Tropical forages encompass an extraordinary variety of herbaceous and woody plants selected mostly from undomesticated grass and legume species. Improved forages, grown as perennial pastures or in diverse combinations with crops, provide high-quality feed for livestock while at the same time improving soil quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sown forages are a decidedly eco-efficient option, which help to combat hunger and poverty and also deliver major environmental benefits.
Global Forage Development
CIAT’s Genetic Resources Program conserves one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of tropical forages, containing more than 23,000 samples of legumes and grasses obtained from 72 countries and representing 127 genera and 700 species.
Based on intensive evaluation and breeding of those materials, CIAT develops multipurpose forage genotypes that possess high nutritional value and good adaptation to major pests and diseases as well as physical constraints like low soil fertility. Adaptation to drought and waterlogging receives particular emphasis in this research because of its importance for coping with climate change impacts.
In connection with forage development, CIAT researchers identify the genes and physiological mechanisms associated with stress tolerance and also develop more efficient methods for assessing plant performance under stress.
Among the most noteworthy products of forage development at CIAT are superior Brachiaria hybrids, which combine high nutritional quality, drought tolerance, resistance to spittle bug, and adaptation to acid soils. Another outstanding recent result of the Center’s research is the hardy forage legume Canavalia brasiliensis, which shows high tolerance to drought, waterlogging, and poor soils and also enhances soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
Climate Change Mitigation
While offering wide scope for adaptation to climate change impacts, improved forages might also be agriculture’s most promising option for mitigation. Superior pastures, when adequately managed, show great potential for carbon sequestration second only to that of forests. Moreover, some Bracharia grasses possess a remarkable ability to suppress nitrification the microbial process responsible for emissions of nitrous oxide by means of a substance released from their roots.
Creating High-Value Opportunities
CIAT’s forage researchers pursue an integrated approach, in which forage evaluation and development are linked with farmer participatory research and extension as well as livestock system analysis. This approach is essential for successfully integrating forages into smallholder crop-livestock systems, resulting in both economic and environmental benefits.
Center research further seeks to make smallholders more competitive in livestock value chains. Just by adopting improved forages, farmers can immediately raise the market value of their ruminant (cattle, goats, and sheep) and monogastric (swine, poultry, and fish) animals. Smallholders then have the option of diversifying into high-value forage products, such as hay, silage, and forage meal as well as forage seed and cuttings for sale to other farmers.
Partnerships for Progress
CIAT’s forage scientists have registered important impact in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Southeast Asia. Based on recent gains in sub-Saharan Africa, their work is poised for expansion in this region as well. Strengthening the capacity of national partners is vital for progress and therefore forms an integral part of CIAT’s forage research.
CGIAR Research Programs
CIAT’s global tropical forages research contributes importantly to three CGIAR Research Programs: