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Lessons from field development of livestock projects with special reference to large ruminant production

by G.A. Smith

The livestock industries of Third World countries frequently underpin their agricultural production systems. Livestock production is often the main source of disposable income and realisable capital assets amongst smallholder and pastoralist communities and provides essential non-cash benefits including draught power and manure. Dairying in particular offers a reliable and regular source of income, especially for poorer rural households, disadvantaged social classes and women.

Despite this relative importance, investments in large ruminant development in both smallholder, livestock/crop farming systems and in pastoralist based systems have been perceived as only marginally satisfactory. The results of the World Bank lending programme for livestock development highlight this point. After a peak of US$340 million per year over the period 1974–79, World Bank lending for livestock development declined to US$240 million per year over the period 1980–85 and is now about US$100 million per year 1. The reduction in funding for rangeland based livestock production was even sharper than these figures would indicate with a corresponding rise in funds targeted at the smallholder livestock sector. Within this lending programme, cattle development accounted for two-thirds of funds committed between 1959 and 1983 and in 1985 2 represented about 50% of the livestock loan portfolio.

The perceived overall failure of livestock projects, and by implication, of large ruminant development, is not supported by results. The 1988 World Bank annual review of project evaluation results 3 showed the following outcome for the period 1974–1988.

Had this analysis taken into account the non-cash benefits from livestock production, which often account for 50% of output, livestock projects may well have been assessed much more favourably. In fact, the 1985 review of smallholder livestock projects 2 concluded that the performance of individual livestock projects in the World Bank portfolio was generally satisfactory in most regions of the world, excluding West Africa and East and Southern Africa. The conspicuous failure of several pre-eminent African livestock development projects in the last two decades has had a disproportionately negative impact on livestock development in general. Running counter to this experience is the growing evidence of linkages between improved livestock production and enhanced agricultural development, particularly in the smallholder sector. Increased crop production amongst India/NDDB and Ethiopian smallholder dairy farmers are two of the many examples of this linkage. It is imperative that the perception of failure that still surrounds livestock development be cast aside and substituted by a positive attitude that truly reflects the potential for livestock project implementation. Practical field experience can highlight both the pitfalls and opportunities for success.

1 Changing Trends in the World Bank's Lending Programme for Rangeland Development. C. de Haan, International Rangelands Symposium, Reno, 1990.

2 The Smallholder Dimensions of Livestock Development. A Review of Bank Experience, World Bank, 1985.

3 Annual Review of Evaluation Results, World Bank Report No. 8164, October 1989.

Distribution of Performance Evaluations for Agriculture and Rural Development Operations - Evaluated During 1974–1988

 SaUaS (%)
Area Development686155
Livestock4335 b55
Other c1744579

a S = Satisfactory; U = Unsatisfactory.
b 20 of the 35 unsatisfactory and only 7 of the satisfactory projects were inAfrica.
c Includes perennial crops, credit, fisheries, land settlement, research and extension, programme loan/credit and agricultural services projects.

With respect to field experience in the development of livestock production, there are innumerable factors which might affect the outcome of a production programme, many of which are country- or species-specific. This paper considers the following key areas of livestock project development.

Appropriate Technical Packages

Getting the technology right is essential to successful project implementation. There is growing evidence that if technological innovation makes sense to farmers then extension services, even enhanced, play a marginal role in speeding the process of dissemination 4. The frequent and ongoing failure of large ruminant breeding programmes is a classic example of inappropriate technology. The relationship between genetic merit, management inputs and productivity has been understood for years, yet Governments and planners continue to develop breed improvement projects with no conceived or agreed mechanism for capping exotic gene levels. A list of such examples would be almost endless and reflects a failure to interpret and transpose knowledge and research results from one production system to another.

4 Agriculture Extension in the 21st Century: Lessons from South Asia and the Winds of Change. C.H. Antholt, World Bank Internal Publication, May 1990.

Simple technologies which generate quick cash returns work best. Although that may appear to be a statement of the obvious, it is a principal that is rarely implemented. The common sense and practical experience required by project management and technical assistance to select and promote such technologies is an unfortunately rare commodity. Going a step further, livestock projects should focus on technologies that lead to spontaneous adoption. Leguminous tree based farming systems in the Philippines and Indonesia, the production of seed from leguminous fodder in Thailand and Ethiopia, the undersowing of crops with leguminous fodder in Ethiopia, and the transference of dairy/draft heifers under the Indonesian transmigration programme are examples of such spontaneous adoption of technology. Occasionally, the introduction of appropriate legislation has also resulted in positive spontaneous technology adoption. The restriction of hillside grazing as a resource protection measure has led to the large scale adoption of stall feeding and fodder production in Nigeria and Indonesia with subsidiary benefits in the emergence of a more productive herd structure and improved fertility transfer from animal to crop.

