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The Use of Tropical Forages for Livelihood Improvement in Southeast Asia:  A Focus on Livestock

The following is a summary of Stuart Brown’s recent article on tropical forages which appears in ECHO Asia Notes Issue 23.  Brown is an agricultural consultant with over 16 years of experience, the last five years of which have been in Cambodia.

Many of the forages that farmers currently provide to their livestock are of low quality but are perceived as being readily available and low in cost. However, the opportunity costs of spending time seeking forages is often not considered; the time spent herding and tethering animals to find feed is also time away from other educational or income generating activities. I propose an alternative method: to integrate tropical forages into the smallholder farming system, in order to improve farmers’ livelihoods.

In its simplest definition, a forage is any plant material grazed or fed to livestock. However, a more specific definition focuses on plants (grasses and legumes) that are planted specifically to provide superior feed benefits to livestock due to:

  1. higher protein content,
  2. lower labor requirements, and
  3. additional farming system or social benefits.

The use of forages within a smallholder farming system offers significant bene­fits to a farmer in terms of labor and time savings. Forages can be planted close to the house and animal pens, saving signif­icant time when gathering the feed. Also, smallholder farmers that keep animals are often confronted by feed shortages, particu­larly in the late dry season. Growing forages close to the home can help farmers through this critical period of the year when feed is often in short supply.

[ Read entire article including research on 8 Tropical Forage Varieties and sources for seed ]