Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


The unexploited potential of improved forages in the mid-altitude and lowland areas of Ethiopia

Alemu Tadesse
Institute of Agricultural Research
P. O. Box 2003
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Abstract
Introduction
Livestock population
Cattle production systems
Livestock productivity
Natural pastures
Economic importance of cattle
Tested cultivated pasture and fodder crops
Establishment of improved forages in natural pastures
Seed production potential of improved forages
Present status of improved forages in the farming systems of the mid-altitude and lowland areas of Ethiopia
Conclusion
References

Abstract

Livestock production is an important integral part of the farming systems in all parts of Ethiopia. This sector of agriculture plays a vital role in the livelihood of the majority of people in the country. In spite of this, the productivity of livestock is low mainly due to malnutrition and undernutrition.

This paper gives a brief summary of the major factors contributing to low productivity of Ethiopian livestock in the mid-altitude and lowland areas of the country and describes the potential role of improved forages in overcoming these problems.

Introduction

Ethiopia is an agricultural country whose large majority of people are engaged in farming. Production of food crops and livestock are simultaneously done in the cultivated highland and mid-altitude areas. Food crops are produced for subsistence and livestock are raised to provide mainly draft power for crop cultivation and other secondary outputs like milk, meat, hide/skin, dung, manure etc.

Livestock population

Ethiopia with its 36.7 million heads of cattle, 24 million sheep and 17.7 million goats, owns the largest livestock population in Africa and is among the top ten in the world (FAO, 1973). The majority of the cattle population of Ethiopia (78%) are found in the mixed farming highland and mid-altitude zones and the rest (22%) are found in the lowland pastoralist areas (Beyene Kebede, 1985)

The highland and mid-altitude zones of the country support 75% of the sheep population and 27% of the goats. The lowlands are inhabited by 25% of the national sheep flock and 72% of the goats (Galal, 1980).

Cattle production systems

In the mixed farming mid-altitude areas cattle are kept primarily for traction purpose and provide milk and meat as by-products. Cattle number per family in these areas is usually small. Cattle obtain their feed requirement by grazing on natural pastures, fallow lands, marginal lands that are not suitable for arable farming and to some extent from crop residues. Due to allocation of more land for crop production, grazing lands are limited. Because of the seasonality of rainfall distribution, grazing conditions are not favourable for more than half the year. Thus animal weight gains obtained during the wet season are lost during the dry season when the feed supply declines both in quality and quantity.

In the lowland pastoralist areas where no or little farming is practiced cattle are kept to provide mainly milk. The climate in these areas is harsh with low, unreliable and unevenly distributed rainfall and with year round high temperatures. Animal production usually concentrates around water points and herd size per family is usually large. Range lands in these areas are heavily overgrazed due to high livestock population density. The zone provides the largest proportion of meat production in the country (Alemu Tadesse, 1987).

Livestock productivity

Livestock productivity in Ethiopia in high and mid-altitude and lowland areas, in particular is generally, low due to several factors such as poor genetic make up, poor nutrition and poor veterinary care. But poor nutrition is the major limiting factor. Animals in these zones and other parts of the country depend mainly on natural pastures for their feed requirements.

Natural pastures

Natural pastures which provide more than 90% of the livestock feed are very poorly managed in both ecological zones. In the mixed farming mid-altitude areas better soils are used for cropping and the main permanent natural pasture lands are found on the upper slopes of hills and seasonally waterlogged areas. In the lowlands where extensive pastoralism is practiced most of the land except for rivers, swamps, lakes and deserts contains natural pasture which may be associated with woodland in the wetter areas.

Considering the country as a whole, grazing lands contribute 53% (FAO, 1981) of the total land area. Even though the amount of grazing areas seems to be large, the yield and quality of the pasture is very low. Due to poor management and overstocking, natural pastures in both ecological zones are highly overgrazed resulting in serious land degradation, loss of valuable species and dominance by unpalatable species.

