Indigenous fodder trees to boost livestock economy and tackle climate hazards

Submitted by Julia Barrott | published 3rd Nov 2018 | last updated 13th May 2019
goat herder pakistan 2

From the front page of the brief: A goat herder in Potohar prunning Acasia Modesta pods during a dry autumn.

Introduction

Herders are often blamed for preventing the regeneration of trees and thereby contributing towards the degradation of hill slopes, rangelands and riparian areas due to overgrazing. While this may be partly true in some situations, it is not the case for fodder trees and shrubs, which are well cared for because of thier necessity for the survival of livestock during periods of drought and scarse grazing.

During floods, when crops and pastures are submerged, tree foliage from fodder trees provides an import food source for threatened livestock. They also contribute to reduced competition for land for human food and livetsock feed, since they do not require large cropping areas and can be grown in marginal areas not suitable for cropping. Climate change will likely increase the intensity of floods and drought, and as a result put increased strain on agricultural systems and land use. Fodder tree plantation could thus be an effective intervention for supporting the survival of smallholder herders.

This policy brief* draws on herders’ perspectives to highlight ways in which indigenous fodder trees (IFTs) can be used to improve local food security and climate resilience.

This brief bring together insights from smallholder farmers and policy-relevant findings from the paper Indigenous fodder trees can increase grazing accessibility for landless and mobile pastoralists in northern Pakistan authored by Inam-ur-Rahim, Daniel Maselli, Henri Rueff and Urs Wiesmann, and published in Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice (2011).

*Download the full brief from the right-hand column. A summay of the key points from the brief is provided below. See the full text for more detail.

Policy Messages

Indigenous fodder trees (IFTs) can:

  • Save starving livestock during climate hazards
  • Contribute to livestock feed during periods of scarcity 
  • Harness herders as stewards of trees rather than blamed eradicators
  • Reduce methane emission from rumnation due to the higher tannin contents of trees
  • Rehabilitate degraded hill slopes, control soil erosion and reduce flash floods
  • Sequester carbon, and help in improving land/spur stabilization in riparian areas
  • Help to reduce competition for food and feed resources between humans and livestock 

Policy implications and challenges 

  • In Pakistan and other regions, the data available on IFTs is limited; there is a need to undertake further research on the species and varieties distribution, climate tolerance, foliage availability per unit area and season of use of IFTs.
  • Indigenous knowledge about IFT and their multiple uses have usually been overlooked. Social forestry rehabilitation programs overlook the uniqueness of indigenous fodder trees and have historically preferred other, exotic species.
  • Afforestation schemes can be further improved by incorporating the users and dependent communities’ preferences for trees and partnerships.
  • Afforestation projects should look at these intricate socio-ecological relationships when sourcing plants to help address climate change, rather searching for some quick fixes.
  • IFTs plantation in hazard-prone areas can also mitigate any resulting negative socio-ecological implications like tenure disputes (particularly in fodder scarce areas), and hence can contribute to land use disputes resolution.
  • IFTs are therefore an important contributor to climate resilience and need to be put on the list of top priority in climate mitigation using the actual land managers (herders) as partners. 

IFTs role in adaptation and mitigating response to climate change

  • IFTs, being rich in protein and mineral contents, can be used as an alternative source of feed, especially in areas where conventional agriculture may not be possible or desirable because of dangers of site degradation, soil erosion, steep and rocky slopes or severe climatic conditions.
  • IFTs are considered an important adaptive response to climate change because trees with their deep root systems that can draw water from deeper soils, and so are more resilient to variability in weather patterns, and can provide fodder for longer than shallower-rooted plants in dry periods.
  • Being perennial in nature, IFTs live for years, sequestering and storing carbon in their roots and branches as they grow, as well as in the soil.
  • Many IFTs contain sufficient tannins that can be used to significantly reduce methane production in the ruminant animals. Tannins from some IFTs have been shown to reduce methane production by 13% without affecting the animal's productivity or health.
  • Trees do not need heavy inputs of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and labour (which are all needed by most agricultural crops), and hence can contribute to climate mitigation.
  • IFTs can produce as much, if not more, green fodder per unit area than fodder crops and can additionally work as windshields, reducing soil erosion and other damage resulting from high winds.

Indigenous fodder trees (IFT) can have many other benefits, including: reducing grazing pressure on rangelands; reducing land use competition for food or feed; reducing the intensity of climatic events; and providing a rescuefeed for entrapped livestockduring flood disasters. Interestingly, distinct species of fodder trees hold spiritual, emotional, cultural significance in different religions and traditional communities historically. For more details see the full text (right-hand column).

Outcomes and impacts from featured case studies

Social Forestry program in Northern Pakistan

Between 1980 and 1999, the plantation campaigns in Northern Pakistan to rehabilitate degraded hill slopes and improve watershed function planted tree species that included Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Pinusroxburghii and Robiniapseudoacacia. The benefits of plantation went to landowners and resulted in the area leased to landless pastoralists for winter grazing being reduced by 75.9%. As a result, the average herd size of the landless pastoralist decreased from 340 to 140. About 25% of the landless pastoralists sold all their animals and ended up as cropping labor or finding daily wage labour elsewhere (Leede et al. 1999). IFTs plantation would have prevented these social costs.

Conservation and livelihood impacts of fodder trees plantation

A case study of Kavrepalanchok district of Nepal revealed that the meat production from goat and milk from Buffalo have increased considerably. The high income was associated with the introduction of various fodder trees along private terraces. It was concluded that there is a great need for agroforestry system to integrate conservation benefits with the livelihood of rural people (Bishnu&Bhattara 2014) Importance of the indigenous multi-purpose fodder tree (MPFT) species Indigenous MPFTs have been reported to have important social, economic and ecological functions, such as food supply, shade, traditional medicines, and the preservation of milk, animal nutrition, social values and household income. For animal feeding, vegetation was cut, especially leaves, young tips, twigs and fruits. It is concluded that the indigenous MPFT have a strong social and ecological value, and a source of income supplementation (Takele et al., 2014).

Importance of the indigenous multi-purpose fodder tree (MPFT) species

Indigenous MPFTs have been reported to have important social, economic and ecological functions, such as food supply, shade, traditional medicines, and the preservation of milk, animal nutrition, social values and household income. For animal feeding, vegetation was cut, especially leaves, young tips, twigs and fruits. It is concluded that the indigenous MPFT have a strong social and ecological value, and a source of income supplementation (Takele et al., 2014)

Further resources