Better feed for cows benefits dairy farmers in India and Tanzania

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Better feed for cows benefits dairy farmers in India and Tanzania

©ILRI/Ben Lukuyu

A roadside milk collection centre for a farmer’s group in Mvomero district. Tanzania: MilkIT Programme

Across the world, livestock provides food and income for almost 1.3 billion people. Dairy cows are particularly important both nutritionally and economically. In India and Tanzania, innovative feeding strategies – introduced by an IFAD grant – have increased milk production and boosted small farmers’ food security and livelihoods.

From 2011 to 2014, IFAD funded a programme for enhancing dairy-based livelihoods in India and Tanzania through feed innovation and value chain development approaches. Better known as MilkIT, the programme was led by the International Livestock Research Institute with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and partners. The programme connected poor dairy producers - many of them women - to value chains and knowledge-sharing platforms to improve feeding methods.

Some of the changes introduced were simple but significant. In India, for example, feeding troughs helped farmers from seven villages cut down on waste. Initially, only 1 per cent of participating farmers owned a trough. The rest put feed on the ground, leading to high wastage of forage, more labour when cleaning out the cattle sheds and increased risk of transmission of animal diseases.

With the help of local builders, MilkIT designed a simple trough using local material and adapted to the needs of local producers. In order to promote the use of this technology, the IFAD-funded Integrated Livelihood Support Project and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development provided financial incentives to project participants, most of whom were women. This contributed to the adoption of the new troughs, and as a result the average rate of fodder wastage fell by half.

Meanwhile, in Tanzania, MilkIT trained smallholder farmers in different methods of feed production and conservation. Dairy farmers learned to use a box-baler to make hay from natural grass or maize by-products. This inspired some farmers in Mbuzii, a village in Lushoto district, to make their own baler, which they demonstrated at a district agricultural show. Now, 40 farmers in Ubiri have adopted the new technology.

The spread of the box-baler reflects another MilkIT component: setting up innovation platforms in each country. Dialogue in these gathering centres led to rapid improvement in marketing arrangements, such as establishing producer cooperatives, milk collection centres and shops in Uttarakhand, India. Additionally, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development developed credit schemes to enable small farmers to purchase cross-bred cows that produce more milk, and the state dairy cooperative relaxed their membership rules to allow remote villages to join and sell milk through them.

As MilkIT demonstrated, technical feed interventions and marketing interventions are most effective when implemented together, as they depend on and support each other’s success. For example, participants in the innovation platforms identified that increasing the quantity of good quality feed depended on finding a cheap, easy way to cut chaff and make it more palatable for the animals. After smallholder dairy farmers tested forage choppers already available with local dairy cooperatives, MilkIT identified an entrepreneur who was available to supply the  chosen model in remote areas and facilitated the acquisition of such forage choppers by groups of farmers. This enabled them to produce better, more plentiful feed and thus increase milk production and incomes.

IFAD is looking at ways to scale up the successes of MilkIT. In Uttarakhand (India), the findings may be implemented in the IFAD-supported Integrated Livelihood Support Project. In Tanga (Tanzania), the lessons learned have been fed into the national Maziwa Zaidi dairy development initiative linked to CGIAR’s livestock research programme. The innovation platform process has been adopted by local stakeholders and applied in other contexts.

This story was originally published in IFAD’s 2016 Annual Report.