Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (9) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Adoption of urea treatment of maize stover technology for dry season supplementation of cattle in Wedza, Zimbabwe

C P Mudzengi, L M Taderera, A Tigere, C S Kapembeza, S Moyana, M Zimondi, E T Derembwe and E Dahwa1

Department of Research and Specialist Services, Grasslands Research Institute, P Bag 3701, Marondera, Zimbabwe
1Department of Research and Specialist Services, Makoholi Research Institute, P Bag 9182, Masvingo, Zimbabwe


Urea treatment of maize stover is a feed technology developed to improve the nutritive value of high fibrous crop residues for the efficient utilization of available feed resources. In 2000, Grasslands Research Institute introduced the technology to some farmers in Wedza District, Zimbabwe. This survey, in the form of a structured questionnaire with both closed and open-ended questions was carried out to explore and explain the factors affecting adoption of this technology in Wedza.


Results obtained from the thirty three respondents stratified into trained and untrained groups show that only 20 % of untrained farmers adopted the technology while only 38.8 % of previously trained farmers continued using the technology since 2000. High labour requirements of preparing the stover (78.8 %), lack of monitoring by extension services (87.9 %) and inaccessibility of urea fertiliser (72.7 %) were the main factors to which non-adoption and discontinuance were attributed. Other factors included age, gender and level of education of the respondents. Technological interventions should therefore be simple and practical, with locally available inputs. Extension services should also increase to enhance accuracy of implementation, hence adoption of technologies.  

Key words: adoption, feed technology, non-adoption


In Zimbabwe, livestock production is important in rural livelihoods as a source of meat, milk, draught power and manure. Rangelands provide the basic feed resource for livestock, yet during the dry season (April to November) both the quantity and quality of the range deteriorate, adversely affecting ruminant livestock growth and reproduction. Fermentable energy and protein deficiencies in crop residues coupled with their low digestibility impair intake, ruminal functions, and thus animal productivity (Jabbah et al 2009). Feed accounts for 60 - 80 % of total costs of livestock production. Supplementary feed is thus expensive for resource poor farmers. Providing animals with readily available, cost-effective protein supplements increases intake of the low quality forages, subsequently enhancing productivity. Therefore, any interventions that provide protein during the dry period are strategic in alleviation of the problem of poor quality forages.


Agricultural technologies are a resource to increase agricultural production, hence ensure food security and improve rural livelihoods. Adopting improved groundnut varieties (technology) significantly increases crop income and reduces poverty through improved household income (Kassie et al 2011). Likewise, conservation agriculture is claimed to be a panacea for the problems of poor agricultural productivity and soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa (Giller et al 2009). Urea treatment of stover feed technologies have been developed to improve the nutritive value of high fibrous crop residues for the efficient utilization of available feed resources (Sinha et al 2011). However, limitations such as the high cost of chemicals and environmental pollution in using sodium hydroxide (Dass and Kundu 1994), and non-availability and challenges of transportation of ammonia gas in using anhydrous ammonia (Yadav and Yadav 1989) have affected adoption of these innovations. O’Donovan et al (1997) reported that the urea treatment process would be popular if it is simple, practical and the material to be used in the treatment is available on the farm. In this regard, fertilizer grade urea has been confirmed to be equivalent to anhydrous or aqueous ammonia for upgrading cereal straws in the warmer regions of the world (Jabbah et al 2009; Sarwar et al 2006). According to Smith (2000), it is usually available as a product (ammonium nitrate) with which farmers are familiar, it improves the nitrogen status of the residue, it is relatively safe and easy to use, it is easy to transport, if necessary in small quantities, and in addition to being environment friendly, there are no recorded social or cultural reasons prohibiting its use. Therefore, since the technology seems technically sound, economically beneficial and socially acceptable, it is expected to have a high probability of being adopted.


There are, however, many other factors that influence the rate and level of adoption of technologies. They include implementation costs and expected benefits, individual farmer’s objectives and general perceptions and demographic characteristics (Giller et al 2011; Oladele 2005; van de Ban and Hawkin 1988). Thus farmers can be grouped into early, medium and late adopters (Lapple et al 2011). In 2000, Grasslands Research Institute (GARI) carried on farm trials using urea-treated maize stover (fertiliser urea) as a dry season supplement for cattle grazing natural pastures in Wedza District of Zimbabwe. There were increases in feed intake and live weight gains of indigenous cattle grazing natural pastures and fed urea treated maize stover for 70 days (Tigere et al unpublished results). These results are similar to the findings of Dejene et al (2009) who observed improved roughage intake, milk yield and body condition of cows fed urea treated teff straw during the dry season. Mesfin and Kedebe (2011) also reported improved milk production and reproductive performance of crossbred dairy cows fed urea-molasses barley straw. The main objective of this study therefore, is to explore the level of adoption of urea treated maize stover, and explain the factors affecting its adoption as a technology to improve livestock production.

