New varieties of high-quality, drought-resistant forage grasses can boost milk production by 40 percent and generate millions of dollars in economic benefits for struggling East African dairy farmers.
The new analysis by experts at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture – a CGIAR Research Center has established that 40 per cent more milk and tens of millions of dollars in revenue will be possible for African farmers adopting the new drought-resistant pasture grass known as brachiaria grasses.
“Our research shows that brachiaria grasses could be the cornerstone of productive and resilient livestock systems that quickly provide more milk and money for small-scale dairy farmers,” said Dr Steven Prager, a senior scientist at the Center.
“Farmers could benefit more from surging consumer demand for livestock products in East Africa,” Prager is co-author of the new CIAT study that assessed benefits that could accrue to East African dairy producers from adopting new varieties of a pasture grass called brachiaria.
The grasses were developed by CIAT plant breeders to survive harsh growing conditions, while providing considerable nutritional benefits for livestock. The CIAT analysis focused on the additional milk and money they could deliver for an estimated two million smallscale dairy farmers across Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
High Production, Lower Emissions The new varieties are highyielding, nutritious and, because they are easier for cows to digest, animals produce far less of the greenhouse gas methane per liter of milk produced. The grass has other climate friendly qualities: its deep roots help it capture carbon and store it in the soil, while also preventing soil erosion.
Given its many benefits, brachiaria grass has become the most extensively used forage in the world, with seed production already commercialised in big cattle-producing countries like Brazil. “The beauty of these new brachiaria grasses is that they allow farmers to boost meat and milk production while actually reducing methane emissions that contribute to global warming,” said Dr Solomon Mwendia, CIAT’s forage expert in Nairobi and a co-author of the report. Differences in forage and feed quality are a key reason cattle in parts of sub-Saharan Africa contribute relatively more methane per kilo of meat or milk produced than in other parts of the world. Improved forage and feed quality can make digestion more efficient, boosting milk productivity and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
The Center is now working with public and private sector partners to increase the commercial availability of improved brachiaria seeds in Africa. Currently, seeds need to be imported, but the Center hopes that in the future commercial seed production can be established in Africa itself.