Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to more sheep?

Atbsi, in Northern Ethiopia is known for its highland sheep. Because it mainly feeds on grass it also get a special taste and therefore reaches a better market place. A special breeding program supported by the Livestock CRP (the research program i am working on) in the area is looking at improving the breed by selection. Indeed the carcass weight is 40% below its potential, meaning one could get more meat from one animal. The reason for this investment?

The bet is that destocking will take place by shifting from cattle to sheep. Really? the area has been chosen by the government for dairy production and the farmers we met in the presence of Ethiopian government representative all told us they want to have dairy (farmer 1, farmer 2)?

So we decided to stop randomly and talk to some farmer without the Ethiopian government representative. We found a farmer who was winnowing crops. We stopped and talked to him. He had a cross-breed cow and some sheep. His major challenge was fodder, and he was not convinced that his dairy cow was holding the promise of more milk. He was thinking of getting more sheep. He says that he can feed 10 sheep with the same fodder than for one cow and that seemed more profitable for him...

Will mechanization holds its promises? if yes how will destocking in Atsbi look like? More dairy? more sheep? Maybe just more specialized! A story to follow!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to dairy production? (2)

My last post has discussed the move toward dairy production in Atsbi. We visited another farmer who also moved to improved cattle but within a settlement.

the carpenter who became a farmer
The farmer was landless (see here what this means in Ethiopia), and his wife had a job in the nearby school. He used to be carpenter but he had an accident, so had to change occupation. He had recently go the house he is living in and as he moved he had sold his sheep to buy a pregnant dairy cow that he keeps in his compound.

off-spring from his first dairy cow

He is landless but get access to 0.25 ha irrigated land, where he gets crop residue from. But he does not get access to the communal land and therefore buys crop residues, grass and concentrate for his cow.
The dairy cow in the settlement
His shed has enough space for at least two cows. So when we asked him where he will be in 5 years, he said that he will have a cow more so that he can get more income. He hopes that with this income he can move to Wucro the nearest big town, where the economy is booming.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Destocking in Atsbi : a move to dairy production? (1)

Atsbi, in Northern Ethiopia is often confronted with food and fodder shortage. One way to address fodder shortage is to have less livestock but more productive one. Moving to dairy production is one option. The goverment has even identified Atbsi as a woreda (district) where dairy should be prioritized. Not surprising as Atbsi is on a plateau and therefore is cooler and suitable for dairy.
the farmer with the Holstein dairy cow
Local breeds are not very productive for milk, therefore dairy need improved breeds. In Atsbi, cross-breed are managed and provided by the government. We visited a model farmer who had switched to dairy farming.

The irrigated lentils
The farmer had 1 acre land of which a part was irrigated. Lentils were growing on the irrigated land. In addition, she 3 cows, 100% Holstein (so not a cross breed), 1 oxen, 5 sheep, 2 donkeys and 10 local chicken. She was very happy with the dairy cow . She was feeding them with crop residue, grass, hay, but also on concentrate (mainly maize bran) that she would buy and residue from beer production. Lentils are for human consumption, only residues are given to the animals
She got training and knows well how to feed her animals. As a result, in the good season she could get 15 liters milk per cow, while in the current season she would get on 10 l. per animals.
Residue from local beer production

She would get 10 birr (0.44 usd) per litre milk, and 8birr during the fasting season. She is selling to a cooperative. With 3 cows she can get 30 liter per day, that is 300 birr that is 13 usd per day, not bad for rural Ethiopia...
Livestock coming from the water point just crossing the farm
When i asked her about what will have changed in 5 years from now, she said she will have more dairy cows, she did not mentioned the sheep.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Destocking in Atbsi : get mechanisation right

In the current reconnaissance trip to Atbsi, Ethiopia, we were thinking that we will be coming to a site with many sheep, but where we were looking we saw many cattle. We were puzzled about that fact that so many farmers kept cattle in a feed shortage area. Indeed for one cattle one could keep 7-8 sheep. So as usual we asked people about the role of cattle and sheep in this area.

Cattle and sheep grazing
We learned that most household are keeping one oxen for ploughing, and in order to always have an oxen, these household would also keep some female cow, which can also give milk.
So our discussion suddenly turned into a discourse about mechanization. If farmers could access a tractor, then they could be de-stocking, i.e. not keep the oxen but have sheep or dairy cows instead. We learned from one person working at REST (Relief Society of Tigray) that mechanization has been tried in the area but it did not work, for two reasons, one is that the spare parts are difficult to access but also the machinery was not suitable for the area. Big tractors would be too big, and a much more promising option would be two wheeler.
talking to the woreda representative
However when we talked to a representative of the district he has mentioned that mechanization is a great success in Felegewayne. Farmers got organized and managed to get 2 tractors as a cooperative and 4 others have been ordered. But we have not seen any...
landscape in Felegewayne
Our explanation was the landscape around Felegewayne must be flatter than in some other areas of Atbsi. An assumption that still needs to be confirmed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Land access in Ethiopia, or how land less is landless?

