Njeri's farm system works
in a cycle. Her cows, which are the major capital asset
on the farm, are the drivers of the system. They provide milk
to drink and sell, manure to fertilize the crops, and calves to
sell or replace the cows when they get old. Njeri uses
the manure her cows produce to fertilize the Napier grass
forage she grows to feed the cows. She also uses it on
the maize and sweet potatoes she grows to feed her family and
some tea she has planted as a cash crop. In addition, she feeds
crop wastes-the leaves of the sweet potato plants and the stalks
of the maize plants-to her cows.
Njeri can only squeeze five
liters of milk a day from each of her crossbred cows.
Other dairy farmers in her district get two to three
times this quantity, but she can't produce or buy enough good
quality feed to improve her cows' milk production. She and her
family drink about a third of the milk her cows produce and she
sells the rest to neighbors and the local milk cooperative. It
seems there is never enough milk for her family's needs, just
as there is never enough feed for her cows.
Nevertheless, Njeri is basically
satisfied with her enterprise. "When you have a dairy cow,"
she says, "you have money in your pocket, food on the
table, and protection against failing rains and rising prices."
Like farmers worldwide, Njeri
is concerned about rain. When will the long rains begin? Will
they be enough to sustain her Napier grass and maize? Will they
be too strong and wash the soil from her fields? But in the highlands
of Kenya, Njeri is nearly certain that the rains will come. And
she is sure the land she cultivates and grazes her livestock on
this year will still be hers next year.
That's not so across the large
tracts of semiarid Africa and Asia where yearlong
droughts are likely to occur one year out of three, and twoyear
droughts are likely to occur every decade. When this happens livestock
producers have only one choice, to move. When the rains fail in
one place, herding livestock producers-known as pastoralists-
simply walk with their animals to other areas, near or far, where
the rains and forage are more plentiful. In areas of low and highly
variable rainfall, mobility is an essential part of how they continue
to produce livestock.
To be able to move, livestock
producers must have access to a variety of rangeland patches,
and to what researchers call fallback resources-places where animals
can graze and drink during the driest seasons of the year and
the driest years. The system of rights and rules governing the
use of land-which can be based on custom or actually made into
law-must take into account this need for mobility and permit access
to fallback resources of water and feed.
Villages, and the longstanding
societies within them, normally develop systems of rights and
rules that provide the people who live there the assurance they
will have access to a well and discarded plant residues. However,
there is room for conflict where moremobile and lessmobile
"There's always concern and controversy about how land is held, especially in Africa," says Brent
Swallow, an agricultural economist
at ILRI. "Those concerns and controversies are greatest in
the boundary areas where mobile livestock production and mixed
croplivestock farming systems coexist-competing at
times, complementing other times. The possibilities for conflict
and controversy are higher still where people, livestock, and
crops share the land with wildlife."
Swallow is compiling and analyzing
case studies of competing land use in Niger, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe
in collaboration with some of his colleagues from ILRI, scientists
from IFPRI, and local researchers from the national agricultural
research services in those countries. From these case stories
the research team develops models and policy recommendations for
decision makers in other areas of Africa.
According to Swallow, "If
you try to understand the needs and interests of the different
types of farmers, the risks that they face, and the impacts of
various public policy options upon them, then you can better assist
decisionmakers who must try to balance those needs and interests."
It's a process of learning,
bridging, and integrating that can't happen in isolation from
the vagaries of the real world. At ILRI, it doesn't.
Whether it's in croplivestock
systems directly, or in component parts like disease control or
vaccine development, ILRI ecologist Robin Reid says one paradigm
has shifted dramatically: "It's not just 'people' and then
everything else," she says. "People are not considered
separate from their environment anymore. They are being recognized
as an integral part of the environment, subject to, and part of,
all the shifts and impacts that occur."
Anticipating improved control
of the tsetse fly and African animal trypanosomiasis, a lethal
cattle and small ruminant disease, newlyformed multidiscipline
teams are already looking at what will happen as the land currently
under trypanosomiasis risk becomes more hospitable for farming.
How great are the potential economic benefits? What will happen
to the land, the trees, and the biological richness when more
cattle, sheep and goats can live well in the region? What will
happen in communities that now must cope with different pressures
on natural resources and different landuse patterns?
"All along, we must listen
to the user," says Guy d'Ieteren, ILRI animal scientist.
"We do research right at the ground level. The path from
farm level research to the policy level is very natural. The linkages
between the biological efforts and the social and economic impacts
become obvious if you follow them."
Many farmers, according to
Reid, are acutely aware of environmental concerns. They pick up
subtle feedback signals from the environment earlier than many.
After years of daily interaction, they have an inherent understanding
of how the environment works. But poverty forces them to do things
for survival in the short term that cause problems in the long
term. They understand, but can't do anything about it.
research teams I work with are all focused on solving problems
at one level or another," says Reid. "What we try to
do in coordination with this problem solving process is
identify environmentally sound production practices farmers can
use within the conditions of their world."
Success requires understanding
where all the puzzle parts fit. And success is critical because
this ILRI research team is working at one of the most vulnerable
boundaries of all: the boundary where intense poverty meets a