In recent times, in eastern Africa, arable land has become more scarce and livestock production has gained more ground, making maize more important than ever—both as a source of food and feed—in highly intensified crop-livestock farming systems. In an innovative partnership, CIMMYT, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners from universities, research centers, and ministries of agriculture in Ethiopia, Tanzania , Kenya, and Germany have worked together to develop and evaluate dual-purpose maize cultivars to meet the increasing need for livestock fodder in a project funded by BMZ from 2005 to 2009. The partnership—new to all those involved—brought together socio-economists, animal scientists, maize breeders, and spatial analysts.
Recently, CIMMYT and ILRI organized an end-of-project workshop themed “Improving the Value of Maize Stover as Livestock Feed” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for stakeholders to review results of the project and agree on future directions. Maize stover is the leftover leaves, stalks, husks, and cobs after a harvest.
“Livestock is important in Ethiopia—contributing 40% to our gross domestic product (GDP). Available grazing land has decreased while the area under maize has increased. Therefore, stovers have become an important source of fodder,” said Adefris Teklewold, crop research process director at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), who opened the workshop. “However, maize stover has low nutritive value and this project has the potential of increasing its value as livestock feed.”
Researchers found that that farmers value grain yield much more than stover fodder value, and would adopt an improved variety only if it gave reasonable yields. Nevertheless, farmers do recognize differences among varieties in the fodder value of stover, particularly in traits such as ‘stay-green,’ softness of stalks, and palatability. After grain yield and food related attributes, stover biomass is an important characteristic upon which farmers base their selection of varieties.
The project successfully explored the potential to improve maize stover for livestock fodder and identified traits that could be used by breeding programs to do so. These traits would serve as additional ‘value added’ release criteria rather than requirements for release to facilitate optimization of whole plant utilization. To adopt and implement these findings will require more widespread awareness among actors in the food-feed value chain, including government extension workers, private seed companies, and farmers so that breeding for improved stover quality can be integrated in national maize breeding programs. Workshop participants also recognized competition for other uses of stover, such as fuel and fencing, as well as its importance in soil conservation. As Teklewold advised, “Reducing soil degradation and erosion from the hillsides and sloping fields on which much of Ethiopian agriculture is practiced is an urgent need. Reduced tillage and residue conservation are crucial to this task.” Participants were left with the challenge of how to reconcile the competing demands for crop residues in maize-livestock systems.