The following excerpts are taken from an opinion piece published by An Notenbaert, a former scientist with ILRI for 11 years who now serves as the tropical forages coordinator for Africa at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
‘With the onset of the rains, livestock farmers around Kenya might breathe a sigh of relief. But they have come too late for the thousands of cattle that have already died, hit by the drought that led President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare a national disaster in February this year. . . .
Yet this phenomenon is one which will not be solved by rain alone. It is down to a few, fundamental challenges which go deeper than drought.
Across east and southern Africa, livestock farmers routinely face the same hurdles in increasing meat and milk production: low availability of good quality livestock feed, especially during the dry season.
Our research shows that new, high-quality, drought-tolerant forage grasses could boost milk production by up to 40 percent, generating millions of dollars in economic benefits for struggling East African dairy farmers.
‘Some of these new varieties of a grass called Brachiaria, are high-yielding, nutritious and, because they are easier for cows to digest, animals produce far less of the greenhouse gas methane per liter of milk produced.
‘These benefits make it the most extensively used tropical forage in the world, with seed production already commercialized in big cattle-producing countries like Brazil. Yet Brachiariagrass originates in Africa. . . .
Humans have never been healthier, wealthier or more numerous. Yet, present success may be at the cost of future prosperity and in some places, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, poverty persists. Livestock keepers, especially pastoralists, are over-represented among the poor. Poverty has been mainly attributed to a lack of access, whether to goods, education or enabling institutions. More recent insights suggest ecosystems may influence poverty and the self-reinforcing mechanisms that constitute poverty traps in more subtle ways. The plausibility of zoonoses as poverty traps is strengthened by landmark studies on disease burden in recent years. While in theory, endemic zoonoses are best controlled in the animal host, in practice, communities are often left to manage disease themselves, with the focus on treatment rather than prevention. We illustrate this with results from a survey on health costs in a pastoral ecosystem. Epidemic zoonoses are more likely to elicit official responses, but these can have unintended consequences that deepen poverty traps. In this context, a systems understanding of disease control can lead to more effective and pro-poor disease management. We illustrate this with an example of how a system dynamics model can help optimize responses to Rift Valley fever outbreaks in Kenya by giving decision makers real-time access to the costs of the delay in vaccinating. In conclusion, a broader, more ecological understanding of poverty and of the appropriate responses to the diseases of poverty can contribute to improved livelihoods for livestock keepers in Africa. This article is part of the themed issue ‘One Health for a changing world: zoonoses, ecosystems and human well-being’.
In some Africa RISING sites, tree lucerne is a key supplementary feed for ruminant animals particularly in dry seasons when other feeds are in short supply. The plant is an important source of protein for animal fattening and milk production and can be mixed with other livestock feeds including those based on crop residues or hay.
In Ethiopia, most farmers do not fully know the importance of the plant or how to best use it as livestock feed and a clear understanding of how to manage it is needed.
The project has tackled the awareness challenge in various ways – including through training and demonstration.
The Sahara used to be a fertile landscape with lush vegetation thousands of years ago, but something killed that landscape, leaving only desert behind. Neolithic humans may have played a role in pushing it over the edge of an ecological tipping point, an archaeological study finds.
Archaeological evidence now suggests that Neolithic humans who grazed cattle on the Saharan pastures played a role as well. These pastoral communities pushed the delicate ecosystem past a tipping point that led to widespread desertification, according to a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science.
Study author David Wright of Seoul National University, South Korea, mapped the spread of scrub vegetation, which is a precursor to full desertification, and evidence of Neolithic cattle grazing. As more and more vegetation was removed from the land, the albedo – or amount of light reflected from the ground – increased, changing the atmospheric conditions over the Sahara. This in turn made monsoon rains less frequent.
About 8,000 years ago, cattle-grazing communities originated near the River Nile and began gradually to spread to the west of the continent. Rather than the spread of the communities happening in response to desertification and loss of vegetation, the humans could have been actively driving the desertification, Wright suggests.
Warmer, wetter climate would impair California grasslands
17-year experiment finds present climate near optimal for plant growth
September 6, 2016
Scientists said data from one of the world’s longest-running climate-change experiments show that California grasslands will become less productive if the temperature or precipitation increases substantially above average conditions from the past 40 years.
