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Trichanthera as alternative feed for small ruminants

Trichanthera as alternative feed for small ruminants

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by Curlan Campbell

  • Trichanthera gigantea is alternative cost-effective feed for small ruminant
  • Tolerant to drought-like conditions
  • St Mark’s Progressive Farmers Association received plants

The Climate Smart Agriculture and Rural Enterprise Programme (SAEP) introduced a simple but effective climate smart technique to rural farmers in St Mark.

Through the planting of Trichanthera gigantea, farmers are expected to yield tremendous benefits. The plant can only be used as alternative cost-effective feed for small ruminant production, and will enrich the soil while preventing soil erosion.

Native to the Andean foothills of Colombia, South America, Trichanthera gigantea, a tree of the Acanthaceae family can also be found in swampy areas from Costa Rica to northern South America, and in wet forests from Central America, Peru and the Amazon basin. It grows up to 5 m tall with a rounded crown. Leaves are oval 26 cm long x 14cm wide, narrowing at both ends.

In the past, forage was considered an essential component of the feed for ruminant production, but the development of industrial indoor grain-fed production has led to the abandonment of forage in the diets. However, with its reintroduction, SAEP hopes to inspire a new approach to farming that is cost effective for farmers and beneficial for the environment.

The SAEP organisation is funded through the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD). It has outlined its overarching goal of improving the livelihoods of rural farmers through the teaching of climate-smart practices, skills training and investments in agriculture.

As part of their mandate, one of the beneficiaries was the St Mark’s Progressive Farmers Organisation. As part of activities to empower rural farmers, members of SAEP on Monday, 15 November 2021, travelled to Bocage in St Mark. They provided information to farmers on the numerous benefits of planting Trichanthera gigantea in their fields and gave a practical demonstration on how they should plant, care for and harvest properly. SAEP also aided farmers in the replanting of several Trichanthera gigantea trees that were gifted under the plot project.

The St Mark’s Progressive Farmers Organisation was established in 1997. A plot of land acquired over 25 years ago from the Government of Grenada, is currently used to cultivate several crops including ground provisions, vegetables, bananas and corn.

The organisation’s President George Holder, and the other members of the were extremely grateful for the assistance. “It costs around $500 per month for feed… and medication. Based on the cost that will help us tremendously. It will help us cut costs because as you know finance is quite hard. I applaud the fact that we got the plants and it will help us to feed our animals and it is nutritious to the animals and that is a good step in the right direction.”

SAEP Field Extension Assistant Lydona Mark indicated that for farmers who practice mono-cropping, it is recommended that they plant Trichanthera gigantea 3.5 feet apart within and between rows. For farmers practicing intercropping, it is recommended that the trees be planted 6.7 feet apart within and between rows.

Mark added that the trees can also help prevent erosion especially for farmers located alongside river banks. “Once he (farmer) has Trichanthera, he can cut and carry to his animals and feed them. Also the project came about because the farmer has issues with soil erosion and one of the uses of Trichanthera gigantea, is for fodder bank system, so once these are planted along the banks, it will prevent soil erosion.”

Mark stated that the nature of Trichanthera gigantea to grow and adapt to acidic, infertile soil with a PH of 4.5, makes it quite versatile. It can grow in well-drained loamy to clayey soils and are tolerant to drought-like conditions.

She provided some tips that farmers should be aware of when caring for trichanthera plants. “Some of the practices are making sure that they irrigate on time, continue to mulch because the surrounding mulch will improve the soil structure and fertility as well. So we might expand once the farmer is interested. We can provide help to develop new plots along the way together with providing extension services and support.”

Kenly Edwards, CSA Coordinator at SAEP, said this community awareness project is just the first step. “The idea is to bring awareness of the climate change challenges and issues that we are confronted with and what are some of the climate mitigation and adaptation practices that we can implement. We will have further practical demonstrations in 2022 where we are hoping to have more farmers to be involved on another farm.”

The first modern documentation of the plant was done by Spanish botanist José Celestino Mutis in 1779. It was later given the name Trichanthera gigantea in the 18th century by German botanist Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck.

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