Research and pilot studies must clearly play a role in large ruminant project development but so must the “educated guess”, provided it does not place resource poor farmers in a position of undue risk. In my opinion, too much time is presently lost in retesting technology (often under inappropriate or artificial management conditions) which could equally be evaluated and refined within the development process. I would cite the development of integrated forage/livestock production systems in Thailand and Ethiopia as examples of where skilled intuition has resulted in the development process leading the research effort. It is in this context that the value of competent TA is brought to the fore; by understanding farmers' needs, production systems and the environment in which they exist, competent TA can and should short-circuit the development cycle and rapidly produce meaningful results on the ground. Success breeds success, and I am convinced that the positive, early results that frequently lead from such intuitive transference of technology helps capitalize on the high staff and farmer expectations, enthusiasm and receptiveness to change that prevails at project commencement and can do much to instill the confidence in the project team and its beneficiaries that is required to carry a project down the long road to successful achievement of goals.

To cite a specific example, I would regard sustainable forage production as the weakest in ruminant development in both rangeland and integrated crop/livestock production systems. Conventional approaches to fodder production must be re-examined. The traditional rangeland strategy of improving water supply in under-utilized range, while providing short term benefit, has tended to undermine traditional regulations of these resources, leading to exploitation in the longer term. In integrated crop/livestock production system, reliance is often placed on relatively expensive (per energy unit) and frequently subsidized agro-industrial byproducts to support incremental livestock production. Again, short term objectives are fulfilled, but with byproducts typically in limited supply such a strategy does not often support sustained livestock development.

Project management must focus on developing a sustainable forage base for incremental livestock production. Low input forage production systems, integrated where practicable into cropping cycles, efficient forage/feed utilization and assured forage seed supplies, are essential components of a sustainable forage base. Historically, project-based forage development programmes have tended to use a limited number of species and strategies, frequently in competition with crop production; forage production and utilization have been focused primarily on improved stock; little attention has been paid to the efficient utilization of either existing or incremental forage production; forage seed production is frequently overlooked, the quantities required being too small to interest commercial or State sector production units; and the results of forage production programmes are rarely monitored.

Forage development can be accelerated by more innovative project management. Forage production strategies can be cheaply and easily tested on farmed and non-farmed areas; identifying those production opportunities requires a more informed, intuitive transfer of experience and technology between production systems. High input forage production (fertilizer, irrigation, etc.) may provide economically viable returns for intensive livestock production systems (e.g. dairying). However, the real need of the Third World livestock sector is typically a reliable dry season protein supply. Low cost legume production, exploiting every possible production niche, bypass protein and nitrogen treated crop residues are as yet largely unutilized strategies that can significantly increase productivity and reduce morbidity and mortality, particularly of immature stock. Limited seed availability frequently constrains forage development; again, a more flexible approach to production is required. Forage seed production should be developed as a pre-project activity and be focused on smallholder based, “truthfully labelled” forage seed production under contract. This approach effectively bridges the gap in seed supply between the initial promotion of new forage techniques and their eventual commercialization. On the latter point, it is worth noting the success of the Ethiopian Fourth Livestock Development Project, where smallholder based leguminous forage seed production has lifted seed availability from 2 tons per annum in 1987 to 80 tons in 1989–90 and a projected 200 tons in 1990–91. This project also amply demonstrates the opportunities that exist within smallholder production systems to exploit low cost forage production niches within crop production systems and on communally managed lands.

Risk Management

Investment in large ruminant production systems in the Third World, particularly by resource poor smallholder farmers, is inherently risk prone. Many smallholder livestock management decisions are based on a risk-minimisation strategy, yet livestock development projects frequently expose farmers to risk without reasonable protection or provide protection in the form of subsidies that inhibit the development of sustainable production systems. Risk can and must be minimised through normal commercial interventions. Sensible credit management with realistic appraisal and subsequent repayment schedules and the appropriate use of principal repayment moratoriums during the initial production period can greatly reduce risk. Commercial insurance is another very effective and greatly under-utilized mechanism of improving, at reasonable cost, farmer confidence to invest in large ruminant production.

Similarly, reliable and preferably commercialised animal health services, particularly in the form of assured vaccination and drug supply, help abate smallholder risk. Sound market information, reliable production technologies and assured feed supplies, preferably generated from resources within the farmers' control, also instil investment confidence.

