ANIMAL agriculture systems have been categorised on the basis of agro-ecological opportunities and demand for livestock commodities. In general, these systems are shaped by prevailing socio-cultural environments. In many of these systems, the livestock element is interwoven with crop production.
Animal manure is essential for maintaining soil fertility, and the role of animals in nutrient cycling is often an important motivation for keeping animals, particularly where this involves a transfer of nutrients from common property resources to private land.
Many of these systems that are the result of a long evolution are currently under pressure to adjust to rapidly evolving socio-economic conditions; large intensive livestock production units, in particular for poultry production, have emerged over the last decades in response to the rapidly growing demand for livestock products.
Rapidly increasing demand for animal-source food products exerts pressure on the livestock sector, which needs to adapt fast in order to cope with such demand. These adjustments are based on a changing feed resource base, particularly feed concentrates.
Current and projected levels of livestock production would not be possible without the expanding production and yield increase of crop agriculture.
Traditionally, livestock production used to be based on locally available feed resources, including local fodder, crop residues and unconsumed parts of human food – resources that had no value as human food. Extension services in the country are characterised by five biases that result in them tending to neglect poor rural livestock-keepers.
First, many organisations follow a top-down ‘transfer of technology’ approach: they rely heavily on interactions with ‘progressive’ farmers, and assume that others will learn from the experiences of these farmers and will subsequently adopt the technology in question.
Second, most of the extension organisations focus on large ruminants “almost to the complete exclusion of other species”. Third, they also tend to focus primarily on intensive systems, and particularly on milk production, to the neglect of other roles of livestock.
Fourth, services are usually concentrated in higher potential areas. The provincial departments of livestock and dairy development tend to have higher densities of veterinary institutions and activity in areas where production is highest.
Fifth, livestock extension is generally provided by men for men, despite key roles that women play, particularly in goat-keeping and backyard poultry.
An international review of donor-supported livestock projects concluded that they have generally failed to benefit the poor. As poor generally consume only a very limited quantity of livestock projects, they need to be reached through improvements to production rather than via lower prices for livestock products.
This in turn means that donor support should particularly target the types of animals that the poor keep. In principle, the voice of poor livestock-keepers in policy discussions can be greatly strengthened through formation of producer groups, networks and donors.
There is also a need for better articulation of poor producers’ needs from service agencies, and reform of research and extension agencies to make them more client-led and poverty-focused.
There is a danger that livestock production and processing will become dominated by integrated large-scale commercial operations, displacing small-scale livestock farmers and thus exacerbating rural poverty. Conversely, correctly managed, a dynamic livestock sector could prove to be a catalyst for stimulating rural economies.
However, the livestock sector will not take on this role on its own, but requires proactive policies on behalf of the private and public sectors. The interests of the poor have not been well represented in policy processes, and strategic intervention is required to ensure that poor producers secure a greater share of the benefits from this expanding market.
Public sector livestock research tends to be of limited relevance to the realities and priorities of smallholder and landless livestock-keepers. Development interventions in the livestock sector have generally not been very successful. Undoubtedly, inappropriate technologies and the failure to deliver services to poor farmers have contributed greatly to the lack of success of many livestock development projects.
Livestock ownership currently supports and sustains the livelihoods of millions rural poor. These people fully or partially depend on livestock for income and/or subsistence. Livestock can provide a steady stream of food and revenues and help to raise whole farm productivity; livestock are often the only livelihood option available to the landless because they allow the exploitation of common-property resources for private gain.
In addition, at the smallholder-level, livestock are often the only means of asset accumulation and risk diversification that can prevent a slide into abject poverty by the rural poor in marginal areas.
Livestock ownership also tends to increase consumption of animal protein and micronutrients, and creates employment opportunities beyond the immediate household.
Increasing the supply of animal products can be achieved by increasing the number of animals and improving of productivity, and processing/marketing efficiency.
Land availability limits the expansion of livestock numbers in extensive production systems in most regions, and the bulk of the increase in livestock production will come from increased productivity through intensification and a wider adoption of existing and new production and marketing technologies.
Production at smallholder level is constrained by a number of barriers, lack of competitiveness and risk factors. The combined effect of these constraints is that much of the growth and poverty reduction potential that is offered by the livestock revolution cannot be capitalised upon.