In the subhumid mid-altitude areas natural pastures are dominated mainly by Hyparrhenia species which tend to grow fast and become stemmy and fibrous within short period of time thus losing their palatability and feed value. In these areas the overgrazed pastures are dominated by unpalatable Sporobolus and Pennisetum species. Herbage growth is luxuriant during the wet season and this gives large bulk of herbage during the dry season which is be burnt to encourage regrowth in subsequent rains. In semi-arid mid-altitude zones, rainfall is the major factor influencing primary productivity. In some areas feed reserves are so low that a single season of lower than average rainfall can result in the loss of lives of many animals.

Because of diversity of climate, a number of forage species, mainly grasses, are found in both ecological zones. As opposed to natural grasslands of the highland areas which are rich in legume species, grasslands of the mid-altitude and lowland zones have low proportion of legume. The proportion tends to decrease with decrease in altitude. The less abundant native legumes of the lower altitude have sprawling growth.

Economic importance of cattle

In spite of their poor productivity cattle play a very important role in the livelihood of the majority of people in the rural areas of the mid-altitude and lowland zones of the country. In mid-altitude areas where crop production is the primary occupation of the farming community, they are used as a source of mechanical power to cultivate farm [sods. They also provide the main source of animal protein in the form of meat and milk. This protein has higher dietary value than protein of crop origin. In this zone cattle are a form of saving or investment readily converted into cash when the need arises. So, they contribute an important share of farm income (Legesse Dadi et al, 1987).

In the lowlands the livelihood of the pastoralists wholly depend on the milk obtained from cattle. Here also they are used as source of income.

Tested cultivated pasture and fodder crops

Over the past two decades quite a large number of annual perennial forage and fodder species have been tested in the mid-altitude and lowland zones of the country under rainfed and irrigated conditions respectively. As a result many useful improved herbage species have been identified for both ecological zones.

Chloris gayana, Panicum coloratum, Panicum maximum, Melinis minutiflora, Pennisetum purpureum, Zea mats, Sorghum vulgare, Sorghum almum, Desmodium uncinatum, Stylosanthes guianensis, Leucaena leucocephala, Dolichos lablab, (Lablab purpureus, Macroptilium atropurpuruem and Vicia atropurpurea are the most promising pasture and fodder species among the tested species so far and are recommended for mid-altitude areas ranging in altitude from 1000 to 1800 m (Lulseged Gebre-Hiwot and Alemu, 1985).

The recommended perennial forages are highly productive (Tables 1 and 2) and in the sub-humid mid-altitude areas under rainfed conditions can give two harvests during the time of normal rains and three to four cuts during years of more than average rainfall.

In research centres and some dairy state farms, the first cut which is usually taken in mid-July is used for making silage the regrowth which is cut in October is used for making hay. Following hay-making, the pasture fields provide considerable grazing for about two months sometime during the early months of the dry season (November and December).

Chloris gayana, Cenchrus ciliaris, Pennisetum purpureum, Panicum spp, Medicago sativa and Leucaena leucocephala are promising species for semi-arid and arid lowland areas below 1000 m usually under irrigation.

Table 1. DM yield of improved forages in the sub-humid mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia.


DM Yield (t/ha)

Varieties/species

1982

1983

1984

1985

Mean

Annuals

Oat-8237

8.37

8.57

8.04

n.a.

8.33

Sorghum sudanense

5.43

15.96

14.08

n.a.

11.84

Sorghum almum

13.53

17.34

12.74

n.a.

14.33

Dolichos lablab

5.16

14.04

11.74

n.a.

10.31

Perennials

Chloris gayana

-

9.21

15.55

20.57

18.34

Panicum coloratum

-

9.93

18.00

13.64

13.86

Pennisetum purpureum

16.25

14.41

26.60

14.78

18.01

Desmodium uncinatum

-

1.40

14.70

8.72

10.28

Source: IAR (1986)
n.a. Not available
- not recorded

Table 2. DM yields of two varieties of Leucaena leucocephala at sub-humid mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia.


Dry matter yield (t/ha)

Varieties

1981

1982

1983

Mean

Peru

7.69

12.82

15.22

11.91

Cunnigham

6.93

12.64

17.01

12.19

Source: IAR (1986)

In irrigated areas of the lowlands alfalfa and Rhodes grass are very important and can give 8-10 harvests with herbage yield of 45-55 t/ha DM each year. (Lulseged Gebre-Hiwot, 1985).

