The German Government recently approved a new project part of the ‘Livestock and Fish’ research program of the CGIAR. Led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the three-year project aims to improve the agricultural productivity and mitigation of climate change through more efficient nutrient use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from smallholder crop-livestock systems.
Improving agricultural productivity is vital to confront global challenges of reducing poverty, improving food security, and improving human nutrition and health. However, increased productivity must be achieved while reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. Climate-friendly and climate-resilient (climate-smart) agricultural systems are essential if we, and especially the poor and hungry, are to adapt to changes in temperature and rainfall.
Fully three quarters of agricultural land in Central America and nearly half in South America is more or less degraded. A major challenge facing agricultural research is to develop knowledge and technologies to reverse land degradation and reduce poverty in the face of climate change. This project looks at ways to counter land, and especially pasture degradation.
Current pasture-based systems in the humid zones of Latin America and the Caribbean often trigger deforestation and land degradation, with a strong negative environmental impact. Pasture degradation is caused by inadequate management and a lack of forage grass options. More efficient land management and major biological innovations in agriculture have the potential to increase productivity while decreasing environmental impacts.
With a particular focus on Colombia and Nicaragua, through the project, small-scale farmers and research and development institutions will apply the innovative approach of Biological Nitrification Inhibition (BNI) by Brachiaria humidicola forage grass hybrids to realize benefits in economic and environmental sustainability from integrated crop-livestock production systems
The project will test new concepts, develop new research tools and methodologies to detect BNI function to minimize N (nitrogen) losses from crop-livestock systems and to develop new forage germplasm with the early and active participation of farmers. Farmer involvement together with strategic use of inputs such as N and phosphorus (P) fertilizer will be critical to steer the broader adoption of new forage hybrid technologies and ensure that the new products are successfully integrated into existing crop-livestock systems, already stressed in the face of climate change.
We envision intensive production systems where both annual crops and grazed pastures occupy the same land area –in temporal rotation– to the mutual benefit of both activities. Pastures will benefit from residual fertility from fertilizer applied to a preceding crop. Annual crop production will benefit from the conservation of N owing to BNI as well as the more general benefits of well managed grazed pastures on nutrient cycling, build-up of soil organic matter, and improvement in soil structure from deep-rooting pasture grasses.
Farmers as co-researchers will be involved early in the product development process through participatory evaluation of N efficient forage hybrids and crops on productivity. National program scientists have already expressed great interest in exploiting the concept of BNI for agriculture and the environment and were actively involved in the preparation of this proposal and will participate in the planning phase of project development.
Brachiaria species are the most widely planted tropical forage grasses in the world. The socio-economic impacts of new hybrids of Brachiaria that can suppress nitrification would be immense in terms of increased feed resources in the tropics, more efficient use of purchased inputs, more efficient use of land resources, increased integration of crops and livestock in agricultural systems, and mitigation of climate change through reduced atmospheric buildup of GHGs. The effects will be strongly felt throughout Latin America where Brachiaria pastures are the main feed resource to livestock production. Significant spillover to Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa can also be expected as these regions are dominated by low fertility soils where crop-livestock systems including Brachiaria have a niche.
The project ‘climate-smart crop-livestock systems for smallholders in the tropics: Integration of new forage hybrids to intensify agriculture and to mitigate climate change through regulation of nitrification in soil’ is funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ). It is implmented by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in collaboration with the University of Hohenheim, Corporación Colombiana de Investigación Agropecuaria (CORPOICA), Universidad de los Llanos (Colombia), Universidad Nacional Agraria (Nicaragua), Consorcio para Manejo Integrado de Suelos (Nicaragua), and the Programa Manejo Sostenible de Recursos Naturales y Fomento de Competencia Empresariales (Nicaragua).
More information is available from Dr. Michael Peters (m.peters AT cgiar.org) and the CIAT Tropical Forages Program
Related readings on Brachiaria humidicola:
- Brachiaria – grass roots answer to nitrification
- Brachiaria – tropical forages tool
- Livestock, Climate Change, and Brachiaria