take the necessary political and economic decisions as demonstrated in on-going developments in Xinjiang, China and the Al-Badia in Syria.  Crucially, the local population must have a major stake in a project; dialogue may be protracted but long-term success depends on their participation.  Participation requires training of technicians and local people as well as feedback mechanisms.  Projects working with pastoralists, have successfully demonstrated that they can be provided with a settled base, without destroying their pattern of life, as long as herd mobility is maintained so that flexibility remains within the system.

2. Technologies, market access and opportunities
Interventions should be targeted at real farmer problems such as critical shortage periods in the feed calendar.  Technologies should be appropriate and relatively inexpensive, and should result in a real impact on incomes and livelihoods.  Access to markets will encourage farmers to consider adopting new technologies; rapid urbanisation has created a considerable demand for peri-urban dairying and a market for milk produced by smallholders based on intensive fodder production.  Greater focus is needed on under-exploited forage opportunity areas, e.g. the large areas of tree crop plantations and agroforestry systems, and also the many un- or under-utilized food plants from grasslands.  These need to be assessed for their potential as cereal replacements, ‘niche’ products, and their role in traditional food security systems.  Given the importance of traditional foods and of genetic diversity, greater focus is needed on conserving genetic diversity, as it is the poor who suffer most from its steady erosion.  New systems such as extensive land use combining grazing and wildlife management may offer prospects for additional income and the preservation of natural resources and biodiversity.

3. Government policies
Technical, socio-economic, institutional and environmental factors must be considered together.  Particular focus is needed on the breakdown of traditional grazing systems, land tenure, grazing rights, management of grasslands on critical watershed areas, access to grazing lands and state ownership of pasture.  Clear policies on food security, alternative employment, long term sustainability and risk management are necessary, as well as good governance.  Small producers may need protection from changes in international market access.  Crucially, government policies should recognize that smallholders produce most of the developing world’s food, but are much poorer than the rest of the population, so the biggest impact on poverty and livelihoods is likely to be made by focusing on this category.

The way forward

This paper has identified a number of opportunities in developing countries and presented various case studies.  A vast amount of research has been carried out on pastures and range management, but uptake by small farmers and herders has been limited.  The present challenge is how to put this corpus of science to better use, integrating it into the users’ knowledge and needs, working with the farmers and herders in collaboration with other disciplines to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty.  Attention is needed in particular in three areas:

Development needs
Increased awareness is required of the need for public sector and international funding, where public goods such as environmental services on water catchment areas are provided by pastoralists grazing communal lands.  Long-term public sector support for delivery systems is essential if development is to succeed; capacity building of decentralised bodies will contribute to the sustainability of results during and after project execution.  Development programmes should focus more on areas with greatest poverty in smallholder systems.  Emphasis should be on the ability of systems to produce goods and services, not on maximising production that often has negative long-term consequences.  More attention should be given to valorisation of the multiple functions of grasslands and to new mechanisms of technology transfer that combine traditional and recent systems.

Research needs
Grassland research should focus more on the needs of the poor, and difficult environments dominated by low fertility, saline soils and arid areas, and on ensuring that research effort is reflected through extension in successful outcomes.  More emphasis is needed on fodder conservation, particularly in tropical areas.  A critical need is for work on developing and making use of the many under and unutilized species from grassland areas, to enhance the number adapted to different soils, climates and farming systems.  Ensuring seed availability is another critical need.  For parts of Africa a priority is to identify disease resistant Pennisetum purpureum clones.

Policy needs
Economic policies must ensure farmers an adequate return while encouraging environmental sustainability.  Policies should be based on scientific knowledge with recognition of traditional practices and social acceptance.  Only continuous dialogue and consultation among all stakeholders can lead to good governance and sustainable agricultural development.  International commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Treaty on Genetic Resources should provide a fair framework for the development of regional, national and local policies.  Use of subsidies should focus on raising the livelihood of poor farmers and promoting maintenance of natural resources.  Support to production of quality food for all should be given through local production, more promotion of local varieties and breeds, controlled food processing and fair international trade agreements.

An initial target is the Development Goal of the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration, which seeks to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” with the aim of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day, and those who suffer from hunger.  Making progress towards this target depends on many factors, not least of which are international political will and the mobilization of additional resources; to this can be added a greater appreciation of the role that grasslands and forages can play in improving livelihoods and reducing poverty. While some of the answers may be contained in the UN Millennium Project's Investing in Development report (UN, 2005), this operational framework will need technical inputs from many areas including those from grassland scientists.


The contribution of Mr Jim Suttie, former FAO officer, to the preparation of this paper is much appreciated.


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1A territory administered by Pakistan comprising the disputed territories other than Azad Jammu and Kashmir - the old Gilgit Agency