Women turn to tree forage to fatten their sheep

By Hamidou Nantoumé and Jean Bonneville

Source: www.idrc.ca/.../Women-turn-to-tree-forage-to-fatten-their-sheep.pdf(English)

Raising sheep is an important economic activity in Mali, especially for women. But fodder shortages and high feed costs limit sheep production, especially during the dry season. Canadian and Malian researchers have found that the leaves of three locally available tree species could replace groundnut stalks as fodder. Sheep on a tree fodder diet were found to gain as much weight or more than sheep on a groundnut-stalk diet over the same period. The leaves are available throughout the year and the cost of gathering them is at least 14 times lower than the price of groundnut stalks in the dry season. Research included laboratory analysis of the chemical composition of various feeds, fattening trials at research stations, and experiments and surveys in rural areas. Thanks to the savings and the good weight gain of the fattened sheep, women participating in the research earned more income from the sale of their sheep and increased the food security of their families.

Raising sheep is an important economic activity in Mali. In 2010, the country was home to around 12 million sheep, which also have considerable social and cultural value, being closely associated with traditional rites of passage and religious celebrations. During Tabaski, for example (a Muslim holiday celebrated by most Malians), it is customary to sacrifice a ram.

Fodder shortages and high feed costs are the main constraints in sheep production, especially during the dry season. At that time of year, it has long been common practice to use leaves from certain trees and shrubs as fodder. Prior to the research study, however, there was no concrete evidence that the leaves could be used to feed sheep on a regular basis, and could even replace a time-tested feed like groundnut haulm. In addition, the financial and nutritional results of feeding sheep with tree fodders were not very well known. Furthermore, some of these leaves contain potentially harmful anti-nutritional substances. There were also other concerns about tree species, particularly with regard to their forage production capacity, management, multiplication, and integration into the farming systems.

It was in this context that researchers from various fields and institutions met to investigate the issues regarding sheep fattening and the use of trees as fodder. The investigation included laboratory analysis of the chemical composition of various feeds, fattening trials at research stations, and experiments and surveys in rural areas. The results of the work were mainly targeted at female farmers, as sheep husbandry provides a source of income and a method of income diversification with significant opportunities for women.

Key Outcomes

  • Woody species - the top three Based on a survey of farmers from the Zan Coulibaly rural community in Mali, followed by an on-station feeding experiment with sheep at a research station, Ficus gnaphalocarpa, Pterocarpus erinaceus and Pterocarpus lucens (called Toro, N’goni, and Cobi in the Bambara language) were the three top performing tree species for sheep fodder among all locally used and available species.
  • Improved sheep fattening and husbandry techniques - Even though Malian women have been raising sheep for a very long time, the researchers observed that their methods did not always bring in a maximum profit, as they were not necessarily familiar with all the knowledge and techniques this activity requires. As a result, the researchers thought it would be useful to supplement the research findings on tree fodder with broader information on good practices in sheep husbandry and fattening.
  • Diversified and increased income - The data gathered during the year-long experiment will make it possible to draw a comparison based on objective scientific criteria. It is also expected that during the process, participants will see for themselves an increase in the productivity of the animals that receive the supplemtary fodder, which will naturally bring in additional income, increasing the farmers’ food security. Once again, because many women practise sheep rearing and are more directly concerned with household nutrition, it is women and their children who stand to benefit the most.