Enhancing livelihood opportunities from buffalo value chains - the focus of the CGIAR animal productivity initiative in Nepal

Share this to :

Buffalo cow in Nepal (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

Buffalo are well-suited to Nepal’s lowland and mountainous terrain, offering diverse products and economic benefits right along agri-food value chains from production to consumption. They are a major contributor to the agricultural sector, second after rice in the contribution to agricultural gross national product. They provide more than half of meat and almost to thirds of milk produced in the country. They serve as multi-purpose assets, providing draught power, meat, milk and dairy products, as well as manure and leather.

Yet, as a recent CGIAR workshop in Kathmandu revealed, buffalo production suffers from low productivity and low economic returns that significantly reduce the livelihood benefits that producers and other value chain actors can achieve.

Inaugurating the SAPLING Nepal workshop (photo credit: ILRI)

The March 2022 workshop to kick off the CGIAR Sustainable Animal Productivity for Livelihoods, Nutrition and Gender Inclusion (SAPLING) initiative in Nepal was convened by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with key government partners and other stakeholders. It’s main purpose was to co-develop priority research interventions for the Nepal initiative. It drew from a previous consultation where buffalo was one of the highest priority areas identified by participants.

The workshop adopted a theory of change logic where participants examined the key problems facing the buffalo value chain, specified the desired longer (ten year) and shorter (three year) term outcomes that an initiative could realize, and identified some integrated innovation packages that could be a focus for interventions in the near term.

Buffalo production challenges and vision of success

Opening discussions were framed by Doj Raj Khanal, Director of Livestock and Fisheries Research at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council: “Dairy buffalo production is constrained by inadequate nutrition, silent heat and poor conception, reliance on local breeds with poor genetic merits leading to low milk yields, endemic transboundary animal diseases and heavy parasitic burdens leading to high calf mortality.”

According to workshop participants, the underlying barriers to improved buffalo productivity and livelihoods include poor animal nutrition, knowledge gaps on buffalo breeding and reproduction, threats to indigenous buffalo breeds, unreliable support for improved genetics, significant animal disease and health challenges, limited reach of advisory and other services, and difficult to access markets.

Through group work and discussion, the fundamental problem statement identified for SAPLING in Nepal is “Low economic and non-economic returns (benefits) limit livelihood opportunities of buffalo keepers and other value chain actors”.

Tackling this challenge, participants drafted a vision of success with elements covering sustainability, competitiveness, equity, gender inclusion, climate resilience, livelihoods and food and nutrition security. Discussions on whether to just focus on the dairy value chain led to consensus on the wider buffalo chain and its many products – meat as well as milk.

The draft vision statement identified for SAPLING in Nepal is “By 2032, sustainable, competitive, inclusive, climate smart and resilient buffalo value chains drive improved livelihoods, enhanced food and nutritional security, and promote equitable growth of men and women.”

Outcomes and innovation packages

Participants refine outcome statements (photo credit: ILRI/Peter Ballantyne)

Participants were asked to identify longer and shorter-term outcomes as well as innovation packages that could deliver this vision of success. These are presented here to give an insight into the specific targets that the initiative could adopt for Nepal – they will be refined after the workshop through a process of further priority-setting.

For the longer term (by 2032), a range of targets were suggested including: Target farmers adopt improved productivity-enhancing technologies and innovations that increase current lactation rates by 40%, increase the quantities of milk for markets, processing and consumption by 15%, raise incomes by 20%, double buffalo productivity, and increase the supply and quality of buffalo meat.

Some specific technical pathways to these targets included: more producers providing nutrient-dense and higher quality feed to their buffalo, using improved forage technologies, adopting genetically-improved indigenous buffalo, using artificial insemination services, and accessing improved milk and meat market opportunities that provide more income.

At the other end of the chain, another longer-term change is for consumers to buy more buffalo milk and for there to be a growing the demand for new buffalo milk products.

