Tropical Forages - Alliance Bioversity International - CIAT

Forages encompass a diverse range of plants including grasses, legumes, and other varieties, intended as a nutritional food source for animals. These forages can be provided in various forms, such as fresh, dried, or processed into hay, silage, or stubble. The forages are cultivated, collected, or allowed to grow in specific regions and tropical areas around the world.

The Importance of Tropical Forages Research

For farmers in tropical regions, forages can provide a reliable and nutritious feed source for their livestock, improving their health and productivity, leading to increased income and improved livelihoods. Furthermore, tropical forages provide multiple ecosystem benefits such as mitigating climate change, increasing soil fertility, reversing land degradation, enhancing biodiversity, and optimizing resource use.

Tropical forages are often adapted to multiple stresses and can enhance resilience including in more constraint environments. Being the crop with the widest extension in growing area, improved forages are critical to reduce the land and other resources used for livestock production, and transforming performance in crop-livestock-tree interactions.

Researchers are interested in tropical forages' potential to improve livestock productivity, enhance systems performance and resilience, and maximize ecosystem and livelihood benefits. Through research, new and improved varieties of tropical forages are developed that are more tolerant to a variety of abiotic and biotic stresses.

Upscaling is a key part of tropical forages work at the Alliance, through interactions with a wide range of partners, leading to more efficient and sustainable crop-livestock-systems, which lead to higher yields, lower production costs, and ecosystems benefits.

The Alliance's research on tropical forages addresses the challenges of livestock production and crop-livestock-tree systems in tropical regions and – with the increasing impacts of climate change - is increasingly widening.

History of Tropical Forages Research at the Alliance

In 1967, along with the establishment of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) - now part of the Alliance - a designated team led by Loy Crowder created the ‘Pasture-Livestock Research and Training Program'.

In 1977, the germplasm collection had around 3,000 accessions of forages. In 1979, it changed its name to the Tropical Pastures Program, while other livestock research in animal health was phased out. 

In 1988, breeding work focused on interspecific Urochloa (syn Brachiaria) grasses, that is U. brizantha × U. decumbens × U. ruziziensis. 

In 1991, the program's work emphasized the characterization, evaluation, and selection of suitable grass and legume species and cultivars for the acid soils of the savannas. In addition to the work in Latin America, the program started research efforts in Southeast Asia. 

In 1992, the program changed its name to the Tropical Forages Program. 

Explore Further

Our Research Approach

Tropical forages are an important source of feed for livestock in tropical regions, and have multiple roles in the sustainability and resilience of crop-livestock-tree systems.

However, many forages cannot produce year-round feed of high quality and productivity, and are sometimes not tolerant to existing and emerging pests and diseases, thus limiting their use and reducing the productivity of livestock in the region. Furthermore, the expansion of livestock production is often associated with negative environmental impacts such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and land degradation. 

Our research is aimed at improving the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crop-tree-livestock in the tropics while reducing or reversing these negative impacts. The Alliance's program focuses on the selection and breeding of tropical forages that are nutritious, highly productive, and adapted to different biotic and abiotic stresses.

Furthermore, the program works on promoting and implementing the principles of regenerative agriculture through the integration of improved tropical forages in equitable multifunctional systems.

tropical forages research approach

Where We Work

  • Americas: Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Haiti, Nicaragua 
  • Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Madagascar Senegal, Mali
  • Asia: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India, China

Tropical Forages Thematic Research Areas

  1. Socio-economy: We analyze the dynamics and contexts in which bovine livestock develops in emerging economies, using quantitative and qualitative analysis - such as economic evaluations and market studies - to understand the needs, limitations, and opportunities of producers within the processes of adopting forage technologies, meat and milk value chains, and production systems. With this information, we aim to be considered in the design and construction of more competitive scenarios that allow for improving welfare conditions and strengthening the livestock sector. 
  2. Physiology: We study the existing interactions between tropical forages and the environment where they develop. We focus on investigating anatomical, morphological, physiological, and biochemical attributes associated with adaptation and/or acclimation processes caused by water deficiency and/or excess, as well as low soil fertility. More recently, work has been initiated where soil compaction, excess light, or shading are the factors that affect plant development. 
  3. Molecular Biology: We aim to develop new technologies that allow us to analyze and characterize the genetic diversity of forage species, as well as to study soil microorganisms that are involved in nutrient cycling in crops and rumen microorganisms that play an important role in forage digestion. We seek to identify forage alternatives that can contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gases, especially enteric methane, which is produced in the animal digestion process. 




Partnerships and Outreach

It is our privilege to work with these organizations in our research on tropical forages:

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