Student - January 24, 2008

Fodder trees can help Ethiopian farmers

Ethiopian farmers who keep sheep could derive more benefit from ‘fodder trees’. According to PhD research done by Dr Abebe Mekoya Kassa, it is important that the farmers’ knowledge is used when introducing new kinds of fodder trees in mixed farming systems.

Mekoya Kassa’s research was twofold. He did a long-term study of the effects of feeding leaves and twigs of the exotic Sesbania sesban tree on the growth, production and fertility of sheep. He conducted this part of his research at the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In addition, Mekoya Kassa did a survey of 235 farmers in three different districts to assess how they used local types of fodder trees and what the farmers thought about their use. This part of his research is special, as farmers had never been asked for their opinions about fodder trees.

Mekoya Kassa’s research focused on farming systems in which wheat, teff or coffee were grown as the main crop in combination with raising small ruminants. Mekoya Kassa notes that it is important to involve farmers when new types of fodder trees are introduced, and recommends that farmers also receive training on animal feeding practices at the same time.

In the past, Ethiopian farmers have resisted the introduction of new types of fodder trees, despite their benefits for soil fertility. This is partly because farmers believe that they reduce the fertility of sheep. Mekoya Kassa’s research shows that this is not the case.

If the sheep’s diet consists of about one-third leaves, fruit and twigs from the Sesbania sesban tree, the animals show better food absorption, higher milk production, improvements in digestion and increased growth. Moreover, the sheep become sexually reproductive earlier and offspring are heavier. / Jan Braakman

Abebe Mekoya Kassa received his PhD on Monday 21 January. His promotors were Professor Akke van der Zijpp, chair of Animal Production Systems and Professor Seerp Tamminga, emeritus chair of Animal Nutrition.

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