Research Articles How improved livestock and pasture management practices are impacting agro-pastoralists in East Africa

Researchers discuss possibilities and constraints for three forms of sustainable livestock management in East Africa.

The improper utilization and management of rangelands, especially in arid and semi-arid (ASAL) areas of East Africa, have exacerbated land degradation processes resulting in minimal pasture available for grazing livestock. Climate change and weather variability in the past decades has worsened the situation. Restoration efforts call for efficient and effective livestock and pasture management practices to improve the income and livelihood of agro-pastoralists in ASAL areas. Climate change affects different regions with varying degrees of intensity; certain areas may experience increased rainfall events resulting in floods, while others face reduced rainfall and increased temperatures resulting in severe droughts. Across the East African region, annual precipitation has become more variable, leading to increased frequency of both drought and floods.

Livestock are a valuable source of food and livelihoods in Tanzania. Credit: G.Smith

Pasture Management

In the context of rangeland management, drought may reduce crop and livestock productivity, increase livestock mortality rates, and increase the incidence of pests and diseases. Up-scaling of livestock and pasture management practices is crucial since these activities can mitigate the negative impacts of grazing livestock, decrease the emissions of Greenhouse gases (GHG) per animal, hasten the production cycle and minimize livestock mortality and morbidity rates. Starting in 2018, through a study funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), our research team considered three main management practices: deferred rotation grazing, active restoration of degraded land, and fodder cultivation to be used as a supplement for livestock feed. Deferred rotation grazing is a system that allows for regrowth and allows grasses to flower and set seed. The land area is enclosed for a period of about one or two years to allow for the natural regeneration of the vegetation. Depending on the degree of rangeland degradation, active restoration involves the deliberate actions of planting or seeding desired species and the replacement of woody plants to restore the productivity of the land. The cultivation of fodder to act as a supplement for grazing provides products that have a high nutritional value and to a large extent allows for a significant reduction in emissions of GHG per animal through enteric fermentation. A majority of smallholder farmers may cultivate the fodder crops in combination with other crops or with hedges of the plots. The fodder can also be sold in the market and earn the farmer additional income.

These livestock and pasture management practices may not be easily adopted by smallholder farmers with financial constraints, due to the high initial costs of investment associated with implementing these practices. Tools such as Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) have been utilized to provide useful information about the financial and economic viability of alternative livestock management practices. CBA can also be applied in the assessment of climate risks by estimating the worst losses based on historical data. Decision criteria such as Net Present Value (NPV), Cost-Benefit ratio, the Internal Rate of Return, and the payback period are used to aid decision-makers in making rational investment decisions. In a survey conducted between November and December 2018 among 86 households in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, the CBA analysis found that improved management practices recorded a positive NPV over the life of the practice, even at higher discount rates. For example, the NPVs of active restoration of degraded lands, fodder cultivation, and deferred rotation grazing were estimated at $3,130, $2,235, and $1,740 respectively at a 12 percent discount rate.

The break-even period, which is the time required by the net cash flow of a project to offset the project costs, were estimated at six years, four years, and 12 years for active restoration of degraded lands, fodder cultivation, and deferred rotation grazing respectively. These were not different from the payback periods, which is the time required to earn back the investment in a project from the net cash flows. However, each improved management practice has a specific duration before the benefits can be fully realized. The estimated periods for the above practices were 15 years for deferred rotation grazing, 16 years for active restoration of degraded lands, and 20 years for fodder cultivation. In the absence of financing options, which is often the situation with most low-income pastoralists in the Oromia region, the long payback periods often discourage the upscaling of the improved management practices. Insufficient awareness of the costs and benefits of the different production practices, uncertainty about land tenure, socio-cultural issues, and limited access to extension services are some factors that limit the adoption of financially viable opportunities. Most pastoralists lack land for settled crop production and generally operate in delicate and difficult environments and have few resources to cope with the changing climate.

Forages represent a supplement to livestock feed in Tanzania. Credit: G.Smith

Improved Carbon Sequestration and economic status

Improvements in the quality of the rangelands contribute to significant carbon sequestration and soil carbon storage. For instance, each hectare of land under deferred rotation grazing or through the active restoration of degraded lands could potentially increase the soil carbon storage by 1.72 tonnes of carbon emissions per year for about 20 years. These improved management practices make it viable for farmers to increase livestock production by increasing their herd sizes. They also increase the economic and environmental conditions, such as improving the food security status in a given drought year and reducing dust concentration in the air from the increased vegetation cover.

The economic impact of the improved management practices, estimated from the social cost of GHG impact over 50 years, indicated a negative association on the NPV at an $8.00 per tonne of carbon emission per year social cost of carbon. The social cost of carbon is a dollar estimate of the economic damages that would result from emitting one additional ton of GHG into the atmosphere. It provides policymakers with an understanding of the economic impacts of decisions that would increase or decrease emissions.

For instance, an increase in soil carbon storage from deferred rotation grazing is associated with a small increase in methane emissions (enteric fermentation) from an increase in the population of ruminant livestock. Active restoration of degraded land and fodder cultivation increased the soil carbon storage, which offset the increase in methane emissions from increased herd sizes, resulting in significant economic benefits. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the global warming potential of methane is estimated at 28-26 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years and 84-87 times as much over 20 years. Effective management, therefore, calls for more accurate information that could be availed through monitoring and evaluation of the practices. Investment loans to farmer groups and associations can also help to reduce the high transaction costs and risks of extending individual loans to low-income farmers.