For the shorter-term (by 2025), targets (again all will be refined) proposed included: Target producers have organized themselves through cooperatives and these have established 200 dairy sales outlets in 3 districts, 5000 pregnant and lactating mothers have increased their milk and milk product consumption according to national nutritional guidelines, government policy makers and shapers use SAPLING products to support and guide the implementation of buffalo-related polices and plans, a national buffalo genetics database is used to guide genetic selection, 2000 farmers have used AI services to upgrade their herds, farmers increase the crossbred share of their herds from 30% to 37%, 2000 households will have planted rapidly-growing and adapted forages as well as fodder-based feeding packages for year–round feeding, farmers acquire (buy, grow) feed and forage so reducing the dry matter deficit from 30% to 10%, 500 processors have acquired and used skills to process buffalo milk into market-demanded high value products, 2000 youth and women will take up efficient productivity-enhancing technologies and innovations (feeding, breeding, health) to increase milk production and incomes, farmers are using financial services and insurance services to increase their resilience, 2000 new households take up buffalo farming as a livelihood, farmers vaccinate their animals against FMD, reducing the number of FMD outbreaks, female-headed households adopt productivity-enhancing technologies and innovations that increase their income, and extension services use digital advisory services to engage buffalo farmers.

Participants work on innovation packages (photo credit: ILRI/Smrittee Kala Panta)

Five integrated innovation packages were sketched by participants as a first outline of how these targets and outcomes might be reached. One was built around a farmer-facing ‘one stop solution’ approach where a mix of actors comes together with producers to overcome technical challenges to animal health, feeds and breed improvement, husbandry, as well as finance and marketing. A second aims to build services and applications out from a robust national database of buffalo genetics. The others bring together different combinations of genetics, health and feeding with policy engagement, market access and capacity development.

Critical success factors

The second day of the workshop included a review of the draft outputs with a wider group of participants as well as further discussion of the target sites and locations where the initiative will actually work. A closing exercise with participants pointed to some critical success factors for the initiative, including:

  • Must be farmer-focused and develop good relations with farmer-centric organization like CDCAN, women cooperatives, entrepreneur groups, etc.
  • Clear terms of reference agreed with implementing partners and stakeholders
  • Strong coordination and collaboration among stakeholders, including an efficient coordination mechanism
  • Avoid over-ambition and trying to cover too many households
  • Start with best bets or quick wins that show results and build momentum and buy-in
  • Make sure that local and national priorities drive the initiative
  • Create and work with national capacities

The next steps include transforming this initial work in a robust plan of action matched to priorities and resources as well as forming a country team to coordinate and deliver the work.

The team may also decide whether a strong national brand name for the initiative in Nepal might help drive cohesion and ownership. Ideas shared in the workshop included BHAINSI (भैंसी – ‘buffalo’ in Nepali language), such as:

  • Buffalo husbandry adopting innovative, novel and sustainable initiatives
  • Buffalo health, AI and selection intervention for productivity enhancement
  • Buffalo households adopting innovative sustainable initiatives

Authors: Peter Ballantyne, ILRI consultant on Knowledge Management, with contributions from Padmakumar Varijakshapanicker (ILRI Nepal Country Coordinator), Smrittee Kala Panta (ILRI Communication consultant), and Niels Teuful (ILRI researcher).


The CGIAR Sustainable Animal Productivity for Livelihoods, Nutrition and Gender Inclusion (SAPLING) initiative is led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (ABC).

Part of the CGIAR 2030 research and innovation strategy, SAPLING is being implemented in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam. By 2024, SAPLING will enable 800,000 producers (half of them women) of cattle, chickens, small ruminants, buffalo and pigs to engage in inclusive value chains and achieve sustainable productivity gains between 30 and 50%.

More information

See more information about the SAPLING Initiative.

The SAPLING research initiative in Nepal is led by ILRI’s Country Representative for Nepal, Dr Padmakumar Varijakshapanicker

The overall SAPLING Initiative is led by ILRI’s Isabelle Baltenweck, with deputy lead ICARDA’s Rekik Mourad.

Share this to :