In Ethiopia, all land is owned solely by the government, and land access is regulated. After a long period of land certification, there are now many households who have guaranteed access to farming land through a 100 year land use. In Atsbi (Tigray), it is 0.5 hectare per adult, both men and women, this means 1 ha for a family. Land certification can be inherited but not split. It is customary to give it to the youngest child, who will be able to farm the land in his name. For land that is not used, for example because a family is leaving the area, the certification is returned to the government and assigned to landless people who will receive the certificate.

Community manage grazing land

This also means that all the other children do not get land and are landless. Every kebelle, the smallest administrative unit of Ethiopia runs a waiting list of landless people. These people are waiting until land is made available. With an average family size of 6 people, assuming 2 parents and four children, there will be 3 landless children in the family. Given the amount of landless, mostly young people, the government needs to find alternative livelihood opportunities.
Children on a communal grazing land
Non farming land is governmental land and this encompasses forest, river shores, grazing land. The government is therefore trying to protect the area and at the same time offer livelihood opportunities to those who do not have land. Forest areas are protected but landless people can get the right keep bees there and sell the honey. Also some river shores and degraded land are rehabilitated through mass mobilizations, i.e. every farmer who has certified land need to work for free a certain amount of time per year. Land rehabilitated is sometimes given to landless people for agriculture. This land is not certified and is not considered as farming land and the landless person has no guarantee about keeping this land. We met a family who got 0.25 ha of irrigated land through this scheme. 

Return after a mobilization day
Non-governmental grazing land is community land. As free grazing gets more and more restricted, grazing land is protected with a guard that manage access. It can be managed by the community itself and in some cases the government.
Return after a mobilization day  
It was fascinating to learn more about land ownership in a country where land cannot be owned!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Atsbi, Ethiopia : when intensification means destocking

Atsbi is a highland woreda (district) in Tigray region in the North of Ethiopia. It is the site we selected for the SAIRLA project for the Ethiopian case study area. It is a study area where ILRI has worked for many years through the LIVES project and has a strong focus on the goat and sheep value chain thanks to ICARDA.

Atbsi is shaped by the one rainy season that a bi-modal rainfall with some rain in April and the major rains in July and August.

World Clim long term average rainfall for Atbsi woreda

As it is a highland area, temperatures remain relatively low with the warmest temperature in May and June just before the onset of the rains.
World clim long term average for average temperature

From the land cover map we can see that there is mainly grassland and shrubland.
SEVIR land cover map for Absi for 2008 and 2003
The Tigray highland is known for its high population density, low soil fertility, important soil erosion and therefore is quite food insecure. It is also the area with the highest soil and water conservation investments and can present may success story of rehabilitation of land and gain of biomass.
A landscape shaped by soil and water conservation
With my colleagues, I went to discover this site and identify dynamics that might not have been talked about in the reports and stories we heart before. What we found is an area where food and fodder are almost always short. Food insecurity is recurrent and feed shortages the major challenge for the livestock sector followed by animal health consideration.

animal being sprayed with pesticides

The lack for feed and fodder pushes livestock keeper towards owning less animals, and therefore they are looking for animals that are more productive. We talked to regional and local key informant including farmer, researchers and governmental officials to understand the constraints and opportunities of this area.

A grazing area in Atsbi
We discovered that people think of their livestock sector in two systems : the urban system which is often more dairy oriented and relies on concentrate and the rural system where a mix of livestock mainly cattle and sheep are kept relying on natural vegetation and crop residue only...
Do you want to know more? Follow the journey in the upcoming weeks with the tag SAIRLA and Ethiopia.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Uncovering the potential for DHS data for livestock research

This afternoon, i gave a seminar on how to use DHS (demographic health survey) can be used to get new insights into the livestock sector in developing countries.

Go through the presentation for discovering how nutrition links with livestock ownership or if you want to know where the poor poultry keeper are!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Make the invisible visible : spatio-temporal mapping of migration

Last week, i was invited by the Danish Refugee Council to an expert panel on mapping migration. I was told : "I know we are doing many things wrong, we would appreciate to have your input on how to improve". I didn't really know what to expect, but somehow I had the feeling that it is going to be one other of these hopeless projects.

When I arrived there i actually discovered a very unexpectedly amazing project, named 4mi : across a set of European and African country, field monitors (interviewers) interviews migrants about their routes, their reason for leaving, the country they want to go but also abuses they have experiences or how many deaths they have seen along the road. There is also a survey that collects information from smuggler.

Yes, the data they collect has many issues : the representativeness of the sample, the double counting of death or abuses when two interviewed people refer to the same event. But, it is a goldmine, in a field where there is no data! Where would you look for data about a clandestine activity?

Clearly, it raises many ethical issues. Firstly, the field monitors are not all hired, so what are their rights and how to ensure their security? Secondly, the information collected, does it work in favor or against the refugee? Will it support NGO to reduce abuse of refugee or will it support government to be more restrictive?

They also produce regular info graphics with the data, as well as a set of maps. Unfortunately, it only presents the whole dataset and does not allow to subset over time, therefore not allowing for spatio-temporal analysis : a critique that was well taken and this will be probably adjusted soon.

