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. . . .
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.
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.
El objetivo del presente estudio fue evaluar el efecto del Atriplex (Atriplex canescens) y nopal (Opuntia ficus indica) en la alimentación de cabras lactantes y la producción de leche durante la sequía. Durante los meses secos, entre mayo y agosto de 2005 y entre mayo y junio de 2006, se realizaron tres experimentos en la región semiárida de San Luis Potosí, México. En el primero, se probaron dos tratamientos: CO) mantenidas en confinamiento y alimentación controlada (n=10) y AT) mantenidas en pastoreo con Atriplex (n=10). En el segundo se aplicaron dos tratamientos: AT) Atriplex (n=5) y NP) Atriplex más nopal (n=5). En el tercero tres tratamientos: AT) Atriplex (n=5), NP-1,0) Atriplex más 1,0% de nopal (n=4) y NP-1,5) Atriplex más 1,5% de nopal (n=5). En el primer experimento las cabras mantuvieron su peso, pero la producción de leche se redujo al 30% bajo confinamiento y menos del 8,0% en Atriplex al final del experimento. En el segundo, las cabras perdieron peso, a pesar de que la producción inicial de leche fue menor de 300 g/d. Las alimentadas con Atriplex redujeron su producción a casi la mitad de la producción inicial, mientras que la inclusión de nopal mantuvo la producción relativamente estable. En el tercer experimento, las cabras alimentadas con Atriplex mantuvieron el peso corporal, pero después de siete semanas la producción de leche fue del 25% de la producción inicial, a pesar de que esta fue de apenas 300 g diarios. En cambio, en las cabras suplementadas con nopal, la producción sólo se redujo al 45 y 64% de la producción inicial. Estos resultados son importantes para los caprinocultores de la región semiárida de México, donde las cabras podrían mantener una buena condición corporal, además de una producción de 150 a 250 g diarios de leche durante la época crítica utilizando Atriplex y nopal.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE GROWTH OF OPUNTIA IN AND AROUND THE REFUGEE CAMPS ? IT’S A SUCCESS STORY. IT’S COMMON SENSE !
One can eat the Opuntia cactus pads (see “nopales”), drink pad soup, eat the fruits (barbary figs), make jam, use it as fodder for the livestock, ground the seeds to produce an oil, produce cosmetics and medicine against blood pressure and cancer.
Look at the nice picture above. It could have been taken in any desert or desertification affected country. What do you need more to be convinced ? Well, maybe first read about Morocco’s initiative below !
Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)
Women farmers find cactus plants are a real money spinner
Cactus commerce boosts Morocco
By Sylvia Smith BBC News, Sbouya, Morocco
It is just after dawn in the hills above the Moroccan hamlet of Sbouya and a group of women are walking through the thousands of cactus plants dotted about on the hillside, picking ripe fruits whenever they spot the tell-tale red hue.
But these woman are not simply scraping a living out of the soil.
The cactus, previously eaten as a fruit or used for animal feed, is creating a minor economic miracle in the region thanks to new health and cosmetic products being extracted from the ubiquitous plant.
This prickly pocket of the semi-arid south of the country around the town of Sidi Ifni is known as Morocco’s cactus capital.
It is blessed with the right climate for the 45,000 hectares (111,000 acres) of land that is being used to produce prodigious numbers of succulent Barbary figs.
Every local family has its own plot and, with backing from the Ministry of Agriculture, the scheme to transform small scale production into a significant industry industry is under way.
Some 12m dirhams ($1.5m) have been pledged to build a state-of-the-art factory that will help local farmers process the ripe fruits.
The move is expected to help workers keep pace with the requirements of the French cosmetics industry which is using the cactus in increasing numbers of products.
Izana Marzouqi, a 55-year-old member of the Aknari cooperative, says people from the region grew up with the cactus and did not realise its true benefit.
“Demand for cactus products has grown and that it is because the plant is said to help with high blood pressure and cancer. The co-operative I belong to earns a lot of money selling oil from the seeds to make anti-ageing face cream.”
With livestock production expected to more than double in the next 40 years, transforming cassava peels into high quality feed holds huge potential for African economies struggling to meet rapidly rising demand for animal-source products, according toresearch proposal recently published by three CGIAR centres.
Africa’s estimated 50 million tonnes of cassava peel waste per year could generate at least 15 million tonnes of HQCP, substantially addressing shortfalls in the supply of animal feed and eventually creating a USD 2 billion a year industry.
The research has been proposed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and International Potato Center (CIP), with the support of CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) on Root Tubers and Bananas (RTB), Humidtropics, and Livestock and Fish. Working closely with private sector partners, ILRI is leading the effort to develop and improve innovative technologies for processing cassava peels into high quality livestock feeds.
Within five years, the proposal sets out to facilitate the production of high quality feed from cassava peels, creating approximately 100,000 jobs and eliminating more than 20% of dangerous cassava peels from the environment. According to the projections, the knock on effects could benefit the wider African economy by as much as USD900 million over the project life, enabling the private sector to become independent, and drive increased uptake of related technologies and product uses.
Spineless varieties of Opuntia can be very rewarding
by Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)
Planting spineless varieties of Opuntia can be very rewarding, not only to combat desertification, but also to produce fodder for animals. These varieties are growing quickly with a minimum of water in the drylands, like the ones in the very dry Nordeste of Brasil (see pictures).
