Cover Image
close this book Nitrogen fixing trees for fodder production - A Field Manual
View the document Acknowledgments
View the document Nitrogen fixing trees for fodder production
View the document Fodder tree establishment
View the document Selecting species of nitrogen fixing fodder trees
View the document Fodder production systems
View the document Nutritive value and animal production from fodder trees
View the document Problems and constraints with fodder trees
View the document Seed collection and multiplication
Open this folder and view contents Appendices

Problems and constraints with fodder trees

Tony Oude Hengel, Asim K. Biswal, Francis A. Xavier and R. V. Singh

Like all agricultural innovations, the integration of fodder trees in farming systems should be socially acceptable, technically sound, and economically viable, in the perception of farmers (Werner et al., 1993). Often, the introduction of fodder trees creates more problems concerning people and their livelihood, than with the technical aspects of tree planting. This chapter addresses the common problems encountered by fodder tree promotion programs.

Social acceptability There is a great lack of knowledge concerning the human aspects of growing fodder trees. Before starting any fodder tree promotion program, it is an absolute necessity to hold discussions with the client or client-group. Their needs and aspirations should be assessed and used to design the program. Specifically, their needs for fuelwood, construction wood, soil-fertility maintenance, fodder, fruit-trees or cash crops should be determined and incorporated into a fodder tree promotion program. If they are not interested in fodder trees, approach another group of clients or alter the goals of the program.

Once the client-group is established, allow them to determine what assistance is required. Then, working with the group, resolve how the program can best assist them. Within the group there will be various sub-groups (women, men, social-classes, age groups, etc. ) having different preferences for tree types or species. One sub-group may want tall fodder trees which will also produce timber. Another sub-group may prefer a fodder shrub that produces fuel and can be used as a living fence. Convene a separate meeting with each sub-group to discuss preferences of land-use, tree types and tree species. These discussions should provide all subgroups an opportunity to communicate their opinion, and help define and prioritize their needs. Through this process the program will avoid promoting fodder production systems or tree species that are inappropriate for the clients.

Demonstration areas may need to be established when, the clients or program suggest a radical change in the landuse systems or the introduction of exotic tree species. Demonstration areas are most useful when established on farmer's land. The farmer should be given the authority to manage the area as they wish. They should be encouraged to experiment and compare the 'suggested' landuse system with their own innovations. This process will help develop 'new' systems that are appropriate for local cultural and environmental conditions. A training component should be created to extend the 'new' system to other clients and local residents. During training activities participants should be encouraged to provide critical analysis of the system and management techniques. Such input will hasten the development of locally appropriate systems. The proof of a successful system is its spontaneous adoption by other clients or local residents.

Two social problems that require specific mention are tenure rights and the use of common land.

Land- or tree-tenure rights may limit the ability of an individual or group to manage or utilize trees. A person may have the right to plant or use a tree, but this often does not preclude use by other people. In many cases, trees on private land are not the exclusive property of the landowner. Other community members and the government may share tree use rights with the landowner. Such lack of control often makes landowners reluctant to plant trees. Land- and tree-tenure rights must be fully investigated before a fodder tree promotion program is initiated. A change in these rights may make farmers inclined to plant more trees.

Common lands are usually owned by the government, but used by the community. Government management is often limited to regulating use, and does not include increasing productivity. There is great scope to improve fodder production on these lands. Proper planning and cooperation between the community and government is essential. The first step is to convene meetings between the government and community to establish goals and management priorities that are acceptable to both parties. the sub-groups of the community should be involved. A management plan should be written to define present and future usergroups, the vegetation to be used and established, harvest quotes, product distribution, and land protection measures. The management plan must be sustainable and should be reviewed annually.

Technical soundness It usually takes a long time to determine which species are suited to a particular area and how they should be managed in various landuse-systems. However, through a review of general literature and discussions with client-farmers and local research institutes, the most promising species and landuse systems can be identified quickly. Information gathering activities should focus on fodder species (grasses, shrubs and trees) as well as the other plants that grow in the area. This information will help identify fodder trees species that are not currently utilized locally. Discuss problems with local research institutes and inquire about their work. Identify mutual areas of interest and try to have your clients' technical problems added to the institute's research agenda. When possible, use demonstration areas to study the topics which interest both your program and the research institute. This is a practical way of involving the research institute with your program's activities.

