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Emergency animal feed and feeding strategies for dry areas

Broadening Horizons N°49, January 2018

Harinder P.S. Makkar1, Emily Addonizio2, Lemma Gizachew2, Alberto Giani2 and Abdoul Karim Bah2

1 International Consultant and Adjunct Professor, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany

2 FAO Ethiopia Country Office, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


The increasing exposure of much of the global population to disasters and hazards poses threats to lives and livelihoods, particularly to those who reside in impoverished areas of the planet. Whilst immediate concerns regarding the welfare of human beings are of the greatest importance, livestock are often a significant contributor to this welfare in the longer-term.  

Population growth, urban development and expansion along with an increase in demand for nutritious food of animal origin, raises concerns regarding the availability and use of natural resources. Animal products are important contributors to the food security and nutrition of the global population, particularly in most developing countries. By 2050, the demand for animal products is expected to be 60-70% higher than current levels. Meeting such a huge demand for animal products calls for concrete actions that address the low efficiency of livestock to convert feed into edible protein and to minimize the direct competition of livestock with humans for cereal grains. In addition, a significant challenge will be to resource the large amount of biomass needed as animal feed to produce the animal source foods in the future.

Livestock use a large share of agricultural land (equivalent to 30% of the world’s ice-free surface) and are often considered a resource drain; at least 8% of global human water use is dedicated to the irrigation of feed crops. For many years, the high level of emissions of greenhouse gases from the livestock sector has been making headlines. Livestock account for approximately 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 45% of which are attributed to production, processing and transport of feed. Furthermore, it is important to realize that animal feeding impacts almost all sectors and services of the livestock sector (Figure 1, Makkar, 2016a). Global population is expected to reach at least 9.6 billion people by 2050, with 70% of people living in cities. Animal products are expected to play an increasingly critical role in global food security and nutrition. Indeed today, livestock make a substantial contribution to the poor in developing countries, providing a vital source of protein, vitamins, minerals and income, as well as transport and manure. The impacts of livestock contribution to food security are more evident in areas, which are not suited to crop production, such as marginal areas. It is therefore clear that strategies must be put in place to ensure that the sector becomes as efficient and sustainable as possible. 


Figure 1. Implication of feed production and feeding on an array of livestock sectors and services

In 2016, the deyr/hagaya (October to December) rains failed in much of southern and southeastern Ethiopia. In most affected areas, the cumulative rainfall during this season were less than 25 percent of the average. This was followed by below-average, late and erratic 2017 gu/genna (March to May) rains, which exacerbated the drought conditions in southern and southeastern Ethiopia. This situation was further compounded by the below-average and scattered 2017 deyr/hagaya rains across the region.

In the drought-affected areas, livelihoods are based on pastoralism and households are almost entirely dependent on livestock for their food and income. Extremely limited pasture and water has led to poor body conditions, emaciation and weakened immune systems among livestock, resulting in very low milk production and marked reduction in the reproduction rate (Figures 2 and 3). Livestock-based livelihoods are therefore heavily impacted by the ongoing drought. Terms of trade have undergone through substantial changes with livestock owners receiving just one quarter of the regular price for the sale of sheep and goats. Drought-affected pastoral households face reduced milk production and limited income generation, a situation that has led to increased malnutrition levels and constrained food access.

Therefore, responses to emergency situations in contexts such as these need to include components which address the fate of livestock populations, such as the provision of supplementary animal feed. Supplementary feeding can take a number of forms depending on the type of livestock involved and the nature of the situation (FAO, 2016). Essentially though, it involves the provision of extra feed to livestock owners to enable them to meet the nutritional needs of their livestock. Livestock feeding strategies during and after a disaster can present livestock owners and producers with a host of challenges, particularly in the developing world.

Figure 2. Camels in a debilitated condition during a time of drought (Photo Credit: Kara Jenkinson - FAO Ethiopia)

Figure 3. An emaciated goat during a drought (Photo Credits: FAO Somalia)

In countries across the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, the lack of feed inflicts major adverse effects on livestock during times of drought. This has been identified as a major problem by development agencies, NGOs, researchers and extension workers alike, and one which must be addressed urgently. Unavailability of feed in Ethiopia is primarily due to an inefficient feed sector, low levels of infrastructure, competition for the feed between livestock in the highlands and pastoral areas, and the reduced availability of rangelands for pasture due to an increase in human population, and as a result, conversion of pasture lands to croplands. During the last decade, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a concept of sustainable animal diets, which integrates the importance of efficient use of natural resources, protection of the environment, socio-cultural benefits along with ethical considerations (Makkar and Ankers, 2014). It has also promoted a number of feed and feeding strategies to address the feed shortages (Makkar, 2016b).

