A private sector initiative is reducing methane emissions while boosting productivity in Kenya’s dairy sector. How will it apply lessons learned from the pilot to the dairy sector in Ethiopia?
The cost of cow feed is 60 to 70 percent the cost of producing a liter of milk in Kenya. For dairy farmers, it means that using improved forage varieties and nutritionally balanced rations makes a genuine difference to their income. What’s more, the higher likelihood of drought and high temperatures in eastern Africa — an effect of climate change — underlines the need for a stronger forage market system.
To tackle these challenges, the Nourishing Prosperity Alliance (NPA) is leveraging animal nutrition to unlock the productivity potential of cattle, leading to higher income for dairy farmers and greater food and nutrition security. Moreover, by improving dairy cow productivity through optimized nutrition, farmers reduce methane emissions per liter of milk due to higher output per cow. The project has made significant impact on dairy productivity and livelihoods in Kenya since the start of the pilot in 2020, with plans to introduce a similar model in Ethiopia.
Forage market challenges in East Africa are complex and vary by nation, county, and even the farm level. Animal nutrition interventions must strike the balance between adaptability
to local contexts and scalability
for maximum impact. While the forage markets in both Kenya and Ethiopia face similar constraints, Ethiopia’s market is far more nascent: forage sales are extremely uncommon, the government more tightly manages forage inputs and services, and private sector engagement is constrained by strict regulations. The question becomes: how will the NPA program translate to the Ethiopian context and build upon the model based on the lessons learned in Kenya?
NPA is pioneering a private sector-led alliance model that leverages digital technology, women-inclusive programming, field testing, and adaptive use of data to establish the market for nutrient-dense, climate-adapted forages in both East African countries.
What is the Alliance Model, and What are its Benefits?
NPA is implemented by Land O’Lakes Venture37 in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (CGIAR), Corteva Agriscience, and Forage Genetics International. It is an alliance of non-profit, research, and private sector actors that encourages pre-competitive collaboration to address bottlenecks in the forage market system.
The NPA program also integrates local partners along the value chain — from farm and feed input providers, mechanization services, storage and transportation, testing services, and milk off-takers – to increase access to appropriate inputs and services for farmers at the local level. In the Kenya program (KNPA), local institutions — such as cooperatives and processors — have provided sustainable and accessible extension support for remote rural farmers. Where traditional development models might leave a gap in support services following the end of the program, KNPA is building the foundation for a self-sustaining and comprehensive market system.
This May, NPA announced a Mega Sprint
with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Global Methane Hub, and Global Dairy Platform at the 2023 AIM for Climate Summit in Washington, D.C. The organizations are leveraging the combined resources of their respective innovation sprints
to co-create solutions to greenhouse gas emissions in the dairy/livestock sector and the impacts of climate change in low- and middle-income countries.
Leveraging Digital Technologies to Optimize Rationing
In Kenya, NPA trained farmers using digital applications — Rumen8
and ILRI’s Farm Feed Advisor
— to determine the least-cost feed combination and optimized feed rationing based on locally available forage varieties. With the help of these apps, average annual income rose by 68 percent for smallholder farmers and 34 percent for emerging commercial farmers while reducing methane emissions intensity by an average of 26 percent across farmer groups. Due to their success, the program plans to deploy digital technologies in Ethiopia with additional use cases that expand access to farmer advisory services, market linkages, and finance for underserved populations.
Kenya has a burgeoning industry for digital innovations in agriculture as well as high rates of mobile phone access and use. On the other hand, Ethiopia has far lower rates of digital literacy as well as little internet penetration and access. For that reason, simple, accessible digital solutions such as SMS alerts, USSD, and offline mobile apps are prioritized for use in Ethiopia. Additionally, Venture37 and its partners are weighing the viability, effectiveness, and accessibility of specific applications (e.g. number of active users, data accuracy, bundled services, availability in local language).
Prioritizing Women’s Engagement
The project found that women farmers were more likely to adopt new practices in dairying and forage cultivation in Kenya, as they are most often responsible for feeding and caring for the household’s livestock. For this reason, KNPA strived for equally gendered participation (60 percent of KNPA trainees were women) and a gender-sensitive training approach as an important part of project impact. Women’s inclusion is an equally essential part of dairy sector development in Ethiopia, as they contribute to around 70 percent
of food production.
Furthermore, farmer participants of KNPA often request forage and dairy feeding training that is frequent and close to home. This is important for all farmers, but women are more constrained by domestic responsibilities and social norms than are men. Through field surveys, KNPA determined that women farmers are best available during school holidays, which allows the program to adapt their training schedules in response. A similar adaptive management approach will be valuable as NPA scales out.
Harnessing On-Farm Data
During the pilot, the KNPA team established forage adaptive management plots across the region to serve as sites for in-situ demonstrations as well as soil and forage testing. The small, flexible plot design allowed for targeted recommendations and training, making it easier to adapt to various needs and farming situations. For example, they endorsed drought-tolerant species like Napier grass and sorghum for use during drought or at sites where water-intensive crops performed less well. Indeed, the number of smallholder farmers planting improved forages grew by 38 percent after participating in a KNPA forage training.
The team also collected data on forage quality from these sites to enhance recommendations for cattle feeding. They used the data to formulate balanced rations according to the needs of the cow and using the forage available. As a result of balancing rations with higher quality forages, the average participating smallholder farmer saw a 46 percent rise in annual milk output. By incorporating field testing and data-informed decision making, as well as mechanisms for farmer monitoring and feedback, NPA can continue to improve the quality and relevance of its programming in both Kenya and Ethiopia.
The pilot project in Kenya offers key insights as NPA is poised to expand and adapt to the specific needs, constraints, and opportunities of dairy farming and forage cultivation in Ethiopia:
Cooperation is key.
Cooperation and partnership with local institutions, private firms, and other actors across the value chain have a stronger chance of addressing market bottlenecks and enabling environment challenges.
Digital technologies have great potential but must make sense for end users.
Innovative digital technologies (alongside field-based extension agents and networks) that are developed for use by small-scale farmers have the potential to improve farmer access to advisory services, inputs, off-takers, and finance in a way that is both effective and economical.
Women’s engagement is essential.
Gender inclusion is critical for farm productivity and is a necessary component of all activities across project countries.
Data drives results.
Forage testing and adaptive management for ration optimization helps to drive down the cost of production and generate stronger returns on investment.