Improved Forage Seeds are a New Frontier for African Agriculture

Above L:  Seed production managers of Somali seed companies and extension staff of the federal and state ministries of agriculture of Somalia learn bush rye grass (Enteropogon macrostachyus) multiplication techniques from Dr. Boscoe Kidake, of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in Kiboko, Kenya.  Above R:  Hand selection of seed of Maasai love grass (Eragrostis superba).

Food security in Africa is not only about cereals and legumes. Livestock play an important role in the diets and cultures of many countries. From poultry of various kinds to sheep, goats, cattle and camels, livestock are vital components of people’s diets. Added to this are the animal products of hides and manure; the former important for the leather industry, and the latter for recycling soil nutrients.

The feed needs of these livestock are largely derived from natural grazing lands but are also increasingly supplemented with cereals and legumes grown on farmers’ fields.

SSG’s focus has mostly been on developing the seed systems of cereals and legumes for field crop production. However, we have increasingly learned of the need to improve forage seed supplies for improving livestock feed availability, as rangelands become affected by climate change and population growth, and livestock feed demands increase. The improvement and management of natural rangelands and planted pastures are therefore becoming important for farmer sustainability.

In Somalia, where there are over 7 million camels, 6 million cattle, plus innumerable goats and sheep, livestock are an integral part of the farming systems.  Over 50 % of Somalia’s farm families rely on livestock for their livelihoods. Camel milk and meat are a staple source of protein, while cattle, sheep and goats are important for food and hides. Somalia also exports significant numbers of animals which earn the country crucial foreign exchange.

Livestock viability is rooted in adequate supplies of quality forages. Consequently, a significant component of our work in Somalia focuses on improving forage production systems by developing the underlying seed systems.

Therefore, from April 15-20, SSG sponsored a forage seed production course for 20 Somalian seed company managers and technicians and agriculture extension agents at KALRO’s Arid & Rangelands Research Institute (ARLRI), in Kiboko, Kenya. The similarity of Kenyan arid rangelands to those of Somalia provided a relevant context for the participants to gain knowledge and skills.  Experts from KALRO provided practical and relevant training on forage grass and legume seed production, processing, and utilization.  

Meanwhile, in partnership with ILRI and others, SSG is supporting the importation of new accessions of grasses and legumes into Somalia for testing and production by Somali seed companies.  This work is supported by the World Bank and the Government of Somalia’s  Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

There is high market demand in Somalia for animal forages, both as fresh-cut and grazed feed, and as conserved fodder. This provides the necessary incentive for Somalia’s seed companies to venture into forage seed supply. Forage species such as sorghum-sudan grass, Rhodes grass (Chloris Gayana), buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris), lucerne, and forage cowpeas have much potential for improving animal productivity, and the seed can be produced and marketed profitably.

Through these interventions, we are confident that progress will be made in forage seed systems development in Somalia.

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