Sustainability Pathways

Improving nutrient efficiency use through conversion to organic farming, Madagascar

Name of sustainable practice or practices Improving nutrient efficiency use through conversion to organic farming, Madagascar
Name of main actor FIFAMANOR and CIRAD, crop-livestock farmers
Type of actors involved Smallholder livestock keepers, Family farmers, Research institutions
Livestock Species Cattle, Chicken, Pig
Livestock breed Zebu Cattle, European pure-bred cattle (Norwegian Red and Holstein)
Country Madagascar
Agro-ecological region Tropical and Sub-tropical
Main feature of best practice Improving environmental sustainability including biodiversity conservation, Furthering grain-free strategies in animal feed
Key features of livestock farming system Organic livestock farming
Year practice/management strategies started to be implemented 2008
Key practices implemented to improve sustainability of livestock management The economic crisis in 2009 caused a dramatic reduction of the income from milk production and increase of raw material prices for animal feeding (e.g. corn, soybean meal), as well as oil and mineral fertilizers. This was an unsustainable situation and almost led to financial bankruptcy. In response, the farming system was transformed from conventional inputs to a greater use of organic inputs to enhance the efficiency of nutrient use while reducing input costs: • The biomass produced on the farm (crop residues and natural vegetation), which were previously put aside or burnt, are now used to restore soil fertility, supplement mineral supplies and produce feed and forage resources for animals. o Organic fertilizers are used, sourced from the farmer’s herd. o Dairy cattle, in permanent stalling, are fed with forages produced on the farm rather than purchased concentrate feed. o The by-products of the processing of milk (whey) are distributed to pigs. • Improving manure management in the barn, during manure storage and at manure spreading. • Other improvements involved changes in the schedule and in the nature of agricultural practices (e.g. maize harvesting stage), small investments in infrastructure (protective roof for manure) and in ensilage technology (chopping size, degree of compaction, and closing/opening the silo).
Key impacts of the best practices on sustainability of farming system • Improving manure management has led to a reduction in N losses to the environment. The N content of conserved manure was around 2.5 percent (on a dry-matter basis) compared to 0.9 percent before the implementation of manure management practices. • The improvement of silage quality, in addition to better management of other forage resources on the farm, has allowed Mr Jules to feed his ruminant herd exclusively on fresh and conserved forages. • Reducing mineral fertilizer use helps to improve the environmental efficiency of agricultural activities (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption) while reducing concentrate feed use helps to increase the amount of food for human consumption. • The first measurements of rain-fed rice productivity on the farm using manure showed that grain and production increased by 24 percent and straw rice production increased respectively by 22 percent, compared to conventional fertilization. • Manure management practices coupled with feed quality improvement (silage) showed good opportunities for better economic performance, improving the farmer’s livelihood and self‐sufficiency, and enhancing environmental sustainability (decreased N losses and increase of soil N stock capacity). These improvements also helped to reduce farmers’ reliance on external inputs, the prices of which greatly depend on market volatility. The conversion from external inputs to a greater use of organic inputs has therefore, helped to improve the economic resilience of the farm.
Constraints and opportunities observed during implementation of described practices • In Madagascar, the availability of technical and economic innovations alone does not guarantee their widespread adoption amongst the farming community. It is also important to consider a societal point of view. It was observed that the adoption of technical innovations required time for debating and learning. The improvement of farm technical and economic results is important, even decisive, but innovations must always respect farmers’ social practices.
Paulo Salgado, email: [email protected]