Improving dairy production through agroforestry and innovation

Healthy dairy cattle in Eastern Uganda. Photo: World Agroforestry

Innovation platforms in Uganda are empowering smallholders to adopt agroforestry to increase dairy production in both quantity and quality and improve livelihoods.

The greatest challenge faced by smallholders worldwide is having access to high-value markets and receiving profitable returns for their produce. The income from access to such markets has a substantial impact on the livelihoods and food security of smallholders’ communities.

To address this, and more, the Developing Value-Chain Innovation Platforms for Food Security project in Uganda and Zambia has created coalitions of smallholders, governments and the private sector in ‘innovation platforms’: sets of studies and trials of new practices, carried out by farmers, researchers and others working together.

For example, in Eastern Uganda, many smallholders’ dairy farms have low milk yields owing to poor feeding practices. As part of the project’s innovation platform, a comprehensive ‘planned comparison’ study for the dairy value-chain in the Manafwa and Kapchorwa districts of Uganda set out to identify cost-effective means of supporting dairy farmers to grow and use a shrub fodder, Calliandra sp, to increase yields of milk.

Calliandra growing on a farm. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Joan Kimayo

Calliandra is a valuable fodder crop because it contains large amounts of protein and can be browsed or cut-and-carried to livestock. It is often used in agroforestry systems because it is resistant to disease and drought, flourishes in a wide range of soils and is leguminous, meaning it increases soil fertility.

‘Baseline surveys conducted in both districts demonstrated that most farmers did not know about supplementary fodder or how to improve cattle’s nutritional diet,’ explained Joan Kimaiyo, a researcher with World Agroforestry (ICRAF). ‘Many farmers simply practised free grazing and/or gave banana leaves to cattle, which often resulted in livestock receiving inadequate protein or energy from pastures, especially in situations of drought.’

To overcome this lack of awareness, the project team shared information through intensive training, developed ‘citizen scientists’ to undertake participatory demonstrations of good feeding practices and the effects of Calliandra fodder fed to cows, and established fodder nurseries. Nearly 800 farmers were trained in these topics and in soil and water conservation. Distribution of manuals helped further guide communities.

Training and preparation of fodder for the cattle. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Joan Kimayo

Twenty-eight citizen scientists were provided with mature Calliandra fodder to feed their lactating cattle for one month while regularly meeting with community groups to share their experiences and compare results with farmers who didn’t use Calliandra, to see what impact the fodder had on milk.

The project team’s 19 nurseries that cultivated Calliandra were run by local operators who were able to sell seedlings at a subsidized price (UGX 100; about USD 0.027). Approximately 350,000 Calliandra seedlings were raised, generating approximately UGX 35 million (about USD 9475).

Initial results of the study showed that the cattle fed Calliandra fodder had increased both the quantity and quality of milk in comparison with cattle that had not been fed it.

Scovia Chesang, a citizen scientist from Chelalmoi Village in Tegeres Sub-county, reported an increase of 3.5 L per day to 6 L per day.

‘The milk became thicker, heavier and creamier, while the aroma from the boiling milk was stronger,’ she said.

As for improvement in the health of the animals, Betty Laibich from Kaplak Village in Kapchesombe Sub-county began the study with a sick and malnourished cow. After a month of feeding she described impressive results.

‘The cow is looking healthier and has an increased appetite,’ she said. ‘It is producing much thicker milk, with a striking yellowish glitter and an added sweetness to its taste.’

Citizen Scientist in Namabya subcounty, Manafwa distract showing results of the experiment. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Joan Kimayo

The total milk yield per day per cow increased from four litres to nine litres after only a few weeks of fodder supplementation. Laibich referred to Calliandra as a ‘magic’ species and has been imploring other farmers to purchase and plant it on their farms. Rose Mengezi, from the same district, who was not using Calliandra, reported that her cow ‘looked bigger and healthier’ than Laibich’s, yet Laibich’s produced more milk during the study period.

Some of the non-Calliandra-feeding citizen scientists, however, also reported increased milk yields throughout the study. Nathan Tumwa, from Buwabuya Village in the Namabya sub-county, reported an increase of five litres to 7.5 litres yield of milk per day. He attributed this to the zero-grazing practices and better management taught in training at the beginning of the study.

To ensure the sustainability of fodder production and good dairy management, the project team plans to embed fodder nurseries into the innovation platforms established locally. The citizen scientists have also been promoted as ‘demonstration farmers’ in the community.

Calliandra nursery. Photo: World Agroforestry/ Joan Kimayo

The overall innovation platform in Eastern Uganda has already encouraged a major shift in the behaviour of smallholders: more than 75% now have fodder growing on their farms and 93% understand that Calliandraand other fodder species improve milk production. This shift in knowledge will help to improve farmers’ incomes and livelihoods across the region.

The Developing Value-Chain Innovation Platforms for Food Security project in Uganda is a collaboration between World Agroforestry (ICRAF), University of Adelaide, Australian Landcare, Makerere University, Kapchorwa District Landcare Chapter and Kapchorwa and Manafwa district governments aimed at identifying principles and drivers that support scalable establishment of effective and equitable innovation platforms that enhance food security through greater engagement of smallholders with markets. The four-year project, funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, has a particular focus on enabling women and young people to improve their livelihoods.


World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, we develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

Lydia Spilsbury

Lydia Spilsbury is a communications intern for the Eastern and Southern Africa regional office and is based at the headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. She provides communication support at both programme and country levels, producing communication materials, covering events and writing blogs and success stories. She has been with ICRAF since January 2019 and holds a Master's degree in Environment and Development from the University of Edinburgh

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