Developing Forage Value Chain: A potential strategic option to address livestock feed problems

The practice of growing forage crops for sale is not yet an established culture in Ethiopia. There are a few improved forage seed producers on the one hand while a number of dairy farms demanding forages, on the other. In between, however, there are no commercial actors who grow forage crops for sale. Because of this, forage value chain is not yet developed in Ethiopia. The prevailing practice is that some of the smallholder farmers and commercial dairy farms who own land grow improved forage crop varieties mainly for subsistence utilization to their own animals. However, the average adoption rate of these varieties was still less than 10%. These adopters allocated a small plot of land, not more than 8% of their holdings, to grow forage crops. According to varietal level adoption study conducted in Oromia region, the commonly adopted forage crops were oat-vetch (with adoption rate of 35%) followed by elephant grass (15%) (Agajie, et al. 2022).

One of the reasons for the limited adoption rate was attributed to inadequate awareness and promotion of improved forage varieties. Seed of improved forage crops is not also available at fair prices. The root cause of these problems has been that forage crop is not commercialized and not yet perceived as tradable commodity. Because of this, there is no real market for forages and its price is not yet determined with interactive forces of supply and demand, except a few experiences in parts of the country.

A stakeholders consultative meeting held in early June 2022 has figured out key constraints related to forage utilization using a card vote approach. The key problem was associated with an attitude that forage was not considered as a tradable commodity. Even though forage is a highly demanded crop, there are no farmers growing and selling adequate quantities of forages on sustainable basis. In some parts of the country, such as in North Shewa zone of Oromia Region, practices have been started where farmers grow and sale forage crops to urban and peri-urban dairy in the nearby zonal and woreda towns.

A visit was made to forage market at Fiche, the capital town of North Shewa zone, Oromia region, where some farmers already started growing forage crops for the purpose of sale. Discussions with the farmers revealed that they started selling green feeds decades ago, but these days they started growing and selling improved forages, such as oats and legumes. Low income households are mainly engaged in this practice to meet their immediate cash needs. The better-off farmers still give more focus to feed forages for their animals. Farmers sell both green forages and dry feed/crop straws. According to field assessment results, the price of dry feeds is higher than green forages. The prices among green forage crops is closely similar ranging between Birr 3.40 – 4.55 per kg, so does among dry feeds (Birr 8.00 – 9.23 per kg). In North Shewa zone of Oromia region, it was reported that eight woredas out of the total 13 in the zone which are located along the highways are experiencing growing of forage crops for sale. This indicates that accessibility for markets matters for the farmers to sale perishable green forages. The key challenge reported was high price of forage seed, which is apparently artificial because of high involvement of Donors (NGOs and Bureau of Agriculture) which purchase the seed at high prices and distribute to the farmers freely. For instance, while the real price of vetch on the market is Birr 50 per kg, NGOs purchase it by Birr 170 per kg, more than three folds rise. Such conditions impose challenges to promote commercialization of forage crops. Forage seed producer companies have also recognized that such high prices might not create sustainable demand/markets for them, because, it is already unaffordable to the farmers, who are dependable clients in the future.

To help increase commercialization of forage crops, first there is a need to make in-depth assessments focusing on the research segment to know the types of improved forage crop varieties released, forage seed segment to explore the capacities and scales of seed producers and forage growers segment to learn the extent to which forage production has started. In this case, establishing and strengthening networking and collaboration among value chain actors is also essential as illustrated in Figure 1. There is also a strong need to raise awareness of the economic importance of forage production and reveal economic viability of growing forages compared to its competitive commodities.

Figure 1. Forage value chain main activities and linkages among actors