SPONSORED: Feed resources development to increase livestock production

This is the core and major objective of cattle genetic resource development in Rwanda. At a population density of approximately 440 persons km2, and increasing; Rwanda has been the most densely populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Feed resources development

This is the core and major objective of cattle genetic resource development in Rwanda. At a population density of approximately 440 persons km2, and increasing; Rwanda has been the most densely populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The average land holding/household is less than one ha hence, the government has adopted intensification programs for both arable and livestock-agriculture.


In arable agriculture, intensification focused on communal land use for production of priority food security crops on consolidated land holdings under Crop Intensification Program (CIP). In the livestock subsector, intensification targeted individual poor households with improved dairy cattle, to ensure their nutrition and some subsistence incomes. To produce enough fodder on their land, these farmers needed high biomass and highly nutritive grasses and legumes.


A rapid appraisal has shown that, forages were not likely to respond effectively to the needs of poor households, who are highly vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity if they failed to feed their cattle. Hence the need for an integrated approach to livestock feed security at household and national levels. This was validated by review of previous studies which indicated that even well-endowed dairy farmers in the peri-urban Kigali used a diversity of feed resources to meet their production targets.


Also studies have revealed that current efforts in arable agriculture expansion are generating considerable amount of crop-residues. These materials are a valuable feed resource which are either irrationally or underutilized in livestock production. Similarly, there were tacit indications of niches for feed resource development which farmers underutilized for fodder production.

Understandably, the national feed resource development team adopted and integrated approaches for ruminant feed resources development in Rwanda. These include, but not limited to forage germplasm development for nutrient productivity, exploitation of crop residues for crop-livestock integration, identification and characterization of under-utilized niches for feed resource development and development of systems of livestock management with the aims of increasing productivity for food security and minimizing environmental impacts associated with natural resource degradation and global warming.

Forage germplasm development

A number of new forage cultivar have been validated for agronomic and nutritional attributes. However, none of them were suitable replacements of the dominant forage (Napier grass). Napier grass was under threat by Napier Stunt and Smut diseases (NSSD) in neighbouring countries.


Napier stunt disease management

Napier Stunt disease (NSD) is a very dangerous forage disease. It was reported to have threatened the dairy sector in Western Kenya to the verge of extinction. Hence, research in Kenya had identified tolerant cultivars that could be introduced for evaluation in Rwanda. This study was conducted in 2013 and the presence of the disease was confirmed, prevalence established, disease risk map that show hotpots developed (Figure 1); and sensitization through print and mass media conducted.

Three NSD tolerant cultivars were introduced and evaluated on station and on-farm. Dissemination of proven cultivars using splits in on-going through RAB zonal Research and District and district structures. Through farmer field schools, 120 families were primary beneficiaries of the NSD tolerant Napier cultivars. To date, 775 additional households have received planting materials estimated at 387, 500 cuttings. This rainy season, Kirehe district which is a NSD hotspot, has demanded for 2 million cuttings of NSD tolerant that can be planted on 200 ha of land. The demand has overwhelmed RAB capacity to supply the planting materials from RAB. Farmer to farmer supply is also taking place. An impact assessment is recommended. There is need for quality assurance on the “seed” supply chain to reduce the risks of disease through unethical conduct. One article has been presented in a conference proceeding.

Climate Smart Brachiaria project

RAB inherited from ISAR, an on-going collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in forage resources development, through which a number of forage species were evaluated. The evaluation on promising Brachiaria grass species and cultivars as a potential replacement for Napier grass, which was under threat of NSD in the region. The grass species have other attributes that contribute to climate change mitigation, hence the potential in climate-smart livestock agriculture development in Rwanda. It started with adaptability trials of a number of Brachiaria species from Latin America introduced and planted at Karama Research station. The survivors from those trials were advanced to preliminary yield trials. Promising genotypes were brought forward to advanced yield trials (Figure 2). Finally, the trial went on-farm; creating a platform for farmer participatory learning using Farmer Field School approach (Figure 3). Farmers planted and fed the best variety (Piatá and Mulato II) to cattle with or without legume and with or without concentrate supplement. Milk yield was increased by 21% above Napier grass when fed without legume. With legume, milk yield exceeds Napier by 37%.


