Improved feeding and forages at a crossroads: Farming systems approaches for sustainable livestock development in East Africa

Birthe K. Paul*, Jeroen C.J. Groot, Brigitte L. Maass, An M.O. Notenbaert, Mario Herrero, Pablo A. Tittonell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Dairy development provides substantial potential economic opportunities for smallholder farmers in East Africa, but productivity is constrained by the scarcity of quantity and quality feed. Ruminant livestock production is also associated with negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution, high water consumption, land-use change, and loss of biodiversity. Improved livestock feeding and forages have been highlighted as key entry point to sustainable intensification, increasing food security, and decreasing environmental trade-offs including GHG emission intensities. In this perspective article, we argue that farming systems approaches are essential to understand the multiple roles and impacts of forages in smallholder livelihoods. First, we outline the unique position of forages in crop-livestock systems and systemic obstacles to adoption that call for multidisciplinary thinking. Second, we discuss the importance of matching forage technologies with agroecological and socioeconomic contexts and niches, and systems agronomy that is required. Third, we demonstrate the usefulness of farming systems modeling to estimate multidimensional impacts of forages and for reducing agro-environmental trade-offs. We conclude that improved forages in East Africa are at a crossroads: if adopted by farmers at scale, they can be a cornerstone of pathways toward sustainable livestock systems in East Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-20
Number of pages8
JournalOutlook on Agriculture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • bio-economic modeling
  • dual-purpose forage legume
  • farming systems
  • forage grass
  • improved forages
  • livestock feeding
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • sustainable intensification
  • systems agronomy
  • technology adoption

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