Materials and methods

A survey using a structured questionnaire with both closed and open ended questions of thirty three households, and comprising farmers previously trained and untrained in urea treated of maize stover was conducted in Wedza District, Zimbabwe. Wedza is located in Mashonaland East Province, about 120 km southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe. A multi stage random sampling procedure was used to select the households from Chamatendere and Madzimbahwe wards. The wards were selected based on the practice of livestock production, as well as earlier training on urea treatment of maize stover. In both wards, intensive mixed crop-livestock system is practiced. Livestock production is an important source of income, manure and draught power for farmers. Cattle fattening has been ongoing since the 1950s when the Wedza Feeders Association was formed. Dairying is also supported through the Wedza Dairy Association. The major crop grown is maize, while the others include sorghum, sweep potatoes, velvet bean and groundnuts. Crop residues and fodder crops are sources of livestock feeds.


The trained farmers had participated in on farm trials using cereal-legume silages and urea-treated maize stover as dry season supplements for cattle grazing natural pastures carried out in 2000 by GARI. These farmers grew inter-crops of either maize and velvet bean, or sorghum and velvet bean as part of a biological nitrogen fixation study. Silages using the inter-crop forages as well as urea treatment of maize stover were then introduced as feeding interventions in improving livestock production. The farmers were stratified into two groups, trained and untrained. The trained farmers were identified from a list of participants in the on farm demonstrations by the extension workers from the Department of Livestock Production and Development, and confirmed by the farmers themselves. The data collected in this study included socio-demographic characteristics (age, gender, family size and educational background), livestock production characteristics and use of urea treated stover. The data was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS, version 16) for Windows.

Results and discussion



Table 1 below summarises age distribution of the respondents.

Table 1: Age distribution of respondents


Percentage (%)







Rao and Rao (1996) found a positive and significant association between age, training received, socio-economic status, and adoption of technologies. In this study, the 36 – 60 year age group had more adopters than other groups. This could be attributed to the fact that this group constituted the active, previously trained livestock keepers unlike the 25 – 35 age group. While the positive association on age and adoption indicates that the older the household head, the greater the chances of adopting the improved technology (Mignouna et al (2011), in this study adoption by the elderly > 60 years age group was affected by unavailability of labour to carry out preparation of urea treatment of stover. Respondents with family sizes between 5 and 10 adopted the technologies more than those with less. These results are similar to the findings of Arene (1994) and Mignouna et al (2011) who reported a positive and significant relationship between family size and adoption of technologies. Household size is a proxy to labour availability, hence the larger the family size, the more the probability of adopting a given agricultural technology.


Gender participation is illustrated in Figure 1 below. Mapiye et al (2006) reported that > 60 % of households in smallholder areas are male headed, as was the case in this study. Since men are the primary decision makers, adoption of urea treatment of stover would be expected to be high in male dominated households. However, adoption in the present study was as low as in the assessment of adoption of imazapyr-resistant maize technologies in which Mignouna et al (2011) reported a high number of males in non-adopter households. Socio-cultural beliefs and norms bestow more access and power over fundamental production resources to men than women, but the actual roles and expectations of women leave them more responsible for implementation of activities.

Figure 1. Sex of the respondents

The higher the level of education of a household head, the more the ability to obtain, process, and use information relevant to the adoption of technologies (Mignouna et al 2011, Goswami and Sagar 1994). The majority of household heads in the families of the respondents in this study had attained Ordinary Level education, while 60 % had received some agricultural training ranging from master farmer certificates to diplomas.  Agbamu (1993) found knowledge of a practice to be significantly related to its adoption. Therefore, training is an important factor for adoption of technologies. Of the interviewed farmers, 39.4 % had received formal training on urea treatment of maize stover from GARI. The remaining 60.6 %, had acquired knowledge of the technology through private oral transmission, and enquiries from the trained farmers after observing the positive results the technology had on livestock productivity. The danger of such an informal method of training, however, is that its effectiveness level is not known; hence the farmers could not explicitly describe the process of making urea treated maize stover during the survey. However, despite the training, only 38.4 % of the trained farmers continued using urea treatment of stover. These were arguably progressive farmers who believed in science and technology. Unlike those who did not continue with the technology, they comprised the group that had better agricultural training and level of education, hence could easily follow instructions in preparation. They also belonged to a local dairy association, Wedza Dairy Association, thus they had an increased social capital allowing exchange of information.


