LIVESTOCK sector has played a significant role in national economy and rural social system over the years by providing quality food and export earnings. At present, this sector accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the national GDP.
In recent years, net foreign exchange earnings from livestock sector were nearly Rs51 billion, which accounted 11 per cent of the overall export earnings.
Nearly six million rural families are also totally or partially relying upon this sector for their livelihood. Also the rising human population, urbanisation and per capita income serve as key stimulus for increased demand of livestock products.
However, the per animal production, income and social conditions of those who are raising the food animals are still poor. The export products derived from this sector can never be the primary ones like milk and meat. The live animals sold to different nations have been used by importers for genetic potential of our breeds to boost their own viable livestock production and export hubs.
And imported livestock breeds which, in most instances, was unrestricted (semen), has deteriorated our local livestock resources by spreading genetic lethalities. Except the poultry sector where we can import the seed stock every year and can raise those birds in environmentally controlled sheds to bridge the gap between animal protein demand and supply, there has been no worthwhile growth in livestock sector.
Milk and meat yield of our animals (buffaloes, cows, goat and sheep) is the same of what they are producing for us 59 years ago. The apparent overall increase in milk and meat production and growth in export earnings were the function of increased livestock population over the years.
No big national or international investment have been seen in dairy, beef, mutton or carpet wool production sub- sectors of livestock. Most of the livestock production system is still orthodox and rural subsistence oriented.
Research and extension of livestock production, products processing, and marketing is imperative to make this sector economically viable for farmers and investors.
We have failed to develop four agriculture universities and one animal science university in the country. These institutions are engaged to train manpower for the development of livestock sector. There are a number of provincial livestock research and extension stations- also seven semen production units. A federal agricultural research and development organisation is operating in all the provinces. We also have nuclear food agriculture research institutes equipped with high-tech scientific tools and trained manpower. A number of national laboratories are also being operated to support scientific research in livestock sector.
Unfortunately, we are not producing under-graduates in animal production science who can develop this sector. We have very limited number of highly trained graduates in animal production and livestock product processing practices.
Most of the highly trained scientific manpower (PhDs) are confined to their universities and only few are working in research and extension institutes. Livestock extension departments exit but on most occasions are being operated only for animal health cover. There is a little scientific coordination among various research organisations and agencies working to improve food animal’s productivity. Livestock production technologies developed at home do not reach the farmers because of poor extension services.
The future strategy to change rural subsistence livestock sector to market-oriented livestock industry must be focused to improve per animal milk, meat and wool yield. Improvement in per animal productivity will not only improve the socio-economic condition of the farmers but will go a long way to attract local and foreign investment, to assure food security and definitely provide us with more chances to earn foreign exchange.
To improve animal’s capacity to produce more, both basic and applied research is needed with clear objectives and within defined framework of national interest in the areas of animal nutrition and feeding management, animal breeding, farming system, grassland management, products processing technology and livestock marketing.
In animal nutrition we have not yet established how much nutrients our animals needs to express their full genetic potential of growth, milk and meet production.
No effort has been made to date to develop feeding standards of buffaloes, cattle, sheep and goat. We cannot recommend precisely to a farmer or investor what he has to feed his cow to produce cost-effective milk and meat. Some progress has been made in feed evaluation and to improve usage of abundantly available cheap crop residues in ruminants diets however that is not enough to trigger production boost in food animals.
It is essential to asses precisely nutrients needs for growth, reproduction, milk, beef and mutton production of our local breeds. One must look beyond crop residues and molasses to improve ruminant productivity through the development and use of advance animal nutrition tools like fermentation modifiers, feed fortification and physiological modifiers.
Animal nutrition research must be diverted from orthodox experimentation of feed evaluation to animal feed products development that will not only improve animal performance and reduce our reliance on foreign nations to import vitamins, enzymes, hormones, minerals, yeast and other feed fortifiers but also provide us an opportunity to export such bio-chemicals to earn substantial amount of foreign exchange.
An integrated approach and efforts by biochemists, nutritionists and chemist will be helpful to achieve such targets. Feeding and bunk management and feeding behaviour research can also provide a practical way to improve feed utilisation and to enhance animal performance.
The development of automatic feeders and feeding management software could reduce the cost of milk and meat production. Precise assessment of nutritional deficiencies at different physiological stages and under various climatic and geographical conditions in animals could substantially reduce the morbidity and mortality losses. The fodder preservation (silage) techniques have been developed recently for year around supply of fodder. However our farmers are still relying upon cut and carry system.
According to the recent estimates of ministry of food, agriculture and livestock, Pakistan owns a wealth of 24.2, 26.2, 24.9 and 56.6 million heads of cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat respectively. These animals belong to various breeds but none of those has been scientifically selected and bred on mass-scale to produce genetically superior dairy, beef, mutton or wool breeds.
Recent reports on genetic capabilities of our breeds have shown no positive genetic improvement and even genetic deterioration among our stocks have been reported over the years. No progress can be made in per animal productivity or any kind of investment, progress or growth in livestock production and processing industry unless national projects with clear objectives on breeding to produce animals with high genetic potential for commercial milk, meat and wool are started.
Hysterical and lethal import of semen and its indiscriminate usage has deteriorated our breeds and most of them are now endangered. Investor needs income and genetic potential of livestock is the key to income. We can confidently suggest to an investor that a broiler could gain a 1.5 kilogram weight by eating three kilogram feed within 42 days because of genetic merit of that imported bird.
However, we can’t convince an investor to invest for dairy, beef, mutton, and wool production in such a manner because the genetic characters in our animals are not fixed by breeding and thus their response is poor and widely variable.
To improve the yield of per animal there is dire need to start national progeny testing schemes on mass-scale by involving animal breeding and genetics experts. Molecular genetics and marker assisted selection tools can also speed up this process.
Pakistan is world’s fifth largest milk economy. However, most of the milk is being used in raw form. A little or no research has been conducted to develop milk collection, transportation, and processing techniques which could be practically used by the farmers and industry.
Most of the milk is still being collected and processed by a long chain of milk collectors in an unhygienic way. These middlemen are taking advantage to earn handsome amount of money due to farmer’s inability to store, process and market liquid milk.
Only few graduates in dairy technology have been produced and majority of those are working in private sector. Our academic institutions are absolutely meagre in highly trained manpower in dairy chemistry and dairy technology principles of science. We must initiate research projects with a clear focus according to local needs and international marketing requirements to develop milk storage facilities at farm level, its transportation strategies, and probable distribution networks.
Live animals and livestock products marketing and distribution networks are conventional with much benefit to the middleman and processor rather than to producer. No precise statistics are available and very limited research, only by international agencies, has been conducted on marketing and distribution networks of live animal and livestock commodities.
Livestock economics, resource management and marketing has always been taught in academic institutions as minor subjects and as a result, a very limited number of trained work force is available in these disciplines.
A national research initiative is required to generate data bank on the existing production cost of milk and meat under various geographical and production conditions, and marketing networks to devise a policy to improve economic returns to the farmers.