FAO nutrient block technology improves animal health and milk production in Yemen

(Photo: FAO)

25/08/2017 – On most days, livestock owner Hamisa Mohammed Omar, knows that she will be able to feed her husband and five children only a meagre portion of rice for lunch, with a little bread for breakfast and dinner.

Before the current conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015, Hamisa’s husband would bring home 1 000 Yemeni rials (USD 4)

a day from working as a casual construction labourer. But hostilities have put an end to most building activity in Al Hudaydah where the family lives and he rarely works.. The family therefore relies on the produce from Hamisa’s cow and five sheep as a nutritious source of food and for the income from any excess sold at the market. “Right now, our cow is in the last stages of pregnancy so she is not producing much milk,” Hamisa says. “But even when she is not pregnant she does not produce much because we cannot afford to feed her well with decent fodder.”

Hamisa is not alone in struggling to feed her livestock. In a recent survey of 8 000 small-scale farmers – conducted as part of the EU-funded Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen project (ERRY) – almost all said the poor availability, low quality and high cost of feed was one of their biggest challenges in keeping their animals healthy and productive. 

The main diet of most livestock consists of low-quality crop leftovers supplemented with agro-industrial by-products, such as sesame oil cake, wheat bran and leftover bread. Farmers typically buy and use imported salt blocks, which have less nutritional value than feed blocks. Animals suffer chronic undernutrition resulting in low production, loss of body weight, low fertility and reproduction rates, and vulnerability to diseases.

The figures show the extent of the problem: livestock production in Yemen in 2016 was 35 percent lower than before the crisis, according to the Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment. FAO Yemen has therefore made keeping livestock healthy and improving productivity one of its key priorities as part of the emergency response this year. It is assistance like this to support agriculture and livelihoods – in addition to food aid – that will help prevent the country slipping further towards famine.

Activities include vaccination and de-worming campaigns and the distribution of animal fodder. In addition, FAO Yemen has launched a pilot project to produce multi-nutrient feed blocks. This is the first time such a scheme has been trialed in Yemen and it is already showing promising results. FAO Yemen has established a training unit for the manufacturing and production of feed blocks in Al Hudaydah. This is managed by a member of staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation seconded to FAO, who has trained four workers in making the blocks using the right combination of ingredients, including molasses, which is used to provide energy and make it tasty for the animals. Molasses is produced locally in Al Hudaydah and, until now, has mostly been exported and sold cheaply on foreign markets. With the project, the molasses is put to better use.  

To date, 10 000 feed blocks have been distributed for free to 2 500 farmers taking part in the pilot. Animals were weighed at the start of the trial and their milk production measured. “Initial results show that animals are increasing their milk production by between 0.5 litres and 1.5 litres per day,” says Yasser Al Eryani, FAO’s animal specialist in Al Hudaydah. “The animals’ weight has also increased. Farmers are already asking if they can buy the blocks in the future.” As well as providing energy and nitrogen, the blocks improve animals’ digestion and intake. This is enabling them to improve utilization of the traditional feeding system based on poor quality grazing and sorghum stovers.

Working with the private sector, FAO Yemen intends to scale up the project opening more production units in Al Hudaydah as well as in Abyan and Hajjah governorates. “The initial results have been very positive,” says Dr. Chedly Kayouli, FAO’s value chain specialist. “Now we need to increase awareness among farmers and agriculture officials about the benefits of these feed supplements, especially because it is relatively easy and cheap to make the feed blocks locally.”

For Hamisa, using the feed blocks would make an enormous difference. It would cost her USD 4 per month for a feed block for her cow. However, if it succeeded in increasing her cow’s production by 1 litre per day, she would boost her income by about USD 25  per month) by selling that litre of milk at the market.