Production of Tropical Legume Pellets
Production of Tropical Legume Pellets

General Objective:  Develop and market the technology for producing leaf pellets of tropical legumes for animal feed

Specific Objectives:

•         Select the most appropriate legume for this purpose, and construct a pilot plant to maximise quality and efficiency

•         Validate the technology to determine the potential market for the product

•         Develop a franchise system to multiply the use of the technology in different regions

•         Technical training of employees 


Most animals in Costa Rica are fed with concentrate produced from maize, wheat and soybean imported from the USA. The prices of these commodities are continually increasing, and the production of such grain products to feed animals creates competition and therefore causes price increases in human foods. Also, meat and milk produced by animals fed on grain contain less conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is very important in protecting the heart against disease  ( Pasture fed animals produce up to five times more CLA.

Animals, especially ruminants, can digest fibre and use forage as a source of energy and protein, and do not need high proportions of grain in their diet.

However, in spite of the fact that new improved varieties of tropical grass and legume plants have been developed, in many cases they are not being used efficiently, and farmers supplement their animals with concentrate in order to obtain maximum weight gain or milk production. Consequently Costa Rican milk and meat producers cannot compete with International prices.

Tropical forage legumes can produce ten times more protein per hectare per year than soybean (i.e. 15-30TM dry matter/ha/year, with 15-30% protein, equivalent to 2-9TM of protein per hectare/year, whereas soybeans produce 2-3 TM/ha/year with 40% protein, giving about 1.2 TM of protein/hectare/year). Therefore, if we can develop the technology to produce, dry and compress this material, we can help local cattlemen to become more competitive. This will also have important consequences for the protection of the environment, because it will be possible to decrease the areas sown with soybeans, and the price of milk and meat to feed the growing world population will be ameliorated.

Instead of importing animal feed, Costa Rica could become a net exporter. An additional advantage is that the legume can be plated between rows of trees, which provides an agro-forestry system which produces an immediate income for the farmer, therefore providing both ecological and economic sustainability 

Fudesemillas has studied different legumes for this purpose, and selected Stylosanthes guianensis which show good adaptation to local soils and the agro-industrial process. It occurs naturally in Central and South America. The varieties we are planting have been selected for anthracnose resistance, and high rates of nitrogen fixation in research projects carried out in Colombia, Australia and other countries over a century.

The industrial process for the production of pellets is relatively simple, but requires that the machinery be adapted for each type of legume, which therefore needs a large initial investment. In our agro-industrial plant in Santa Juana we have installed a pilot plant and are in the process of installing large scale machinery which will permit us to process larger quantities of material, in order to obtain economy of scale and reduce costs.

The pellets are palatable for different types of animals. Laboratory results show a minimum of 15% protein, 30% crude fibre, 40% acid detergent fibre, 50% neutral detergent fibre, 2200 Kcal metabolisable energy/kg, 0,25% P, 1% Ca, 2% ether extract. We are adjusting the industrial process to maximise quality of the pellets.


The material will be bought from the farmers at a price which will be calculated according to production costs. Our projections indicate that this activity will be more profitable than sugar cane production. Also, production begins at 8 weeks after planting, whereas sugar cane takes 14 months, so the initial investment is recuperated more quickly.



If we can increase our area of production from 35 to 225 hectares, and process it with the new machinery, we could supply the local market with this feed, but the total quantities necessary for the whole country would be enormous. Therefore in the medium term we will need to set up a franchise system, so that the feed can be produced in different regions of the country and also outside the country, where interest is already being expressed. The technology could be important for application in Africa where improving availability of proteinaceous animal feeds is one of the greatest needs.