Cacti normally have a wide appeal to growers of ornamental plants, but they have only few economic uses. However, many cacti produce edible fleshy fruits (raw, jam, syrup). Some species are used in living hedges or even for furniture. Commercial plantations of the “prickly pear” Opuntia are found in Brasil, Mexico and California.
The disk- or racketlike, superposed parts of the Opuntia stems can be used as fodder. Goats, sheep and cows eat the fresh disks, cut into slices. One can also have the sliced disks sundried, grinded to flour and mixed with a bit of water for animal consumption.
Opuntia plantations on contour lines help to limit erosion on slopes. Regular harvesting of newly formed disks is easy. Feeding Opuntiaslices or flour significantly enhances meat and milk production.
I recommend to apply these Opuntia plantations as a real success story for rural development at larger scale in the drylands. It is a sustainable method to combat desertification, to limit soil erosion, to limit water consumption for irrigation, to improve environmental conditions and to easily improve sustainable fodder production, leading to alleviate hunger and poverty.
The cactus pear was introduced to Pakistan in recent years through Cactusnet, an international technical network on cactus established back in 1993 through an initiative led by FAO and ICARDA. Network members from several countries shipped cactus cladodes to first to India, where different cultivars are being evaluated against criteria of suitability and adaptation to local conditions. Based on preliminary findings, the most prominent varieties are being identified and then shared with farmers in both India and Pakistan.
Many varieties of offspring cactus cladodes have been already produced and shared amongst local dryland farming communities. The farmers are now focusing on letting their cactus plants grow larger so that more cacti crop can be harvested annually.
It is hoped that in time, the cactus pear crop will be utilized as green forage to reduce the feed gap during the driest part of the year, when other crops fail to survive, and livestock mortality is the highest. The use of these high-energy, nutrient-rich cacti plants is not only helping to reduce risks associated with extreme climate variability and depleted natural resources; it is also providing farmers with an alternative source of income through the sale of cacti fruit and cacti seed oil to cosmetic companies. Cooked cladodes are also appropriate from human consumption, therefore contributing to increased food security for Pakistan’s dryland communities. As knowledge of the benefits of the cactus pear spreads from one community to another, scientists are helping farmers refine the cultivation, harvesting, and processing practices for this game-changing crop that has been resurrected from a mythical hellfire.
Namibia: Drought Forces Farmers Back to the Drawing Board
It’s back to the drawing board for communal farmers in light of the potentially devastating drought knocking on the doors of each and every household in the North-Central areas of Namibia.
Proposing a new and enlightened way of thinking, national coordinator of the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) in Oshakati, Robert Tobias, says there is one small window standing open for communal farmers in what could turn out to be the toughest year in decades. “We have to start planning for these reoccurring situations in our own backyard gardens where we as small scale crop producers are capably of feeding at least our own hungry mouths.
Traditionally, crop fields and gardens are the sole property of the owner, unlike livestock grazing which is shared by all and sundry. “One way of working our way out of tight spots like we are experiencing now is to start growing fodder on parts them and expand the fields. These pastures should be grazed until March and then be closed to grow them and make hay that can be stored for dry times like now. The grass and the grain part of these fields should be rotated regularly as grass pastures improve soil fertility and enhance subsequent grain yields,” he advises as he stresses the importance of proper management skills that needed to be taught to the NNFU’s some 3 000 members in the area.
Cape Verde Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves meets FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
FAO provides urgent assistance to drought-stricken Cape Verde
Effort aims to build resilience, make agriculture less dependent on unpredictable rains
FAO will provide food crop seeds, animal feed and drip irrigation equipment to help thousands of people in Cape Verde whose food security and livelihoods are at risk following a sharp fall in crop production due to drought.
An agreement for $500,000 for urgent assistance to the Republic of Cabo Verde has been signed by the country’s Prime Minister, José Maria Pereira Neves, and FAO’s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, during a meeting in Rome.
“This is an extremely important agreement that will not only allow us to face the current drought, but also help to create conditions to build a sustainable agriculture in Cabo Verde,” Pereira Neves said.
The emergency intervention aims to assist 8,237 rural households which are most vulnerable to the impact of drought – Cabo Verde experienced 65 percent less rain in 2014 compared to the previous year.
Estimates from a FAO assessment mission carried out last month indicated the output from maize crop at some 1,000 tonnes. This represents the lowest level of production ever recorded in the country, and one which follows a steep downward trend over the last few years.
The Big Scrub is gone; destroyed by loggers and cattle farmers a century ago. What was once Australia’s largest subtropical rainforest—900km2 of biodiversity—is now largely home to cows and grass. Even between these two components many landowners still struggle to enforce balance. Thistle-covered paddies, eroded hillsides, compacted soils with sparse vegetation—scars from this struggle cover the region’s rolling lowlands..
Yet the struggle is an unnecessary one, as one farm in the region is demonstrating. Observe nature; learn to work with it rather than against it. These are principles of permaculture and the basis of the Grazing Method at Zaytuna farm (ZGM). We know that the most sustainable—the most balanced—designs are those that most closely mimic natural ecosystems. As Joel Salatin observes:
“Herbivores in nature exhibit three characteristics: mobbing for predator protection, movement daily onto fresh forage and away from yesterday’s droppings, and a diet consisting of forage only.”1Hence the ZGM practices short-term cell rotations.