In November 2017, FAO Ethiopia organised a two-day workshop in Addis Ababa that focused on sharing the conceptual framework and the global experiences on the sustainable feed production, increase in supply of biomass for use as feed, and feed processing technologies. Stakeholders comprising of public extension workers, researchers, and representatives of the NGOs took part in this training workshop where a number of animal feeding strategies and their relevance for prevention of livestock mortality and increase of livestock productivity in drought conditions were discussed. Although the focus of discussion was on Ethiopian livestock in lowland areas which suffer recurrent droughts, the conclusions drawn are equally valid for most drought situations in other countries in the Horn of Africa. The workshop addressed wider areas of feed production and feeding strategies including:

  • Rangeland management: rotation grazing, reseeding, area protection (grazing reserves), removal of invasive species
  • Urea molasses-nutrient blocks (UMNB)
    • Conventional
    • UMNB containing polyethylene glycol (PEG) for inactivating tannins
    • UMNB containing anti-parasitic agent (pine-apple leaves)
    • UMNB containing deficient minerals
    • UMNB containing forage seeds for wide dissemination in pasture lands

For further information on these blocks, readers are referred to FAO (2007).

  • Densified forage (straw/stover) based complete ration in block/pellet form
  • Community hay formation
  • Large scale hay formation and storage
  • Urea ammonisation of straw
  • Forage chopping
  • Urea molasses mix
  • Calcium oxide treatment of straws
  • Promotion of spineless (thornless) cactus in dry areas, along with business development around cactus
  • Fodder production: a) using spate and spread irrigation during the rainy season, and b) in protected and tsetse fly infested areas; followed by hay formation and storage as bails
  • Use of proper feeding troughs
  • Ensiling (silage making) – small scale
  • Ensiling – large scale
  • Agro-forestry (a mix of trees and forages)
  • Feed/fodder banks around drought prone areas (and in case of no drought supply for feeds to quarantine areas maintained for exporting animals)

Additional information about the above technologies and feeding strategies can be obtained from FAO (2011, 2012, 2017).

Tables 1 and 2 provide information on the results that emanated from the workshop. In order to assess the feasibility of each proposed feed technology, and explore and consolidate thoughts of practical significance to Ethiopia, the participants were divided into two groups based on commonalities of the regions in terms of nature of crop production, biomass availability and other agro-ecological traits (see Figure 4, where groups are identified by the yellow and red boxes). Droughts frequently occur in the lowlands of these six regions, hence the interventions and the discussions focused on them. A major portion of Afar, Oromia and Somali Regions is lowland, while in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNP) due to the different agro-climatic conditions[1] and different livelihoods zones, a number of production systems, namely pastoral, agro-pastoral and cropping exist. These considerations influenced the prioritization of technologies and identification of their relevance. The technologies and feeding strategies were categorized as either High, Medium and Low priority. For the prioritization of the techniques a number of criteria were considered. These included availability of materials, food/feed competition, competition with current alternative livelihoods (other crop production versus feed/forage cultivation), knowledge of the local community regarding technologies and techniques, and current government initiatives which may enable the implementation of certain technologies.

Figure 4. Regions in Ethiopia, and their two groups (Group 1, marked with a yellow rectangle and Group 2, marked with a red rectangle) which were considered in the discussion.

Table 1: Analysis of emergency feeding strategies in Afar, Tigray and Amhara Regions