Through on-farm trials, 656 farmers have adopted improved Napier grass. Through the Zonal uptake pathways, splits of Brachiaria grass are now companion fodder that is disseminated alongside Napier grass, especially for hay production.

Niche characterization of feed resource development

Niche characterization started with a conceptual framework on climate change mitigation in livestock production. Princeton University, USA convened a workshop of international experts from Europe, America and Africa including the nutrition expert from Rwanda, Columbia, Rwanda and Vietnam. In the workshop, experts examined the prospects of a sustainable food future into 2050, in an environment of a changing climate and the best options for natural resources management.

The consensus from the Paris meeting was sustainable intensification of food production because extensive crop and/or livestock farming were not the options for sustainable production of plant and animal source foods for a rapidly growing global population.

The challenge was most intensive in densely populated developing countries represented by Rwanda and Vietnam during the Paris meeting. The Paris meeting was followed by a proposal development that attracted NORAD support for an Agricultural Synergies Project coordinated by Princeton University as the Principal investigator, Colombia, Rwanda and Vietnam as project implementers, CIAT and CSIRO to backstop model development process.

The project started in 2013 with the characterization of farm typologies across agro-ecologies of Rwanda (Figure 4) and identification of putative fodder technologies for each farm typologies. These include farm boundaries for cropped land; understorey fodder for perennially cropped area and terrace edges on steep slopes, and rangelands (Figure 5).

The next steps are the development of decision support for land use for sustainable food and fodder production. Two models have been identified for interactive investigations of land use and feed management options for optimal productivity and minimal fiscal and environment costs of production.

Figure 2: On-station trials for Climate Smart Brachiaria project
Figure 2: On-station trials for Climate Smart Brachiaria project
Figure 2: On-station trials for Climate Smart Brachiaria project

These models have been packaged into a sustainable intensification decision support system (SIDESS) tool. Validation of the tools has been initiated with the partial support of World Bank ,with effect from November, 2016. During the validation, an innovation platform of stakeholders shall be established, representative farms of each farm typology shall be characterized in terms of livelihood assets and use, feed resource inventory and quality and herd characteristics; quantities and cost of inputs; consumption and cash incomes), biogenic and enteric greenhouse gas emission. The model shall be used to examine scenarios for optimal resource use in the production food, and the environment cost associated with the land use options.

A training session of RAB and UR scientists has been conducted during which and preliminary testing of the tools was done. Survey tools for generate requisite data is under development. A one-mouth overdue survey is expected to be completed by March 2017.

Straw-based rations for dairy and beef production

This project premises on livestock production challenges in Rwanda. The analysis showed that if the entire cereal crop residues were harnessed into livestock feed, land constraints to cattle herd expansion would (theoretically) be offset. However, to do so, the quality of the straw needed to be improved using affordable and convenient treatments to improve digestibility. Even then, the straws would need energy and protein supplements to provide enough nutrition for growth and milk production.

Starting 2013, a number of experiments were conducted on-station and on-farm, to examine the feasibility of harnessing straws for cattle feed and exploring opportunities for community feedlots for crop-livestock integration using CIP programs as entry points. In dairy cattle, the focus was on community feedlots (Mpanga, Ntaruka and Nyagatovu), some of which were located near CIP sites. Dairy farmers were sensitized through workshops on the value straw cattle feeding especially in the dry season, when feed shortages were severe. They trained on how to treat straw to improve quality (Figure 5).

Farmer field school

Through participatory research, where the farmer kept records of the daily milk yields and scientists took records of body weight using body weight tapes on-farm trials which were conducted. The results showed that the animals remained in good body condition and milk yield was maintained at the level that farmers got when feeding grass during the dry season (Table 4). Recurrent drought has made adoption very feasible. However, the adoption study is required to establish the level of adoption

In beef, the experiments were confined to on-station because current community feedlot is focused on dairy production and the straw based formulations have not yet been developed. The first objective was conducted at Nyagatare Research Station. The objective was to determine the level of concentrate supplementation in for optional growth rates. The results were not very clear because of errors associated with use of body weight tapes (Figure 6). Hence, the experiment was repeated at Songa Research station where there was a mechanical weigh bridge (Figure 7).