Results from one of the longest-running and most extensive experiments to examine how climate change will affect agricultural productivity show that California grasslands will become less productive if the temperature or precipitation increases substantially above average conditions from the past 40 years.
Figure 3.1: Portulacaria afra Jacq. (spekboom) tree. Notice the skirt of rooted branches
Spekboom multiplication for combating desertification
by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM
Ghent University (Belgium)
One of the most interesting African plant species used to combat desertification, limiting soil erosion, producing a dense vegetation cover and a remarkable number of small, edible leaves (fodder, but also vitamin-rich food for humans), is the Spekboom or Elephant’s Bush (Portulacaria afra).
This plant species is swiftly covering dry, eroding soils and should be recommended to all global projects for alleviation of drought, combat of land degradation and halting of wind erosion.
My good friend Johan VAN DE VEN of Bamboo Sur was so kind to offer me some rooted cuttings. These are growing very well in pots and PET-bottles in my garden in Belgium.
In order to study different ways of multiplication of this Spekboom (with succulent branches and leaves), I started taking off small lateral shoots (cuttings) and planted them in some potting soil in a cake box. I also planted some of the succulent leaves (see my photos below).
Within the plastic cake box humidity is kept high (condensation of droplets on the cover). Therefore, I opened the cover from time to time to let some fresh air (oxygen) in.
Quite soon both the cuttings and the separate leaves started rooting. The cuttings swiftly developed some new leaves. A month later I transplanted them into small plastic bottles, twice perforated 2-3 cm above the bottom (for drainage, keeping a small quantity of water at the bottom for moistening the bottle’s content and the rootball).
Once fully rooted within the plastic bottle, I cut off the bottom of the bottle to set the lower part of the rootball free. Then I planted the young Spekboom in a plant pit without taking off the plastic bottle, sitting as a plastic cylinder around the rootball. That plastic cylinder continued to keep the rootball moistened (almost no evaporation) and it offered possibilities to water the sapling from time to time, whenever needed. Irrigation water runs through the plastic cylinder towards the bottom of the rootball, growing freely in the soil (irrigation water directed towards the roots growing into the soil at the bottom of the plant pit). Thus a high survival rate was guaranteed.
It is clear that multiplication of the Spekboom with rooting cuttings and leaves is very easy. It is another interesting aspect of this remarkable plant. I can only recommend a broader use of the Spekboom for reforestation, fodder production and even production of bonsais for enhancement of the annual income (export to developed countries).
Here are some photos of this experiment.
—————-Considering that people working at the Great Green Wall in Africa (or any other interested group on other continents) are looking for practical solutions to cover as soon as possible huge areas of a desertified region, one is tempted to believe that setting up nurseries to produce a sufficient number of plants should not be a problem (as these plants only need a minimum of water).
I keep dreaming of successes booked with this nice edible plant species in the combat of desertification. The day will come that the Elephant bush will be growing in all the drought-affected regions of the world. Animals will eat from it, but also malnourished children and hungry adults will find it an interesting supplement to their food.
Pressures from grazers hastens ecosystem collapse from drought
Experiments show grazing pressures compound drought stress, delay recovery
January 11, 2017
Ecosystem collapse from extreme drought can be significantly hastened by pressures placed on drought-weakened vegetation by grazers and fungal pathogens, a new study finds. The study’s experimental evidence shows that the natural enemies of plants play a major role in lowering resilience to drought and preventing recovery afterward. The finding may be applicable to a wide range of ecosystems now threatened by climate-intensified drought, including marshes, mangroves, forests and grasslands.
A new study by scientists at Duke University and Beijing Normal University may hold the answer why.
The researchers found that these tipping points can happen much sooner than current models predict because of the added pressures placed on drought-weakened plants by grazing animals and fungal pathogens.
“Our work provides the first real-world experimental evidence that these natural enemies of plants can play a dramatic role in lowering ecosystems’ tipping point by killing drought-weakened vegetation and preventing plants from recovering,” said Brian R. Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Ecologists have long known that drought can stimulate this type of attack on plants, he said, but they mostly discounted it as a secondary stress and not a main cause of ecosystem collapse.
“What we found is the opposite,” Silliman said. “Grazers have a strong compounding effect. This means these ecosystems are far more vulnerable to drought than the current models predict. With grazers present, they can handle much less drought stress.”