Maybe my contribution to this whole initiative was raising the awareness that with the emergence of big data, sampling issues will become less and less important as the number of observations are increasing as well as the possibility to develop correction factors. Also i hope that i have convinced them to have a controlled free access to the raw data for the scientific community, so that they can get free insights with there data.

Maybe one day i will be analyzing the relation between livestock loss (a reason for leaving home) and migration as a response to a climatic shock? or discover new other linkages between the livestock sector and migration. It is definitely a new unorthodox source of data for livestock that is now emerging. So let's look at the emerging opportunity rather than on the some pitfalls that this data might have.

In the meantime check out the 4mi website! a clear initiative worth a follow up!

Monday, January 23, 2017

pushed to innovation : meet Konde the dairy farmer

On my last field trip to Burkina Faso, I met Konde, they dairy farmer in the periphery of Bobo-Dialassou.

Konde, the dairy breeder

Konde is a livestock breeder, he has 4 milking cows, 12 cows on the farm and a certain relatively big amount of cattle somewhere else. He is a farmer who took the bet for dairy production and 10 years ago started breeding improved cross breed. He has been part of the a training program for artificial insemination program that was implemented in 2009 by the government and the support from Canada. He today can perform artificial insemination, and produces calves he can sell up to 10 more than what he could get for a local calf. He currently feeds his animal crop residue from sesame, maize, sorghum that he produces on his own land, and natural grasses that he has collected from communal land such as river banks and road side, as well as grassing land from others for which he could get the authorization to collect the grasses for free. He also was feeding a proper concentrate produced in Ivory Coast that he could access at subsidized prices. As we came just after the harvesting season, cattle is roaming in his fields to eat the crop residue. In the dry season he would also feed cotton seed cakes, maize and wheat bran and bier residues that he would buy, as well as rice straw he can get for free. With this diet he can produce 12 liters of milk per cow. He mentioned that he had now more milk with his four milking cows, than before with this 150 headed local breed herd.

In terms of feeds, he has tried out several approaches. In the past, he was growing maize for silage. As he would use the whole crop, the community said he was crazy, but he could appreciate the higher productivity he could get thanks to this approach. However, this year he did not produce any silage, because he could not hire people to the work. The next door mine are offering better paid jobs and agricultural labour is scares. Yet, looking at the labor that is needed to collect the natural grass, we wonder if this is the real reason.

Secondly, he had tried to plant braccaria, a high performing and nutritious grass. But because his fields where not fenced roaming animals have eaten the roots. Today, he has a field planted with alfalfa. This had been suggested by a Dutch expert who also financed the electric fencing of the field. Yet, the alfalfa did not perform well, other grazes grew quicker and overtook the field. He had actually would have preferred to have braccaria, but the expert had pushed for alfalafa, and himself would not know where to get braccaria seeds from.
the fenced field
Konde is also the president of a farmer organization bringing 30 farmers together, mainly with the propose to produce sufficient milk so that a collector comes and picks it. But they are also exchanging information, advice and feeds.

Konde had two wells with electric pumps, the one that he set up himself is still working, the other one set up by a project was defect. But water access is not a problem. Also there was a tractor and some machinery that looked pretty old and broken, but we were told that is was still in use.

self financed water system

We have also asked him about his breeding strategy. He seems to document it all, to understand concept of F1 (first cross) F2 (offspring from first cross), yet is does not seem to have a breeding strategy. It sounds like an experiment.

unused trough

Clearly, Konde is a farmer to whom many innovation were brought to. He has tried many of them, and abandoned most of them, such a silage, alfalfa, the unused trough. And few he has kept some of them, the artificial insemination or the water pump that he has build from his own money. He clearly shows that what he had to invest his own resource is still in use today, what he got for free through project he does not pursue after the money is gone. Once again, pushing farmer to adoption of technologies and innovation does not lead to long term success.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Do livestock keepers consume animal products?

There is an ongoing debate among us on whether a poor livestock keeper is more likely to consume animal sourced products. We always have the hypothesis that if the denomination of the animal product is small, for example an egg, or is separable, such as milk, poor livestock keeper will have an improved nutrition. But they will sell the whole animal and therefore not consume meat.

livestock keeper representing the livestock union

So on the last trip to Burkina Faso, we have asked the livestock keepers from the livestock union in Bama, about their consumption of milk and some breed experts.

We came up with the following rules rules :
  • sheep give milk but it is not consumed by human for cultural reason
  • goat breeds that give milk, milk is first given to the goat baby, if there is enough there there might be some home consumption
  • some goat breed, especially the smaller ones, do not give sufficient milk for home consumption
  • in traditional cattle breeding system, a cow that gives birth will produce milk, which is first given to the calf. If there is enough, the milk is consumed within the family and if there is even more then the milk is sold. 
  • there are also dairy farms. We could not figure out what is more important to them : home consumption for improved nutrition or milk sale for cash. Literature suggests that the more a livestock keeper is connected to market, the less there is a home consumption for his/her own production.

So we got interesting insights on how to link livestock ownership to nutritional benefits through animal sourced food. A linkage worth investigating more.