Enhancing drought resilience through legume integration in maize cropping systems

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In large parts of sub-humid Africa, including Zimbabwe, maize is the main source of livelihood for smallholder farmers, who often consider it as staple and cash crop.

However, with the constant threats of climate-change induced droughts, dependence on cereal crops such as maize as the main source of livelihoods for smallholder farmers is adversely affecting food security and livelihoods, as production is directly linked to the availability of rain.

In the face of increasing climate change-induced droughts, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), through CGIAR’s Ukama Ustawi Initiative, is creating innovative strategies to safeguard livelihoods by empowering smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe to intensify, diversify and de-risk maize-mixed farming through the integration of legume crops into the traditional maize cropping systems. This method not only enhances soil fertility and moisture retention but also provides a diversified and resilient agricultural system. The forage legumes are used to formulate supplementary feeds for their livestock.

Legumes, such as beans and peas, are known for their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, enriching the soil. This natural fertilization process reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and improves soil structure, allowing for better water retention during dry spells. Legumes often have different water requirements and growth patterns compared to maize. By introducing legumes into maize fields, farmers create a more diversified cropping system, reducing the risk of total crop failure during droughts.

Beef cattle feeding on homemade feeds in Murewa. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI
Maize stover. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI

The integration of legumes also benefits livestock. Legume crops can serve as an additional feed source, offering high-protein forage that supports animal health and productivity. This becomes particularly valuable during droughts when traditional forage might be scarce. By diversifying their feed sources through legume cultivation, farmers can better withstand droughts. The availability of alternative, drought-resistant forage ensures that livestock have a consistent food supply, reducing the overall impact of drought on farming operations.

‘We are introducing ways of feeding livestock using forage legumes, maize grain and stover produced from the maize-based farming system. The goal is for the farmer to either sustain his livestock through the dry season, thus creating resilience to the drought, or even for sale to generate income,’ said Godfrey Manyawu, forage scientist at ILRI.

Godfrey Manyawu (ILRI Scientist) interacting with farmers in Murehwa during a feeding trial training. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI
Farmers in Murehwa undergoing livestock feed formulation and feeding training. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI

In this practice, residues from legumes such as velvet bean, groundnut haulms and lablab bean are used to create feed rations incorporating maize grain for livestock feed during the dry season, experienced from June to December.

This intensification of maize-based mixed-farming systems and subsequent feed formulation has proved a reliable climate change risk mitigation strategy for farmers.

Godfrey Manyawu and Thembinkosi Baleni (ILRI) lead feed formulation in Murewa district. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI

‘I started rearing goats in 2022 but due to lack of adequate feed my goats were not reproducing. However, when I joined the Ukama Ustawi initiative I was equipped with knowledge on cultivating forage legumes and how to mix them with maize products to produce livestock feed. I now find goat rearing less difficult because of the knowledge I acquired on good animal husbandry practices. My goats have not only increased in numbers from 7 to 16, their health and market value has also improved. I am expecting kids from at least eight goats in the next three months,’ said William Nyamusanduka, a Boer goat farmer from Ward 6, Shamva District.

Eronika Chikuruwo from Murehwa, who recently sold her 282-kg steer following a weight gain of 32 kg in one month, after feeding it with maize and forage legumes, said she now understands the importance of value addition in maize-based mixed farming systems. She added that before joining the Ukama Ustawi Initiative, she would sell all her maize soon after harvest to raise income. She would also sell off emaciated cattle at the end of the dry season to salvage some economic value as a mitigation against poverty deaths.

 

Featured photo: Willis and Priscila Nyamsanduka preparing feed using a copper grinder in Shamva district. Credit: Thandeka Matebesi/ILRI

Authors:

  • Godfrey Manyawu, Project Leader – Impact at Scale, ILRI
  • Thembinkosi Baleni, Assistant Research Associate – Livestock, ILRI
  • Ojanji Wandera, Senior Communications Officer – Impact at Scale, ILRI
  • Thandeka Matebesi, Communications Assistant, ILRI

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