A key challenge in the livestock sector is provision of sufficient high-quality fodder throughout the year, especially in drier regions with recurrent drought and seasonal feed shortages. In mixed crop-livestock systems, crop residues of poor nutritional quality often form the basal diet for livestock.
Significantly upgrading the quality of feedstuffs that do not compete with human foods promises to be a game changer for food security, natural resource usage, and production and productivity of livestock enterprises. Cereal crop residues form half of the diet for smallholder livestock production across the global South. Increasing the digestibility of this material will potentially transform the livestock sector across much of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Working in collaboration with CGIAR centres and national crop improvement programs, we will continue to develop superior cereal and legume cultivars that increase food and fodder production without additional demand for arable land and water. This proof of concept provides the platform for including nutritive value of crop residues in crop improvement programs. It has elicited considerable attention from plant breeding companies and shows strong potential for scaling using existing crop seed distribution systems.
Low digestibility of feeds is associated with high lignocellulose content. Second generation biofuel technologies focus on breaking the lignocellulosic bonds to release basic sugars. Spin offs from these technologies could dramatically increase the feed quality of straw and stover. Developing this technology with the right business models and institutional arrangements will be a game changer in food security, livestock feeding and natural resource usage across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The ILRI Forage Genebank in Addis Ababa, with over 19,000 accessions and associated characterization data, is a unique resource that provides multi-use and resource efficient forage grass and legume cultivars with higher productivity, drought- or disease-resistant cultivars.