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Animal Feed and Feeding: R&D Priorities for NENA

Broadening Horizons N°7, April 2014

By Harinder Makkar, FAO, Rome

Feed is the foundation of the livestock production, with feed costs generally accounting for up to 70% of the cost of production. Feed prices have been increasingly volatile due to negative impacts of natural disasters and climate change, as well as from increasing competition in the use of grains for feed, food and bio-fuel. Increasing demand of livestock products impose a huge demand on feed resources. Bio-physical factors such as scarcity of land, soil and water, food-fuel-feed competition, ongoing global warming, and increasing competition for arable land and non-renewable resources such as fossil sources and minerals are challenging the sustainability of feed production systems.

From 24 to 26 March 2014 a meeting of national experts in the field of animal feed resources from Near East and North Africa (NENA) was organized in Muscat, Oman by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and, with the active support of the Government of Oman.

The future R&D priorities identified by the experts are:

  • establish and maintain national feed inventories and characterize and map feeding systems;
  • up-scaling and expanding knowledge and use of salt- and drought-tolerant plant species as animal feed;
  • crop-livestock integrated systems with a focus on using water-efficient plants and locally adapted animals;
  • restoration of rangelands/grasslands;
  • capacity development in feed assessment in rangelands based on remote sensing and geographic information system (RS/GIS);
  • promotion in the use of  locally-adapted indigenous plant species in rangeland rehabilitation;
  • decrease in the use of cereal seeds in livestock diets by including forages and agro-industrial by-products; and
  • development of RS/GIA-based Early Warning Systems (EWS) for feed and water availability, to support pastoralists.

Efficient use of available feed resources is a key to efficient animal production and food security. It is impossible to effectively manage a resource if its availability is not known. In order to better monitor and guide national and regional livestock sector development, it is essential to develop systematic approaches to accurately assess livestock feed supplies and to obtain better insight into how these feed resources are being utilized. Unfortunately, despite their strategic role in livestock sector development planning, feed assessments and balances are not usually available and where available, they tend to be rather inaccurate. Sub-optimal input data for country-level food/feed input-output analyses and the inability to accurately assess environmental impacts of livestock production are challenges that all initiatives and stakeholders involved in sustainable livestock development are confronted with. There is an urgent need for countries to establish and maintain national feed inventories and to characterize and map feeding systems.

The meeting also emphasized that the Feed Inventories, Feeding Systems, and Feed Quality should be considered as integral components of an overall strategy or options that integrate technical (genetics, health and nutrition), policy and institutional interventions for using resources more efficiently to produce more food and feed. Both policy makers and animal feed and crop scientists have a role to play in making this possible.

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