Four common technical problems may be encountered once your program starts planting fodder trees. These include seedling protection, plant diseases and pests, inadequate seed supply, and fodder toxicity or palatability.

Seedling Protection. Immediately after germination, the seedlings of many NFTs grow slowly. During this period seedlings are very vulnerable to vegetative competition and browsing animals. To help protect seedlings from these dangers observe the following recommendations:

• use only healthy seed or seedlings;

• plant seedlings, or sow seed, only at the onset of the rainy season;

• when possible, combine tree establishment with cultivation of agricultural crops;

• use micro-catchments to improve water retention and infiltration;

• periodically remove competing vegetation until trees are well established;

• use living fences to shield seedlings (Gliricidia and Erythrina are common living fences);

• use temporary fences of branches, thorny bushes or bamboo-mats to shield seedlings; and

• organize plantation guards through community organizations.

Plant Pests and Diseases.

Nitrogen fixing fodder trees are often established in extensive plantings of one or a few species. Such 'monocultures' are vulnerable to pest and disease problems. Worldwide damage by the 'leucaena psyllid' demonstrates the potential danger of monocultures. Even in diversified plantings of fodder trees, pest and disease problems do occur. Walter and Parry (1994) provide information on the insect pests of leguminous fodder trees. Boa and Lenn‚ (1994), Lenn‚ and Boa (1994), and Lenn‚ (1992) provide detailed information on the diseases of leguminous trees. Updates on the leucaena psyllid and its management are available in Bray (1994) and Geiger et. al. (1995).

Inadequate seed supply. The success of any fodder tree program is limited by the quality and quantity of the seed available for tree establishment. Often, adequate quantities of high-quality seed are not available to fodder tree promotion programs. To avoid this problem, programs should maintain a list of reliable seed suppliers and, when possible, establish seed production areas. A list of seed suppliers appears in Appendix A. Chapter 7 provides more information on the establishment and management of seed production areas.

Fodder toxicity & palatability. Fodder toxicity and palatability greatly influence feed intake and utilization. Although many compounds that cause toxicity problems in tree fodders have been isolated, detailed information on most of these compounds is not known. An exception to this generalization is the minosine toxicity of Leucaena. Fortunately the toxic effect of most compounds is negligible when tree fodder composes less than 30% of the diet. Palatability of many tree fodders is improved by drying, wilting or ensiling. Palatability is also increased by mixing fodder with additives like salt or molasses. Chapter 5 discusses the nutritive value of tree fodders in detail.

Economic viability

There is an enormous lack of information and experience concerning the economic evaluation of fodder tree production systems. The economic viability of these systems depends on the quantity and quality of fodder produced, the unit of land under production, opportunity costs of the land and capital, labor costs, animal productivity, marketability, prices of animal products, secondary benefits, etc. While appraising fodder tree production systems consider both the direct and indirect benefits. In many areas, tree fodders supply livestock with valuable nutrients and minerals. These substances can not be supplied by expensive feed concentrates which subsistence farmers can not afford. Under intensive management, small areas can produce large quantities of tree fodder enabling farmers to increase livestock production, diversify farm yields, and respond flexibly to farming costs and market prices. Fodder tree branches replace dung-cakes as a fuel source, enabling farmers to use dung as fertilizer to improve soil fertility and structure. Timber harvested from mature fodder trees is used by the farmer or sold in local markets. Placing a monetary value on many of these benefits may be difficult. Working together, programs and farmer-clients must determine the economic value of their fodder production systems and all alternative landuses systems. Those systems which best serve the clients should be promoted.


As a first step to solve problems associated with the introduction of fodder trees, and also to gain exposure to new ideas, it is helpful to maintain contact with people working on similar subjects. This can be accomplished by participating in agroforestry networks which publish newsletters, other types of periodicals and handbooks. Three such organizations are listed below. In some areas, local or regional organizations may serve a similar purpose.

Forest, Farm, and Community Tree Network (FACT Net), c/o Winrock International, 38 Winrock Drive, Morrilton, AR 72110 USA.

International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), PO Box 30677, Nairobi, KENYA.

Forest, Trees and People. Community Forestry and Planning Division, Forestry Department, FAO, Via delle Terme di Caracella, I-00100 Rome, ITALY.