More than the 70% of the total area of agricultural land in developing countries is used for livestock feeding. Worldwide, there are 3.4 billion hectares of grazing land, representing more than a quarter of world land use. Research shows that there is an increasing demand for livestock products. Thus, the need for information on forages for specific climates, soil types, farming systems, and animals is enormously important to mitigate feed shortages and improve natural resource management.
With this in mind, we would like to highlight the most popular tool accessed through CIAT’s website – one that has been chugging along since 2005 with little fanfare, yet receiving approximately 25,000 visitors monthly. Visitors come from universities, development agencies, seed companies, and farms, in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Colombia, and elsewhere. It is open access and easy to use, providing detailed information on about 170 major forage species and the environments they are adapted to.
Tropical Forages: an Interactive Selection Tool, or “SoFT” (Selection of Forages for the Tropics) as it is often called, was developed in response to a problem: some of the best minds in tropical forages research wanted to retire.
- The forages community worried that decades of tacit knowledge would be lost.
- In 2000, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFQ), CIAT and ILRI, received funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Germany’s BMZ, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to tackle this problem.
- Between 2000 and 2004, more than fifty forage experts, with widespread knowledge and experience in tropical and sub-tropical forages, were brought together at workshops in Thailand, Australia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, and Vietnam to hammer out selection criteria of accumulated knowledge, and compile both formal research and grey literature in factsheets.
- This effort resulted in the SoFT tool, available both online and via CD-Rom (available in four languages).
- SoFT enables users to identify forage species suitable for specific climates, soils, and farming systems such as cut and carry, agroforestry, erosion control, beef, and dairy. Users can also view images of the plants and their use, search a database of scientific references with abstracts, and consult a glossary of botanical and management terms.
SoFT may also be accessed through the Tropical Grasslands-Forrajes Tropicales website. Tropical Grasslands-Forrajes Tropicales is a peer-reviewed, Open Access journal published by CIAT.