Urea molasses-nutrient blocks (UMMB): Conventional type Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Existing practice, ingredients available in the near vicinity, and awareness exists on its use and importance Yes High
UMMB containing polyethylene glycol (PEG) for inactivating tannins Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Availability of PEG could be a constrain, but may be pilot tested Yes Low
UMMB containing anti-parasitic agent (pineapple leaves) Afar: Applicable due to availability of ingredients, not a complex technology, will add value to the leaves.
Tigray and Amhara: May be applied but pineapple plant does not exist
Yes High
UMMB containing deficient minerals Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Applicable due to existing practice, availability of ingredients, and existing awareness on its use and importance Yes High
UMMB containing forage seeds for wide dissemination in pasture lands Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Applicable due to existing practice, availability of ingredients and existing awareness on its use and importance Yes High
Densified forage (straw/stover) based complete ration in block/pellet form Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Ingredients available locally, particularly relevant due to the minimization of transport costs Yes High
Community based hay making Afar: Existing practice on irrigated based forage production but not an important technique for wider application
Tigray and Amhara: Could be considered for possible integration in the government initiative on soil conservation
No for Afar Yes for Tigray and Amhara High
Large scale hay formation and storage Afar: Good potential because it is an existing practice by government and it opens opportunities for public-private partnership
Tigray and Amhara: There might be competition with livelihood priorities, for instance with crop cultivation.
Yes for Afar
No for Tigray and Amhara
Medium for Afar
Low for Tigray and Amhara
Urea ammonisation of straw Afar: Limited availability of crop residues
Amhara and Tigray: Good availability of residue
No for Afar
Yes for Amhara and Tigray
Low for Afar
High for Amhara and Tigray
Forage chopping Afar: Good potential but requires work on changing the mindset of community leaders and farmers towards use of chopped forage
Tigray and Amhara: Good potential for scaling out because it is an existing practice
Yes High
Urea molasses mix Afar: Little availability of roughages during emergency situations and therefore it might be risky in terms of causing livestock mortality
Tigray and Amhara: Good availability of roughage, but requires care in its application and the cost of urea is high
No for Afar
Yes Tigray and Amhara but not high priority
Low/Medium for Tigray and Amhara
Calcium oxide Afar, Tigray and Amhara: New treatment, not known to community, unclear impact at the local level No Low
Promotion of spineless cactus Afar: Good potential
Tigray and Amhara: Existing practice and may be scaled out
Yes High for Tigray
Medium for Afar and Amhara
Hay production using spate and/or spread irrigation, and in protected and tsetse fly infested areas Afar: Existing practice used by government agencies, good potential, opens opportunity for public-private partnership
Tigray and Amhara: Possible competition with cash crops and livelihoods
Yes Medium
Use of feeding troughs Afar: Limits wastage of feed, good for emergency feeding centres, production and distribution of troughs should be encouraged
Tigray and Amhara: Limits wastage of feed, production and distribution of troughs should be encouraged
Yes Medium
Ensiling (silage making) small scale Afar: Not applicable because of dearth of appropriate biomass
Tigray and Amhara: Experience exists among the local communities
No in Afar
Yes in Tigray and Amhara
Low for Afar
Medium for Tigray and Amhara
Ensiling (large scale) Afar: Inadequate availability of raw materials
Tigray and Amhara: Inadequate availability of raw materials, complexity of the technology and lack of market for the product
No in all regions considered Low
Agro-forestry Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Backyard forage production using fodder trees could help in dry situations Yes Medium
Feed/fodder banks Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Existing practice, needs scaling up and scaling out, the impact in terms of saving livestock will be huge Yes High
Fodder production Afar: Existing practice by government and it opens opportunity for public-private partnership, needs scaling up and scaling out
Tigray and Amhara: Possibility of competition with crops causing issues of livelihoods prioritization
Yes in Afar
No in Tigray and Amhara
High for Afar
Low for Tigray and Amhara
Hydroponic fodder production1 Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Competition with human food production No Low
Rangeland management Afar, Tigray and Amhara: Good potential Yes Medium

1 Further information can be obtained from Bakshi et al. (2017).

Table 2: Analysis of emergency feeding strategies in the lowlands of Oromia, SNNPR and Somali Regions





