Livestock are an important pathway out of poverty for the rural poor. Worldwide, 50% of the world’s poor own livestock and depend on them for their livelihoods. Livestock are living assets contributing to food security and are an important source of protein and minerals for nutritional security.
There is increasing demand for livestock products worldwide in the form of meat, milk and milk products such as cheese and butter. This presents poor livestock producers with significant opportunities to increase benefits from their livestock and raise income through livestock markets. Access to fodder and water are often identified as major constraints to livestock productivity. This inability to feed livestock adequately remains one of the most widespread global constraints in the livestock sector. Removing it would assist smallholder livestock producers to improve their livelihoods by taking advantage of market opportunities and building assets.
Past efforts to enhance smallholder livestock production have shown little evidence of widespread adoption of new technological innovations such as new fodder options or new ways of feeding livestock. This has been attributed to a range of factors including poor approaches to introducing technologies, inappropriate technologies and services relative to the needs of the poor, low sustainability of the changes introduced, inadequate local livestock-support organizations and weak linkages to markets. Recent experiences in Nigeria and India focusing on fodder issues have highlighted the importance of understanding and developing partnerships and processes and working in what is known as an "innovation systems framework" to achieve sustainable improvements in poverty reduction. In effect this involves focusing on putting knowledge to use to achieve desired social/economic outcomes. Such knowledge is held by different "actors" within the system; looking at how these actors interact, their working practices and the policy environment in which they operate can help to remove bottlenecks to development. Recent experiences in Southeast Asia with developing forage technologies with active participation of poor farmers and local extension services have shown that this approach results in high adoption rates at project sites and surrounding areas.
Furthermore, studies by International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) and their partners show that when fodder options are linked to markets for meat and milk and when they have direct effects on income generation, fodder options to support livestock production are competitive with other farm enterprises in terms of returns to land and labour. These successful experiences in fodder uptake and significant accumulation of knowledge on preferences for fodder plants, seed systems, fodder management and integration of fodder into feeding systems provide the technical platform for this project.