The Songa experiment was an academic dimension for human capacity building. In a competitive grant, RAB was part of a regional team that won SIDA support through Lake Victorian Crescent for Education and Science (ViCres), in development of a climate response beef sector in the Lake Victoria. An experiment was designed to determine the effect of cattle breeds and the level of concentrate which affected intake, digestibility, nutrient utilization, growth, feed conversion ratio, and the economics of feedlot beef production. Results have shown that depending on the breed, approximately 1.5 kg of concentrate supplements resulted into the best growth rate. Straw-based feedlot beef was profitable with supplements. Simulation models showed that greenhouse gas per kg of beef would be reduced with supplementation. The most responsive breeds were crossbreds, especially Ankole x Sahiwal steers.

These results justify investments in feedlot beef for crop-livestock integration, where feedlots are located near CIP sites to reduce the haulage cost of straws to animals and manure to the crop fields. A way forward was to enhance cost effectiveness by making straw-based total mixed rations (TMRs) which have been successful in Asian countries. Four pieces of pelleting machines for piloting straw-based TMRs have been procured. Test preparations have been initiated. By hindsight, processing cattle waste into biogas and using the biogas to generate electric energy to power the pelletizers would add value to the feedlot innovation.

Straw based feedlots are an opportunity for the poor, through enterprise diversification and value addition to the Crop Intensification Program. Beef production is rising along the policy priority profile through a public-private partnership in GAKO. However, the GAKO program addresses shrewd business people with guarantees that enable them to access financial services. Conversely, land owners under CIP programs are low income crop and livestock farmers. Hence, through community beef feedlot, they can gain access to quality beef markets, thus benefitting from Climate Smart technologies in the provision of plant and animal source foods.

Capacity building

The major problems associated directly and indirectly with animal nutrition research could be summarized as substandard laboratory infrastructure and skills, limited knowledge of methodology/protocols for in vivo and in vitro feed evaluation methods, low professional development capacity to attract institutional visibility and funding networks for collaboration.

Laboratory capacity

Laboratory capacity started during the reporting period in proficiency testing of in vitro gas production using slaughtered cattle as sources of inoculum undertaken across four laboratories in the region. The contention was that dietary history of the slaughtered cattle would affect the pattern of fermentation inside the in vitro rumen fluid. The studies were conducted to compare in vivo and several in vitro methods of estimating digestibility using fistulated and intact cattle as source of inoculum with other in vitro methods using enzymes, total faeces collection in live animals and nylon bags inserted into the rumen of live cattle. In order to characterize dietary history, we use Near Infra-Red Spectroscopy. To characterize microbial populations associated with different sources of inoculum, they used molecular tools.

Results from in vitro, in sacco (nylon bag) and live digestibility showed the rumen fluid from slaughtered cattle producing comparable results with other methods, implying that rumen microbes rapidly adapt to the substrate under fermentation. Analysis of results from NIRS and molecular characterization are in progress. However, preliminary results tend to confirm that microbial populations tend to adapt to the substrate under fermentation (Figure 8)

In most laboratories, total gas volumes are the only parameters that are used in feed characterization. In the laboratory, have used the method to estimate methane emission associated with different feeds (Figure 9). Methane emission potential is an important characteristic of feeds, in the context of global warming potential and climate change. Resources have been limited in expanding the characterization.

Resource mobilization and partnership development in a number of proposal developments. These include:

Validation of slaughtered cattle as source of in inoculum for in vitro gas production in ruminant feed evaluation. The project was supported through multi-donor support to ASARECA. It established partnerships with National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), College of Agriculture and Environmental Science (CAES), Makerere University, College of Natural Science (CONAS), Makerere University; and Sokoine University of Agriculture. Experiments have been completed and report writing and publications are in progress

Improving beef cattle productivity for enhanced food security and efficient utilization of natural resources in the Lake Victoria Basin. This project strengthened partnership between Makerere and Sokoine universities, and supported the MSc students in validating the technical efficiency and economic feasibility of straw-based rations for feedlot beef production.

