German-funded research on climate-smart crop-livestock systems
CIAT scientists have known for a while that the forage grass Brachiaria humidicola not only improves livestock productivity but also has the potential to deliver important environmental benefits. This stems from the grass’s ability to limit the conversion of ammonium (applied to soil as nitrogen fertilizer) into nitrate and nitrous oxide through a process called biological nitrification inhibition, or BNI. The process lowers emissions of the most potent greenhouse gas, while also reducing runoff of polluting nitrates into water supplies.
Now, researchers are using participatory methods with smallholder farmers to incorporate this innovative technology, using Brachiaria humidicola hybrids, into integrated crop-livestock production systems. Carried out in collaboration with partners in Nicaragua, Germany, and Colombia, the work receives support from the Germany Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) through the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through a 3-year project (2012-2015) with total funding of US$1.5 million.
To bring together partners and assess the status of this research, the project held its second workshop last August at Villavicencio in Colombia’s Meta Department. The partners attending included researchers from National Agrarian University (Nicaragua), the University of Hohenheim (Germany), University of the Llanos (Colombia), Corpoica, and CIAT. They were joined by visitors from the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS).
The project aims to reduce nitrogen losses from crop-livestock systems through large-scale adoption of improved B. humidicola hybrids. In addition to offering environmental benefits, this should boost crop and livestock productivity through more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers. Researchers are using both genotypic and phenotypic methods to quantify the BNI trait, thus reducing the time needed for field testing of the hybrids.
“The workshop brought together researchers from different scientific backgrounds and institutions to report their advances as well as the obstacles they face in research on BNI,” said Jacobo Arango, the CIAT forages researcher who organized the workshop. His postdoctoral work at the Center is partly funded by the German government through the Center for International Migration and Development (CIM).
Written by: Angela Fernando