Urea molasses-nutrient blocks (UMMB): Conventional type Somali: Relevant due to ease of transportation, acceptance by pastoralists, local production exists
SNNPR: Raw materials available, community acceptance, efforts to produce locally initiated
Oromia (Borena Zone): Ease of transportation, community acceptance from previous interventions, availability of raw materials in the vicinity
Yes High
UMMB containing PEG for inactivating tannins Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Abundant browses, ease of PEG availability and accessibility is a condition for its application Yes Medium
UMMB containing anti-parasitic agent (pineapple) Somali and Oromia (Borena Zone): With fenbendazole as antiparasitic agent but not with pineapple leaves (the leaves are not available)
SNNPR: Both with fenbendazole and pineapple leaves
Yes High
UMMB containing deficient minerals Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Provided that specific minerals deficient in a given area is determined Yes, but depends on area Medium
UMMB containing forage seeds for wide dissemination in pasture lands Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Depends on suitability of forage seed to various agro-ecological conditions, further work on the technology is required Yes Medium
Densified forage (straw/stover) based complete ration in block/pellet form Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena zone): Provided densifying machine could be made available, areas with surplus/adequate roughage production should be targeted Yes High
Community hay formation Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Agro-pastoralist areas should be targeted, however it will take a long time for purely pastoralist areas and approach needs awareness creation Yes Medium
Large scale hay formation and storage Somali and SNNPR: Needs promotion in areas with irrigation potential Oromia (Borena Zone): Lack of irrigation resources Yes Medium
Urea ammoniation of straw Somali and Oromia (Borena Zone): Limited crop producing areas (agro-pastoralists)
SNNPR: Can be applied in low-land crop producing areas (agro-pastoralists) and adjacent areas
Yes for SNNPR
No in Somali and Oromia
Medium for SNNPR
Low for Somali and Oromia (Borena)
Forage chopping Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): May be applied in agro-pastoralist and irrigate forage producing areas, but with the condition that simple manual chopping machines are introduced Yes Medium
Urea molasses mix Somali, Oromia (Borena Zone) and SNNPR: May be used provided system for supply of ingredients/raw materials is put in place Yes Medium
Calcium oxide Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): New treatment, not known to community, unclear of the impact at the local level No Low
Promotion of spineless (thorn-less) cactus in dry areas, along with business development around cactus Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Drought tolerant, low water requirement, high nutritive value, adapted to the region, multi-purpose uses Yes High
Hay production using spate and spread irrigation in rainy season, and in protected and tsetse-infested areas Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Requires sustained capacity building and awareness creation efforts Yes High
Use of proper feeding troughs Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Reduces feed wastage especially in emergencies for targeting of specific animals (core breeding animals) Yes High (for emergency feeding)
Ensiling (silage making) – small scale as well as large scale Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Proper biomass unavailable, labor intensive, time consuming and presence of better option i.e. hay making No Low
Agro-forestry (a mix of trees and forages) Somali and Oromia (Borena Zone): Backyard forage could work on some enclosed areas
SNNPR: Relevant – Backyard forage production using fodder trees could work on enclosed areas, fruit cultivation common practice
Yes Medium for SNNPR
Low for the rest
Feed/fodder banks around drought prone areas (and in case of no drought supply for feeds to quarantine areas maintained for export animals) Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Reduces the cost of transport, makes feed available to emergency areas at short notice and reduces feed cost volatility  Yes High
Hydrophonic fodder production (without soil fodder production) Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Competes with human food No Low
Rangeland management: rotation grazing, reseeding, area protection (grazing reserves), removal of invasive species Somali, SNNPR and Oromia (Borena Zone): Institutional building, mechanisms, procedures and guidelines required Yes High


Based on global experience, a number of feed and feed technology options are available to deal with emergency feed shortages. Of these options, the use of feed technologies that reduce roughage feed bulk and improve the nutrient availability are highly relevant.

The introduction and popularization of the sturdy feed processing machineries such as hydraulic presses, bailers and pellet making machines could address the huge logistical and cost associated challenges that are encountered while transporting bulky fibrous feeds to the areas frequently affected by drought. There is a need to explore the source (suppliers), price and availability of various mechanical devices (e.g. hydraulic press, straw harvesters, bailers, forage choppers, mixers, among others). Most of these devices are not manufactured in Ethiopia or other countries in the Horn of Africa. Policies and incentives that encourage manufacturing of these devices within the country will help to prevent livestock mortality in pastoralist areas.

In the southern, southwestern and western midlands of the country, due to the prevalence of tsetse fly (trypanosomiasis), and as a result of the low number of livestock, huge forage biomass from the grasslands is left underutilized. It was suggested that FAO should take a lead in devising the strategy and mechanisms to make use of this huge feed resource to bridge the feed deficit in pastoral areas during drought time. For such areas, an immediate practical application is the introduction of densifying machineries and popularization of their use among the private entrepreneurs or youth groups as well building the technical capacity on feed processing.

In areas that are affected by recurrent drought, it is vital to establish feed and fodder banks, which would make feed and fodder available in the affected areas within the shortest time possible.