In general, as research results show (Table 3), the introduced improved species are more productive than naturally occurring swards and have higher nutritive value. The length of green feed period/growing season is longer for cultivated pastures than for native pastures.

Table 3. DM yield of Chloris gayan aand natural pasture harvested at monthly intervals in the subhumid mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia.


Dry matter (%)

Dry matter (t/ha)

Month

Chloris gayana

Native pasture

chloris gayana

Native pasture

August

30.0

27.0

6.46

3.46

September

33.0

33.0

8.77

4.64

October

40.0

35.0

10.32

5.64

November

47.0

50.0

10.41

5.94

December

64.0

52.0

12.55

4.03

January

58.0

68.0

10.38

4.53

February

61.0

76.0

8.98

5.17

March

66.0

78.0

11.50

4.42

April

59.0

69.0

6.92

2.89

May

52.0

56.0

8.32

5.86

June

44.0

39.0

9.86

9.96

Mean

50.4

53.0

9.44

5.13

Source: IAR (1986)

Establishment of improved forages in natural pastures

As indicated in the previous section, most of the natural grazing lands in the mid-altitude and lowland zones are highly overgrazed due to mismanagement and over stocking. Their productivity and feed value are also low due to low proportion of legumes. Improved forages, mainly legumes, can improve the productivity of these pastures by improving the fertility status of the soil. They can also improve the feed value of native pastures since they have more protein content than naturally occurring grass swards.

To improve the productivity, vegetation compostion and feed value of degraded natural pastures, oversowing of improved legumes and grasses has been tried in the mid-altitude areas. Results (Table 4) indicate that Stylosanthes guianensis showed superior establishment on burnt natural pasture while Desmodium uncinatum is potential species for this purpose. Rhodes grass failed to establish with minimum soil disturbance.

Table 4: DM yield and percent composition of improved legumes oversown in hyparrhenia-dominated natural pasture in the subhumid mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia.



DM yield (t/ha)

Percent composition

Treatments

Oversown legumes

Legumes

Native

legumes pasture

Native pasture

I

 


+ Stylosanthes guianensis (cv. Endeavour)

0.05

2.69

2.0

98.0

+ S. guianensis (cv. Cook)

0.02

2.67

0.7

99.3

+ S. humilis

-

2.97

-

100.0

+ Desmodium uncinatum

-

3.26

-

100.0


S. guianensis (cv. Schofield)

0.07

2.54

3.0

97.0

II

 

+ S. guianensis (cv. Endeavour)

0.17

3.12

6.0

94.0

+ S. guianensis (cv. Cook)

0.28

3.86

7.0

93.0


S. humilis

0.18

2.99

6.0

94.0

D. uncinatum

0.41

3.68

10.0

90.0


S. guianensis (cv. Schofield)

0.38

2.88

12.0

88.0

III






S. guianensis (cv. Endeavour)

0.19

2.70

7.0

93.0


S. guianensis (cv. Cook)

0.09

2.53

3.0

97.0


S. humilis

0.08

2.74

3.0

97.0

Desmodium uncinatum

0.54

2.90

16.0

84.0


S. guianensis (cv. Schofield)

0.42

3.07

12.0

88.0

IV






S. guianensis (cv. Endeavour)

0.09

3.28

3.0

97.0


S. guianensis (cv. Cook)

0.53

3.05

15.0

85.0


S. humilis

0.06

3.99

2.0

98.0

D. uncinatum

0.27

3.56

7.0

93.0


S. guianensis (cv. Schofield)

0.55

2.82

16.0

84.0

Note: + Treatments

I = Undisturbed natural pasture
II = Disc-harrowed natural pasture
III = Oxen-ploughed natural pasture
IV = Burned natural pasture

Source: IAR (1986)

Conventional methods of pasture establishment demand high capital cost and labour. Low cost establishment methods such as intercropping forages with food crops are economically feasible for resource poor farmers. Research results (Table 5 and 6) indicate that some improved forages such as Chloris gayana and Desmodium uncinatum can successfully establish when undersown to maize after final weeding of the crop without affecting maize grain yield. The forages persisted well for three to four years after establishment.