Agricultural Synergies Project. The project established partnerships with Princeton University USA; CSIRO Australia; and CIAT Nairobi. This partnership has initiated capacity building in modelling nutrition and land use research. Specific models include the:

Ruminant model that uses laboratory results to simulate intake, nutrient supply, excretions in urine and faeces, fermentation in the rumen and greenhouse gas emission therefrom, and productivity (growth or milk yield). It is therefore a very valuable research and extension tool because it can be used to translate laboratory results into useful information to farmers.

Trade-off analysis tool: This model enables researchers and extension economic benefits associated with land use changes.

Development of tools, modeling, and analysis for the Rwanda El Nino and Climate Change Resilient Livestock activity (P160413). This project has won World Bank support for development of the SIDESS tool for Rwanda. It is based on the Agricultural Synergies Project. It combined the Ruminant and Trade-off Analysis model into one decision support tool. All animal nutritionists in RAB and two lecturers from the National University of Rwanda have been exposed to the tool and will participate in the model validation.

Validation of climate smart options for intensification of crop-livestock integration in Rwanda. This project has been submitted for consideration under National Climate Change and Environment Fund for Rwanda.

6. Innovation in technology, extension and institutional approaches towards sustainable agri-food systems to promote food and nutrition security (FNS) in Africa (InnovAfrica), funded by EU. This is a new project that will also strengthen the partnership between Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), Norway; Biosciences for Eastern and Central Africa Hub-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI), Kenya; Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya; Haramaya University (HU), Ethiopia; Malawi Chancellor College (MCC), Malawi; International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Zimbabwe; Agricultural Research Council Institute (ARC), South Africa; Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Tanzania; Tuscia University (TU), Italy; Wageningen University (WU), Netherlands; Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), Norway; as well as private small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from Rwanda, Malawi and Kenya..

Climate-smart dairy systems in East Africa through improved forages and feeding strategies: enhancing productivity and adaptive capacity while mitigating GHG emissions funded by IFAD. This project strengthened partnerships between RAB, CIAT, Colombia and TALRI, Tanzania.

Innovative programmatic approach to climate change: Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improving livestock production in East Africa funded by SIDA. This project strengthened partnerships between RAB; KALRO, Kenya; BecA-ILRI, Kenya; CIAT, Colombia and Agri-search, New Zealand.

Lessons learnt

Feed availability remains a major challenge to a sustainable future of livestock resource development in Rwanda. However, the challenge can be mitigated through an integrated approach that harnesses all opportunities for feed production and utilization. In this context, intensification through feedlots has a number of opportunities for adding value to land use including:

Crop-livestock integration when feedlots provide opportunities for enterprise diversification, through integration of land use at crop intensification sites.

While increasing fodder productivity and broadening the feed resource base is very important, breeding for feed efficiency shall greatly enhance efforts in feed resource development. Since genes that control the set of traits associated with feed efficiency have been identified,the marker assisting breeding has an important role to expedite animal genetic improvement for feed efficiency. The requisite manpower is available and any backstopping they may require can be provided for through twining arrangement with current or other experts.

Recommendations for the way forward:

Investments in community beef and dairy feedlots for crop-livestock integration will be provided. Mechanization of the production system using biogas generator is recommended to increase economic returns. Pilot studies are recommended.

Continuous investment in research of forage resource development for productivity and risk aversion to emerging diseases, pests and threats of climate change. In this context, an anticipatory rather than a reactive approach needs to be adopted, focusing on future needs for livestock products and existing capacity to address future needs and challenges. These can be premised on a robust data collection, recording and management.

Capacity building for model application in land use and animal nutrition research should be aggressively sustained through training and ICT infrastructure development. This is because of the diversity of land use potentials that require customized advisories.

Investment in marker assisted breeding for feed efficiency is highly recommended to enhance the capacity to cope with declining per capita landholdings for arable and livestock agriculture and eminent risks of environmental degradation and climate change impacts.

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News