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Constraints on livestock production

September 24, 2007

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.

Financial and asset barriers prevent small farmers from intensifying their production because the investment required often exceeds their capital wealth.

The absence of innovative forms of targeted small to medium-scale credit is restricting the involvement of poor in the commercialisation of livestock production and product processing. Production costs are usually higher in small-scale enterprises, outweighing any cost advantages from the discounted value of family labour. In addition, the public sector has thus far not acted to adapt or disseminate new technologies for small-scale use. The absence of policies and institutions that enable small production units to benefit from the cost advantages of large-scale production skews the playing field further. Furthermore, diseases can substantially add to increased production costs. Various types of diseases have different effects on production systems and their capacity to step up production. From a production viewpoint, helminthosis and tick-borne diseases are particularly important. Helminths (worms), although rarely fatal, can seriously affect productivity and profitability.

Transaction costs can be prohibitively high for small-scale producers because of the small quantities of marketable product produced, and the absence of adequate physical and market infrastructures in more remote areas.

Transaction costs are also increased where producers lack negotiating power or access to market information and remain dependent on middlemen.

Moreover, the lack of facilitation for the formation of producers’ associations, or other partnership arrangements, makes it more difficult for smallholder producers to reduce transaction costs through economies of scale.

Market risks include price fluctuations for both inputs and products and are often associated with a weak negotiating position.

Many small-scale producers evolved from subsistence farming with sound risk coping mechanisms, but lack the assets or strategies to sustain full exposure to market risks. The absence of safety nets in the face of economic shocks, invariably present in such markets, will restrict the full participation of the poor.

Production risks relate to resource degradation and asset control, to climatic variations such as drought and floods, and to infectious diseases. Although both small-scale and intensive livestock production systems are at risk from the predations of epidemic diseases and droughts, the poor are particularly vulnerable to these types of shocks due to their limited assets.

Food safety also concerns the issue of biological and chemical contaminants. Aflatoxins, for example, are of major importance in humid and warm environments. Basic food quality-control systems have evolved into quality-assurance systems, which in turn have grown into Total Quality Management (TQM) systems.

The emergence of supermarkets reflects a structural change in the way that meat, dairy products and eggs are collected, inspected, processed, packaged and supplied to consumers.

It is a change that has deep impacts on livestock producers, particularly in determining who can and who cannot participate in the mainstream supply chains.

A segmentation of markets can be observed, between the rapidly growing formal and the stagnating or declining informal supply chains, and between the ‘wet’ markets for fresh meat and the supermarket outlets of processed, frozen, packaged and branded meat.

The relative significance of each market segment is tied to the level of economic development.

It is closely linked to the purchasing power of households and individuals, their demand for leisure, their preferences with respect to the form and texture of meat upon purchase, and the relative value they give to notions of food that are considered ‘safe’.

There is a real danger that large-scale intensive producers could undermine the viability of small-scale livestock production, thereby exacerbating rural poverty. Whether or not this happens will depend on two factors.

One is government policies, and how supportive they are of small scale production. The other is the extent to which small-scale producers are able to increase the efficiency of their operations and the productivity of their animals. This in turn will depend partly on the efficacy of research and extension systems in supporting them.

Intensification also draws on technical improvements in livestock production, such as genetics, health and farm management, which have contributed to raising resource use efficiency and higher output per animal. Such biological and technical advances must be adapted to local conditions if they are to be profitably introduced.

These advances are supported by increasing use of external services and by the specialisation of production, with a substantial shift from backyard and mixed systems to commercial, specialised, single-product operations.

Driven by growing demand and market opportunities, and supported by technological change, the distribution of production is no longer determined by the agro-ecological potential of a given location but by a variety of interacting factors.

Livestock products are among the most perishable products, and their conservation without chilling or processing poses serious problems.

Therefore, food items from livestock have to be produced in the vicinity of demand – with concomitant human health and environmental problems stemming from the rapid urbanisation of both humans and animals in the same places.

Dr. Alamdar Hussain Malik is working as Secretary/Registrar, Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council.