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Forages and Livestock

Global demand for livestock products (such as meat, milk, and eggs) is expected to double by 2050. Necessary increases to future production must be reconciled with negative environmental impacts that livestock cause.

Diverse tropical forage grasses and legumes, by providing a valuable source of livestock feed, can help farmers improve meat and milk production and raise incomes. Tropical forages are also a climate-smart option as they have the potential to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture through carbon sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and restoration of degraded land.

What we do: Feeding a revolution in green livestock production

CIAT and partners across the tropics promote the widespread adoption of tropical forages along with other improved feeding methods among the large number of farmers, mainly on small and medium-sized holdings. Our research aims to identify approaches to sustainable intensification that will scale up the livelihood and environmental benefits of forage-based systems.

CIAT scientists are studying the current and potential climate change impacts of various livestock production systems in the tropics and defining strategies for large-scale intensification of livestock production systems that are more climate friendly, more efficient in using resources, and more economically and ecologically sustainable.

We develop tropical forage varieties with multi-dimensional benefits:

  • Higher land and animal productivity
  • Market-orientation for greater economic opportunities for the 600 million smallholder farmers who make a living from animal production
  • Better adapted to biotic and abiotic stresses
  • Climate-friendly through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions

How we do it: Boosting the adoption and integration of improved tropical forages

Our scientists use a three-pronged intensification approach: 1) genetic to improve forage yield, quality, stress resistance; 2) ecological to improve the management of forage systems; and 3) socio-economic to create enabling environments (markets, policies, social, and human capital).

Contributing importantly to these efforts, CIAT safeguards the greatest and most diverse tropical forages collections in the world, with 22,694 materials (127 genera and 700 species) to date. This collection includes 21,083 legume materials and 1,611 grasses materials from 75 countries. Between 1977 and 1993, 75 explorations were conducted that contributed more than half of the preserved material, increasing greatly the originality of the collection, while 9,877 materials from 41 countries were received as donations.

The sustainable intensification of forage-based agricultural systems: LivestockPlus

LivestockPlus is one of three strategic initiatives created under CIAT’s new strategy for the period 2014–2020.
CIAT and its partners formulated the LivestockPlus concept to demonstrate how improved forages, when properly managed, can lead to sustainable intensification of mixed crop–forage–livestock systems in the tropics, contributing to multiple social, economic, and environmental objectives. LivestockPlus attempts to minimize the trade-offs between these objectives through synergies between soils, plants, animals, people, and the environment.

We consider that increasing consumer demands for livestock products can and should be met by increasing productivity within the same region, particularly in the tropics. Although productivity could be increased using grain-based diets, we favor intensifying forage-based systems, based on goals of economic viability, environmental sustainability, and social equity, associated with eco-efficiency.

Sustainable intensification of tropical forage-based systems contributes to better human nutrition, increases farm incomes, raises soil carbon accumulation, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

LivestockPlus: A concept to improve livelihoods and ecosystem services via the sustainable intensification of forage-based crop–livestock–tree systems.

Our impact

In Latin America, superior Brachiaria grasses, many of them from CIAT, have been widely adopted and cover an area estimated at 25.4 million hectares, generating large economic benefits.

The Brazilian livestock sector has grown, thanks to a new variety of forage grass developed in partnership with EMBRAPA, which has contributed to reducing the time it takes to raise cattle from 4 years to about 20 months. Improved livestock feeding practices in Brazil, backed by strong tax incentives, have already resulted in significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Forages show potential to relieve Africa’s severe shortage of feed and sustain its livestock revolution. A recent CIAT study shows that 40% more milk and tens of millions of dollars in revenue possible for African farmers adopting new drought-resistant pasture grass.

CIAT and partners have developed Brachiaria humidicola, a forage variety which suppresses the biological process that turns nitrogen from fertilizer into nitrous oxide and releases it into the atmosphere, resulting in a reduction of the most powerful and aggressive greenhouse gas.

Visualize the seed sales of forage hybrids Brachiaria (Mulato 2, Cayman and Cobra) and area planted in Latin America


CIAT’s research on tropical forages contributes importantly to the CGIAR Research Program Livestock and Fish.

Research updates

forages | CIAT Blog Science to Cultivate Change


Latest publications

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