It is a tradition among the majority of farmers in the mid-altitude areas to abandon their crop lands to naturally regenerated fallows after some years of continuous cultivation. This is done for soil fertility restoration purposes. Fallowing is good since it allows accumulation and storage of nutrients in the above ground vegetation for later release to the surface soil. It also helps to add organic matter to the surface soil thereby increasing total nutrient and cation exchange capacity.

It also has the additional value in reducing crop-associated weeds, pests and diseases (Mohammed Saleem, 1984). If improved forages are planted on fallow lands they have double advantage of rapidly restoring the fertility of soil and providing nutritious herbage to livestock. The forage which successfully establishes using the indicated method can be effectively used for this purpose.

Table 5. Grain yield of maize intercropped with different forage crops at two mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia.


No


Intercropped forages

Maize grain yield (q/ha)

Bako

Awassa

1

Control (no intercropped forage)

73.3

58.9

2

Chloris gayana (cv. Pokot)

67.5

59.2

3

Chloris gayana (cv. Masaba)

77.9

n.a

4

Chloris gayana (cv. Rongai)

74.9

n.a

5

Panicum maximum

74.2

58.5

6

Brachiaria ruziziensis

81.7

n.a

7

Cenchrus ciliaris

n.a

58.4

8

Desmodium uncinatum

66.0

62.7

9

Medicago sativa

n.a

56.4

10

Phaseolus lathyroides

n.a

58.7

Mean

73.4

59.0


cv

19%

13.9


SE

± 7.0 q/ha

±5.8q/ha


n.a

not available



Source: IAR (1982)

Table 6. Dry matter yield of different forages undersown to maize in the subhumid mid-altitude area of Ethiopia.


Intercropped forages

Dry matter yield (t/ha)

1983

1984

Mean

Chloris gayana (cv. pokot)

8.26

14.42

11.38

Chloris gayana (cv. massaba)

11.78

12.47

12.12

Chloris gayana (cv. Rongai)

10.65

15.14

12.89

Desmodium uncinatum

5.68

7.53

6.60

Source: IAR (1986)

Seed production potential of improved forages

Except few, most of the improved tropical forages adapted to the environmental conditions of the mid altitude and lowland areas of Ethiopia have no problem of flowering and seed setting. Small quantities of seeds are often collected from experimental plots and bulking seed production mini plots. Observations made at Bako which is one of the subhumid mid-altitude areas of the country, show that Rhodes grass at optimum seed rate and row spacing on experimental plots can give up to 700 kg of seeds/ha. Panicum coloratum, Desmodium uncinatum and Stylosanthes guianensis gave seed yields of 500 kg/ha, 400 kg/ha and 350 kg/ha respectively. Lablab purpureus gave about 1700 kg of seeds/ha (unpublished data).

Work done at the same location also indicated that seed yields of vetch (Vicia atropurpurea) could be increased by upto 600% (Table 7) when grown and supported by fences. This allows multiple harvests.

Table 7. Effect of support system on seed yield of Vicia atropurpurea


Treatments

Seed yield (q/ha)

1983

1984

1985

Mean

Without support

7.71

6.39

5.96

6.69

With support

48.71

51.99

49.59

50.10

Source: IAR (1986)

Present status of improved forages in the farming systems of the mid-altitude and lowland areas of Ethiopia

As in many other parts of the country, diffusion of research results has been slow in the mid-altitude and lowland areas mainly due to non-availability of a well-organised extension system, particularly before the establishment of Research and Extension Linkage Coordination Division (RELC). This Division was established two years ago based on the agreement made between the Institute of Agricultural Research (JAR) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) in order to bridge the gap between research and extension which is the major bottleneck to the development of Ethiopian agriculture.

Although many useful and suitable improved forages have been identified for the two ecological zones, they have not effectively reached the farming community. Only two species, Chloris gayana and Medicago sativa are used in research centres. Some dairy producer co-operatives which are emerging in some mid-altitude areas own crossbred cattle which require better feeding. These co-operatives are growing pastures and fodder crops such as oats, vetch and Rhodes grass. The improved pastures are used for hay or green feeding.

Factors limiting the utilisation of improved forages in the small-holder sectors

1. Farmers give more priority to the production of food crops. They are reluctant to devote their extra land and labour for production of forages. This is mainly due to economic factors and due to lack of knowledge.

2. Poor co-ordination among research institutions and development organisations.

Due to lack of co-ordination there is very loose link between research and extension. Researchers do not get enough feedback information to enable them to plan their research activities based on the need of farmers. So, most of the time, projects are proposed based on locally perceived problems.

3. Shortage of seeds of required species.

There is no forage seed producing organisation in the country at present. The Ethiopia seed enterprise is the only seed-producing organisation which is engaged in the production of seeds of selected food crops only. so there is acute shortage of pasture seeds in the country.

4. Lack of low cost packages is another limiting factor.

Conclusion

The livestock sector plays a very important role in the overall development of Ethiopia's agriculture. The country has a large cattle population, vast areas of grazing lands and suitable environment for raising livestock. The people also have the traditional background and knowledge of raising livestock for different purposes. All these are potential resources awaiting exploitation for improving the country's livestock productivity.

Experience indicates that with the application of some improved management practices, such as using improved feeding systems, the productivity of livestock can be raised. The promising improved forages identified so far can also contribute much towards improving the productivity of livestock in both ecological zones.

In order to facilitate the immediate diffusion of improved forages into the farming systems of the two ecological zones, the farmers need to learn the importance of these species in improving the productivity of livestock. A well-organised extension system is required for this purpose.

The Research and Extension Linkage Co-ordination Division can play a great role in this aspect. There was recently established in IAR inorder to bridge the gap between research and extension. The main task of the division is to demonstrate research results on farmers' fields and train development agents on how to utilise research results. The division is also mandated to feed back information on farmers problems to researchers.

The problem of seed shortage also needs to be solved in order to efficiently utilise these species. The effort being made by the Fourth Livestock Development Project of the Ministry of Agriculture to make forage seeds available to farmers is one possible solution for the problem. But still more effort is needed from other organisations like the Seed Enterprise of Ethiopia in producing seeds of the recommended forages in larger quantities for both ecological zones.

References

Alemu Gebre Wolde. 1985. The status of beef cattle research in Ethiopia. Paper presented at the workshop on Review on the Status of Livestock Pasture and Forage Research in Ethiopia, held in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia, 8-10 January 1985. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Beyene Kebede. 1985. The status of dairy research and development in Ethiopia. Paper presented at the workshop on Review of Status of Livestock, Pasture and Forage Research in Ethiopia, held in ILCA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 8-10 January 1985. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). 1981. International scheme for the co-ordination of dairy development and international meat development scheme. Report on Ethiopia, 17 May - 18 June 1980, FAO, Rome. pp. 67-71.

FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). 1973. Livestock and meat industries in Ethiopia: Present situation and prospect for future development in Ethiopia. FAO, Rome.

Galal, E.S.E. 1980. A contribution towards a plan for sheep and goat research and development in Ethiopia. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa.

Institute of Agricultural Research. 1986. Progress Report. Department of Animal Science, Pasture and Forage Team, April 1984 to March 1985. JAR. Addis Ababa.

Institute of Agricultural Research. 1982. Progress Report. Department of Animal Science, Pasture and Forage Team 1981/82. JAR, Addis Ababa.

Institute of Agricultural Research. 1986. Progress Report. Department of Animal Science, Pasture and Forage Team, 1983/84. JAR, Addis Ababa.

Legesse Dadi, Gemechu Gedano, Tesfaye Kumsa and Getahun. 1987. Bako Mixed Farming Zone Diagnostic Survey Report. Wollega and Shewa regions. Department o Agricultural Economics and Farming Systems Research, Report No.1.

Lulseged Gebre-Hiwot. 1985. The status of pasture and forage research and development in Ethiopia. Paper presented at the workshop on Review and Forage Research in Ethiopia held in ILCA Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 8-10 January 1985. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Lulseged Gebre-Hiwot and Alemu Tadesse. 1984. Pasture research and development in Ethiopia. In: J.A. Kategile (ed) Pasture improvement research in eastern and southern Africa. Proceedings of a workshop held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 17-21 Sept. 1984. IDRC, Ottawa, Ontario. pp. 77-91.


Previous Page Top of Page Next Page