Economic trade-offs of biomass use in crop-livestock systems: Exploring more sustainable options in semi-arid Zimbabwe

Homann-Kee Tui, S and Valbuena, D and Masikati, P and Descheemaeker, K and Nyamangara, J and Claessens, L and Erenstein, O and Van Rooyen, A F and Nkomboni, D (2015) Economic trade-offs of biomass use in crop-livestock systems: Exploring more sustainable options in semi-arid Zimbabwe. Agricultural Systems, 134. pp. 48-60. ISSN 0308-521X

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In complex mixed crop-livestock systems with limited resources and biomass scarcity, crop residues play an important but increasingly contested role. This paper focuses on farming systems in the semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe, where biomass production is limited and farmers integrate crop and livestock activities. Conservation Agriculture (CA) is promoted to intensify crop production, emphasizing the retention of surface mulch with crop residues (CR). This paper quantifies the associated potential economic trade-offs and profitability of using residues for soil amendment or as livestock feed, and explores alternative biomass production options. We draw on household surveys, stakeholder feedback, crop, livestock and economic modeling tools. We use the Trade-Off Analysis Model for Multi Dimensional Impact Assessment (TOA-MD) to compare different CR use scenarios at community level and for different farm types: particularly the current base system (cattle grazing of maize residues) and sustainable intensification alternatives based on a CA option (mulching using maize residues ± inorganic fertilizer) and a maize–mucuna (Mucuna pruriens) rotation. Our results indicate that a maize–mucuna rotation can reduce trade-offs between CR uses for feed and mulch, providing locally available organic soil enhancement, supplementary feed and a potential source of income. Conservation Agriculture without fertilizer application and at non-subsidized fertilizer prices is not financially viable; whereas with subsidized fertilizer it can benefit half the farm population. The poverty effects of all considered alternative biomass options are however limited; they do not raise income sufficiently to lift farmers out of poverty. Further research is needed to establish the competitiveness of alternative biomass enhancing technologies and the socio-economic processes that can facilitate sustainable intensification of mixed crop-livestock systems, particularly in semi-arid environments.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: RP-Market Institutions and Policies
RP-Resilient Dryland Systems
CRP: CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems
CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Crop-livestock intensification, Biomass trade-offs, Farm types, Economic impacts, Zimbabwe
Subjects: Others > Agriculture-Farming, Production, Technology, Economics
Others > Zimbabwe
Depositing User: Mr Siva Shankar
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2014 08:57
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2017 03:35
Official URL:
Acknowledgement: The data for this paper were generated by the study on ‘Optimizing livelihood and environmental benefits from CR in smallholder crop-livestock system in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia: South African case study’, supported by the Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP, Homann-Kee Tui et al., 2013). We thank the CGIAR Research Programs Resilient Dryland Systems and Policies, Institutions and Markets for support. Special thanks also to Roberto Valdivia and John Antle for capacitating on TOA-MD, Albert Chirima for GIS support, Swathi Sridharan for editing and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The views expressed in this paper are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SLP or the authors’ institutions.
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