The banks would be useful even during normal periods, as there is a shortage of biomass in the areas affected by droughts. Preparation of densified straw-based complete feed ration or compacted hay as bails could be prepared in seasons of biomass availability, and transported to the fodder banks. This will substantially reduce the logistical cost of transporting loose or uncompacted fodder, which is generally very high - a challenge faced by most development agencies. In addition, the fodder banks by improving and stabilizing the availability of animal feed and fodder, would also help reducing the volatility of feed costs, especially during drought times. In fact, the sudden high demand of feed caused by the relief interventions of development agencies causes an escalation in prices of feed even in regions unaffected by droughts. As a result of these observations it was suggested to explore the possibility of using unused storage places, if any organizations such as World Food Program (WFP) or other development agencies had these available, for the establishment of fodder banks. Caution needs to be exercised to ensure that animal feed and emergency food is stored separately to avoid their mixing.

Certainly, a mechanism needs to be considered in recovering the cost of the feed/fodder stored in the fodder banks in normal years. One of the options could be supply of the stored feed/fodder to traders that provide feed to animals kept in the quarantine areas before exporting them.

The fodder produced through spate and/or spread irrigation in the zones affected by drought could also be converted to hay, then bailed and stored in the fodder banks. The same could be applied to the fodder produced in the tsetse fly affected areas; alternatively this could be converted to complete feed blocks/pellets and then stored.

Another technology, which is highly relevant for the drought-affected areas is the UMMB, which could also be stored well in advance, for example during November-January (before generally the drought strikes) and distributed as supplementary feed. It should be noted that the feeding of UMMB demands availability of some low-quality roughages and should not be fed alone. The costs of supplementary feeding in the form of UMMB, concentrate feed or urea-ammoniated straw can be decreased by feeding these supplements twice or three times a week, rather than feeding daily. This will sustain the animals, which is the prime objective during emergencies.

A long-term strategy is required to plant and propagate thornless (spineless) cactus, which is rich in carbohydrates and water. Cactus has a low water footprint and can yield a high biomass in harsh conditions. Development agencies should consider giving attention to this plant because it provides opportunities to build a business around its multiple uses. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) boasts extensive expertise on this plant and their presence in the region can be highly useful.

In the lowlands of the regions considered here, at times of severe drought, only browses are available. These feed resources could constitute the bulk of feed available to livestock. Unfortunately, these feed resources are rich in polyphenolics (tannins), anti-nutritional factors that limit nutrient availability and decrease nutrient utilization in animals. For such areas, it is vital to pilot the production and use of blocks containing PEG and study their economic and social impacts. This technology helped to save thousands of animals in Zimbabwe during droughts in 1990s. The blocks containing PEG could also be stored in feed/fodder banks. There is some evidence that copper deficiency occurs in the Rift Valley region which may lead to reproductive problems and the loss of productivity in large ruminants. This may require the addition of this mineral to the feed. The UMMB could also act as a vehicle for feeding deficient minerals to animals; and the same could be done for strategic introduction of anthelmintics in the form of fenbanzadole or pineapple leaves.

In UMMB production, availability and cost of urea are the major constraints. The poultry litter, where available in sufficient quantity, could be a potential substitute for urea. The poultry industry is developing in Ethiopia, and it is expected to continue to grow rapidly. The inclusion of poultry litter in molasses-based blocks or as a supplement in other low-protein feed sources (e.g. cactus), therefore, would help reduce feed costs and address the scarcity and high cost of urea.

Other simple technologies such as use of appropriate feeding troughs and chopping of fodder are also relevant. These would help producing ‘more from less’ by reducing wastage of feed and increasing nutrient utilization. Backyard forage production using fodder trees could also contribute to shortage of conventional feed that generally occurs during times of drought.

A number of technologies are available which could address the emergency situations and prevent livestock mortality. However, technologies alone are not sufficient. Equally important are the institutional support and policy options, which are integral for large-scale application of technologies and generating a high impact. A strong political will and leadership to drive the application of this holistic approach of amalgamating technical aspects, institutional building and policies will go a long way in addressing issues that affect pastoralists during emergency periods.


We are thankful to all the participants of the workshop for providing input, which led to the development of this article. FAO provided financial assistance for organising the workshop, which is also gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Kara Jenkinson for her assistance in editing this article.


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[1]The three main, traditional Ethiopian ecological/altitude divisions: relatively hot and dry agricultural lowlands Amh. qolla - below some 1500 meters above sea level (m.a.s.).; the temperate middle highlands – Amh. woyna dega – between about 1500 and 2300 m.a.s., often subdivided into ‘dry’, up to about 1900 m.a.s., and ‘wet’ from 1900 to 2300 m.a.s.; and then upwards of 2300 the highlands – Amh. dega – which tend also to have the highest precipitation in addition to cool temperatures (USAID, 2010)