By Absalom Kahumba, Maria Shipandeni and Emmanuel Lutaaya
The Department of Animal Science at University of Namibia (UNAM) hosted a group of 20 farmers from Omaheke and Khomas regions in Namibia and extension personnel from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) during the 2015 observance of Farmers’ Day. The event, which took place at the university’s Neudamm Campus, was the culmination of work on a RUFORUM-sponsored project investigating the potential of indigenous legumes in Namibia to improve nutrition of ruminants.
Namibia is the driest country in Sub-Saharan Africa and this project was initiated in 2013 when the country was experiencing its worst drought. The project was timely because it addressed feeding, one of the key constraints of livestock production in dry areas.
During the event, farmers were briefed on the role legumes play in improving nutrition of livestock and thereafter taken for a field visit. Among the key issues addressed were characteristics of legumes, how to obtain and plant legume seeds, yield per hectare, conservation methods (hay or silage), how to feed livestock on legumes, palatability and side effects. Leaflets on indigenous forage legumes were also distributed to the farmers for reference.
Several legumes that had undergone agronomic and feeding trials were on display on the day, including: Vigna labotifolia, Otoptera burchellii, Cullen tomentosum, Crotalaria argyraea, Rhynchosia totta, Canavalia ensiformis [Jack bean], Melolobium candicans, Lablab purpureus [Lablab] and Medicago sativa [Lucerne]. Surprisingly, while the farmers had seen most of these legumes in their pastures, they did not know their local names. This indicates an urgent need to document the information before it is lost forever. Also surprising was that many farmers did not know the feeding value of the legumes, as one farmer expressed, “I have been seeing these plants but I did not know they were valuable for feeding ruminants”.
The farmers showed great interest in the legumes and inquired about acquiring seeds to start production for either sale of the seeds to fellow farmers or for fodder production. Aside from demonstrating the potential of legumes in feeding livestock, this project has enhanced collaboration between UNAM and MAWF. Two officials from the ministry are currently beneficiaries of the RUFORUM grant which is enabling them to pursue their masters’ degrees in Animal Science at the university.
Research results from this project will be disseminated through the extension staff, MAWF publications, newspaper articles and leaflets so as to increase awareness among the farming community on the role indigenous legumes can play in enhancing livestock production, sustainability and, ultimately, food security and incomes.
This activity was part of the project “Characterization of indigenous legumes and their utilization as pure stands or for over-sowing of natural pastures”, aimed at strengthening the use of indigenous legumes in Namibia’s rangelands to enhance livestock productivity. The project was funded by RUFORUM under the Graduate Research Grants Programme and spearheaded by Dr. Emmanuel Lutaaya from the University of Namibia.