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Developing synergies in mixed crop-livestock farming to increase small producers’ resilience 

Strategies that combine crop and livestock techniques are most effective at increasing the capacity of small producers in sub-Saharan Africa to adapt and prevail against unexpected climate events. Such strategies are boosted when first tested through innovation platforms where all of a region’s stakeholders take part.

Burkina Faso innovation platform. © INRA, C. Rigolot
By C. Rigolot, A. Audiot, F. Maxime, translated by Teri Jones-Villeneuve
Updated on 05/02/2016
Published on 04/04/2016

Small producers who combine crop and livestock farming produce around half the world’s food supply. They play a major role in ensuring global food security, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Global demand for plant and animal products will increase by 2050. Global demand for animal products is expected to rise by 70% and more than double in sub-Saharan Africa. While there are major potential gains to be had in both crop and livestock farming systems, they will most likely be achieved in a highly uncertain context. Price volatility, climate change and an urgent need to reduce the environmental impact of production systems are all challenges that must be considered.

A case study in Burkina Faso

In the Yatenga province in northern Burkina Faso, a survey of 200 farming families identified four promising technical drivers for producers:

  • Nitrogen fertilizers
  • Improved yields by using crop residues
  • Supplemental use of concentrate feed for animals
  • Feeding the most productive animals better quality crop residues

Data from four farms which were representative of the region’s agricultural diversity were input into a dynamic computer model. The impact of the technical drivers on the food security of these four farms was simulated, first separately and then as a technical package. Two long climate time series (90 years), corresponding to the climate now and in 2050, were used to simulate the effects of variability and climate change on the tested strategies’ results.  

A technical package for each production system

The most effective technical packages were different for each of the four farms, which shows that there is no single best solution, but rather a range of strategies that can be applied and tweaked to the different production systems. However, for all four farms, the joint crop and livestock strategies, rather than any one single driver, were most effective in terms of production system resilience. In particular, when farmers obtained a good harvest of crop residues and then fed the better quality residue to their most productive animals, animal production increased without the use of commercial feed.

While the use of inputs (mineral fertilizers and livestock feed) increases both production and producers’ average incomes, it also increases the risk of earning a low income in bad years. When the final results of the four farms were studied, the small producers confirmed that this negative risk explains in part the low reliance on commercial inputs. The study showed that climate change could increase this input-related risk and consequently reduce the potential future development of the crop and livestock systems.

Participative innovation platforms

A participative approach was used to put the technical packages into place. To this end, modelling workshops were held within the innovation platforms, which are innovative structures that bring together regional stakeholders (producers, processing companies, banks, advisors, etc.).

Putting these technical packages into place is not a clear-cut task. For instance, dairy farms in southern Burkina Faso are highly dependent on changes implemented across the industry. Unless farmers are able to make use of additional milk yields (which implies collecting and processing the milk), they have no reason to adopt a technique that increases production. For dairies to invest in creating new collection centres, they need to be sure that volumes will be high enough to make their investments profitable. Such interdependence can hinder the adoption of technical packages, an obstacle that was overcome thanks to the concerted efforts and shared learning between stakeholders. The experience proved that production systems evolve along with all the different links in the industry chain.

The applied research executed through the innovation platforms had concrete impacts, not just on yields and farm household incomes but on other aspects such as women’s work activities. Such complex ripple effects were estimated by using both complementary quantitative and qualitative methods.

A multi-level rollout for climate smart agriculture

This research, carried out at the farm level and with groups of regional stakeholders, was integrated and organised based on an analysis framework developed through complementary studies at the African continent and global levels. This framework focused on:

  • Establishing the major global priorities for livestock farming
  • Targeting areas with major potential or those that are especially vulnerable
  • Identifying and implementing strong policies that have been adapted to the local context to foster production system resilience
  • Evaluating policy relevance according to a range of climate variability to ensure they are implemented

In the near future, estimated environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, will be included when designing strategies to improve the resilience of small producers.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):
Auvergne Rhône-Alpes

A national and international scientific partnership

This research was undertaken as part of a joint scientific and international mobility partnership between INRA and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which was strengthened following an agreement signed by both organisations on 5 November 2015 in Paris.

With a view to applying the methods and concepts developed through this partnership in France, the research was integrated into the Farming System Adaptation to Climate Change (FARMATCH) project associated with the ACCAF metaprogramme.

At the international level, a partnership is currently being formed with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) crop-focused research body that is seeking to better integrate livestock farming into its analyses (see www.icrisat.org).

taking things further

The results of this research have been published in a number of papers and journals. Publication in several high impact journals highlights the unique nature of this research at an international level.

  • Four papers were presented during the Climate Smart Agriculture Conference (Montpellier 2015), and a fifth during the International Conference on Innovation Systems in West and Central Africa (Saly-Portudal, Senegal, 2015).
  • The farm- and African-continent level research was published in the scientific journal Agricultural Systems (Rigolot et al., 2015; Henderson et al., 2015).
  • An additional study at the African-continent level was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  (PNAS; Frelat et al., 2016). The global assessment was published in Annual Review of  Environment and Resources, another journal with a high impact factor (Herrero et al., 2015).

         - Rigolot C., de Voil P., Douxchamps S., Prestwidge D., Van Wijk M., Thornton P., Rodriguez D., Henderson B., Medina D., Herrero M. (2016). Interactions between intervention packages, climatic risk, climate change and food security in mixed crop-livestock systems in Burkina Faso. Agricultural Systems, DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2015.12.017

         - Rigolot C., Watson I., Herrero M., Delma B.J., Vall E., Andrieu N., Yacouba B., Ouédraogo S., Ziebe R., Dowe V., Kolyang T., Prestwidge D., McDonald C., Stirzaker R., Bruce C., Carberry P. (2015). Modelling households and value chains: Complementary methods for learning and evaluation in innovations platforms. International Conference on Innovation Systems in West and Central Africa, 25-27 February 2015, Saly Portudal, Senegal.

         - Henderson B., Godde C., Medina-Hidalgo D., van Wijk M., Silvestri S., Douxchamps S., Stephenson E., Power B., Rigolot C., Cacho O., Herrero M. (2016). Closing system-wide yield gaps to increase food production and mitigate GHGs among mixed crop-livestock smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural Systems, 143,106-113. DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2015.12.006

         - Frelat R., Lopez-Ridaura S., Giller K.E., Herrero M., Douxchamps S., Andersson Djurfeldt A., Erenstein O., Henderson B., Kassie M., Paul B., Rigolot C., Ritzema R.S., Rodriguez D., Van Asten P.J.A., van Wijk M.T. Drivers of household food availability in sub-Saharan Africa based on big data from small farms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(2), 458-463. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1518384112

         - Herrero M., Wirsenius S., Henderson B., Rigolot C., Thornton P., Havlik P., de Boer I., Gerber P. (2015). Livestock and the Environment: what have we learnt in the last decade? Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 40, 177-202. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-093503

         - Watson, I., Webster, T., Rigolot, C. and Prestwidge, D. (2015). Crop and household modelling within AFSI - west and central Africa. Appendix 5, in: Watson, I., McMillan, L., Bruce, C., Njoya, A., Kollo, I., Davies, J., Dorai, K., Pengelly, B. and A. Hall,  CSIRO – CORAF/WECARD Final Partnership Report, Africa Food Security Initiative. CSIRO Report to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia.