A herb native to Africa could transform the continent’s milk yields. here’s how
Brachiaria has been instrumental in the success of the beef industry in the tropical Americas
Cows raised by smallholder farmers in Africa are notoriously unproductive. The average dairy cow, for example, produces about 540 liters of milk per lactation. In contrast, dairy cows in North America owned by commercial or intensive farmers can produce up to 10,479 liters of milk per lactation.
One of the main differences between the two animals is the quality of their feed and forage. Simply put, the more nutritious a cow’s diet, the more milk they produce of better quality. And smallholder farms, which number around 33 million in Africa, contributing up to 70 percent of the continent’s food supply, generally cannot afford more nutritious foods.
Brachiaria – the gender name of Urochloa – consists of around one hundred documented species of grasses, of which seven species used as fodder plants are of African origin. This herb may hold the key to improving milk yields from cows raised by smallholder farmers. Why is this an important goal?
First, it will help meet the growing demand for animal foods – like cow’s milk – as the continent urbanizes and its population grows. Second, it will provide an economic boon to individual farmers and communities in general. Finally, there is a potential for Brachiaria himself to become a money maker. Local seed traders will benefit from the marketing of grass seeds.
Brachiaria has already proven itself in some parts of the world. He was instrumental in the success of the beef industry in the tropical Americas. Brazil alone now has some 99 million hectares of land dedicated to Brachiaria grass.
The seed varieties currently used in African agriculture are all imported, mostly from South America and Southeast Asia. Long distance transportation and fares make these seeds expensive. It would be ideal to develop a quality, climate resilient Brachiaria seed production system on the continent. But where?
We believe the answer lies in Cameroon. Farmers planted Brachiaria seeds there for a long time, but no one had ever tested their quality. Our research filled this gap. Although the overall seed quality is poor, we have found that improved cultivation practices can solve this problem. Now we are working hard to make Cameroon the country of Africa Brachiaria seed center.
by Brachiaria the quality of forage was recognized by scientists in the 1950s. It has the potential for high biomass yield and adapts to poor soils. South American farmers, especially in Brazil, began to use Brachiaria on a large scale in the early 1970s and is recognized as the key to the boom in the region’s beef industry.
In Africa, however, interest in weed has grown more slowly. It was not until the early 2000s, when the continent began to feel the effects of population growth and urbanization, that the increased demand for animal foods sparked renewed interest in ways to improve agricultural yields.
As a plant scientist based at the International Livestock Research Institute, I carried out research Brachiaria lawn since 2013. Through various partnerships, colleagues and I have worked on a Brachiaria program to test varieties already developed in Australia and South America in various African contexts. They performed well independently, but the next step was to integrate them into the mixed crop-livestock systems typical of the continent.
Farmers responded enthusiastically to the grass: it dramatically increased milk production by up to 40 percent and resulted in substantial body weight gain in cattle, up to 50 percent in heifers. Its popularity is growing as the major newspapers and media have publicized its benefits. However, the seeds that made all this research possible were still not available on the continent. We had to import them, an arduous and expensive process due to the regulations and the distance. So we knew that in the future we had to turn to local seed production.
It was also crucial to find the best country for the task at hand. While our work in Kenya and Rwanda was promising, it was not as fruitful as we would have hoped, perhaps due to these countries’ proximity to the equator; the fact that night and day are of equal duration has affected various stages of seed development in species that prefer longer days.
Cameroon is often called “Africa in miniature”. It represents the main climatic zones of the continent, creating an ideal location for seed research.
During a visit to Cameroon, I noticed that farmers were cultivating Brachiaria grass for over 50 years and simultaneously producing the seed for home use.
They also sell surplus seeds to their neighbors and to seed traders in the Central African Republic and Nigeria. However, the quality of seeds produced in Cameroon was only established at the time of our study.
There are ten regions in Cameroon; Brachiaria the herb is commonly grown in five. Our team collected seeds from these five regions to determine their quality: variety fidelity, germination percentage, purity, vigor and appearance. The quality was generally too low to meet international standards, but with improved cultivation practices this obstacle can be overcome.
We are currently engaged in activities that would make Cameroon Africa Brachiaria seed production center. Achieving this goal would dramatically increase the availability of seeds to farmers, reduce the cost of seeds, and make it easier to scale up Brachiaria grass production across the continent.
To this end, my research team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and researchers from the Cameroon Agricultural Research and Development Institute worked to document the quality of Brachiaria seeds produced in different regions of Cameroon. We are also refining agronomic practices to improve seed quality, as well as training local farmers on improved agricultural practices for quality production. Brachiaria seeds.
We hope that this partnership between the two institutes will make Cameroon the country of the continent. Brachiaria seed production center in the next three to five years. This will have many economic benefits and will make quality seeds available on the African continent at a much lower price.
Mwihaki Mundia, BecA — ILRI Hub as Communications Officer, contributed to this article.
Sita Ghimire, Principal Scientist – Plant Pathology, East and Central Africa Biosciences-International Livestock Research Institute Hub
This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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