Challenges in livestock production


Figure 2 shows the livestock production challenges cited by respondents in this study.

Figure 2. Livestock production challenges in Wedza District, Zimbabwe

All farmers interviewed supplemented their animals especially during the dry season with crop residues or conventional feeds from local feed manufacturing companies. Cost of conventional feeds and competition for crop residues as manure and in livestock feeding were cited as some of the problems by the respondents. The factors that farmers usually consider in deciding change of practices or adoption of new technologies include relative advantage, visible results, and relevance to constraints / problems faced by livestock owners (Rao et al 1995). Additionally, communities are composed of different groups of people; hence diffusion of innovation will take place only within groups of people who are homogenous in terms of problems, aspirations and needs (Valera et al 1987).


All respondents practised both livestock and crop production, and they confirmed that there was a general decrease in livestock numbers from 2000 to 2013 in Wedza due to the factors in Figure 2. Therefore, use of urea treated maize stovers would be an appropriate alternative to address the major challenge of feed shortages in this study as 97 % of the respondents using the technology recorded an increase in feed intake, hence improvements in milk production (93.9 %), and live weight gains (87.8 %). All the farmers and extension workers interviewed perceived urea treatment of stover as a good technology that increases livestock productivity. Ngoc Chi and Yamada (2002) also found that farmers appreciated technologies because of good efficiency in terms of high yield, less pest, and more benefit. Additionally, O`Donovan et al (1997) reported that the urea treatment process would be popular if it is simple, practical and the material to be used in the treatment is available on the farm. Given that all farmers were into maize production, and had stover for feeding, adoption of urea treatment of stover would therefore be a positive investment.  On the contrary, results from this study show that only 20.0 % of the untrained farmers adopted the technology while only 38.4 % of the trained farmers continued using the technology. 


Major factors affecting adoption of urea treatment of stover


Figure 3 summarises the factors identified as major in adoption of urea treatment of stover. In similar studies, Oladele (2005) found that lack of input required for the implementation of a technology package may lead to the rejection of such innovation. In this study, it was easier for farmers with own transport, or members of the Wedza Dairy Association to get the fertiliser through their cooperative, unlike other individual farmers. For the same reason of difficulties in accessing inputs by remote farmers, Syomiti (2011) reported treatment of dry maize stover with urea as a lowly adopted technology.

Figure 3. Major factors affecting adoption of urea treatment of stover

Jabbah et al (2005) also attributed this low rate of adoption to that urea treatment of stover is relatively tedious, with high requirement of labour. Adopting a new technology often implies a need for additional labour; hence labour availability is frequently associated with successful adoption (Morris and Doss 1999). Farmers who hired labour in this study eventually discontinued use of urea treated maize stover due to high labour costs. There is therefore need for the method of treatment to be simplified, with minimum involvement of labour (O’Donovan et al 1997).


The biophysical environment influences adoption of technologies. The conditions of the farm include its location, availability of resources and other facilities such as roads, markets, transportation and electricity and other physical characteristics of the environment in which the technology takes place (Ngoc Chi and Yamada 2002; Morris and Doss 1999). Although both milk and beef production increased due to feeding urea treated maize stover, marketing of the products was done locally due to lack of transport to deliver the products to bigger towns such as Marondera. Of the dairy producers, milk was sold either to the Wedza Dairy Association (42.4 %), or locally (69.7 %). Non-members or remote farmers had difficulties in selling their milk, and use of the technology therefore became uneconomical. Beef producers also faced the same challenge as fair cattle auctions were remote, attracting high transportation costs of cattle. Local butcheries, abattoirs and middlemen offer low prices. 


Extension services are important in reinforcing a technology, and enhancing accuracy of implementation. Some of the reasons cited for discontinuation of urea treatment of stover included uncertainty in preparations of the stover, especially since urea fertiliser is poisonous, and consumption of improperly prepared stover can lead to mortalities. Extension visits are a channel through which farmers can express their reaction on the innovation they would have adopted. Therefore, extension workers should have such personal characteristics as good relationship with farmers, resourcefulness, ability to communicate with farmers, persuasiveness, and development orientation (Ngoc Chi and Yamada 2002). Only 12.1 % of the trained farmers had had follow up from extension workers, yet the number of extension visits received by the farmer is positively correlated with the probability of adoption (Morris and Doss 1999). Therefore, lack of monitoring and evaluation of the training by extension contributed to abandonment of urea treatment of maize stover in this study.  



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Received 3 January 2013; Accepted 11 August 2014; Published 5 September 2014

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