Incentive Framework

Large ruminant development projects will not succeed without an appropriate incentive framework. Market regulation and subsidized livestock product importation have seriously eroded the effectiveness of numerous livestock projects. The failure to develop a sustainable dairy industry in several African countries is inexorably linked to subsidized importation of milk products. Subsidized grain production in West Africa has resulted in marginal crop production in good rangeland areas, thereby both displacing ruminant production and reducing livestock producer incentives to invest in fodder. As noted by de Haan 1. In many countries, livestock producer prices have been artificially depressed under a policy ensuring cheap urban livestock product supplies, while on the other hand inputs including health care, water and fodder are often provided free of charge, thereby displacing the livestock producer from the cash economy, decreasing the incentives to sell surplus stock and undermining the financial viability and sustainability of supporting services.

The importance of an adequate incentive framework to the successful implementation of large ruminant production programmes is illustrated by the case of China. Since the lifting of major policy restrictions (private livestock ownership, land tenure, price control) in 1979, beef production over the period 1979–1988 rose by 12.2% per annum and milk production by 15.4% per annum. The average annual growth in livestock production over the same period has been 9.3%, far higher than the 3.7% achieved for the period 1952–1970 and 2.1% from 1971–1978. Project implementors can and should influence the policy environment within which they operate. Project monitoring and evaluation programmes can be a valuable source of reliable data, upon which policy issues can be reviewed and revised. Regrettably, M & E is not often effectively addressed in project design and is indifferently resourced and applied following project commencement. Equally, policy considerations that might emanate from such M & E work often fall into the too sensitive/too difficult basket.

Support Services

Livestock projects are frequently developed as “islands of excellence” within a largely unproductive livestock sector, their successful implementation being dependent on non-sustainable, project-specific support, including credit and marketing services and unrealistically high manpower inputs for management and extension. While such an approach is convenient for the timely implementation of the project, its relevance to the development of sustainable production systems is questionable. Project designers and management must be more cognizant of project interventions that can lead to the development of sustainable, self-financing livestock production systems. Briefly, some considerations with respect to livestock project support services and their link to sustainable livestock development include:

Project Preparation and Implementation

Project Preparation. Development projects are unlikely to succeed without the establishment of a competent and motivated management team that fully understands and is sympathetic to the projects objectives and activities. Too often, this is not the case. The cause of this failure frequently starts with project preparation, in which national staff and particularly project implementors are inadequately involved. Development projects, which often dramatically alter resource availability and technical approaches, must be allowed to evolve slowly and be built on the foundation of a comprehensive understanding of the concerned sector.

Preferably this would be achieved through a sector review conducted in a collaborative manner by national staff and expert technical assistance. Such a review enables Governments to make educated decisions on development priorities and leads to the next step of project preparation involving the maximum level of participative planning with the beneficiaries. The use of the logical framework matrix or equivalent methodologies can significantly support this process. Such an approach is achievable though expensive. The expense, however, must be put in perspective. The investment by Ethiopia of US$1.5 million between 1983–1985 in a livestock sub-sector review and the preparation of eight livestock investment projects led to a total investment in excess of US$100 million by international lending agencies. Preparation costs represented less than 1.5% of investment, modest by any standards. Furthermore, the extended and participative preparation process led to the establishment of committed project implementation teams who understood their task. Third world governments must be encouraged to invest in the project development process and must be supported in this process by international lending agencies, who too often take shortcuts in the pursuit of a larger loan portfolio. The major development financiers must further extend their forward planning systems to allow for sector studies, detailed evaluation of earlier investments, and appropriate preproject investment and initiation of procurement processes if they are to ensure early and successful project implementation.

Technical Assistance (TA) also plays an important role in project implementation. Technical competence, dedication and sheer hard work on the part of TA can do much to motivate and stimulate national staff. The success of a project should not hang on the input of the TA; nor should projects fail, as frequently happens, because of the lack of, or quite frequently the incompetence or disinterest of technical advisors. Appropriate evaluation criteria, personal interviews by project management of short listed candidates, the use of referees and increased, unbiased in-service evaluation, and increased emphasis on practical experience both by Third World governments and supporting development agencies would do much to relieve this persistent problem.

Project Management. The structure and composition of project management organizations are critical to successful project implementation. The use of an existing or modified sector management structure is preferable to the creation of project implementation units (PIUs). PIUs, even if shown to be answerable to sector management on the project organigram, inevitably take on an identify of their own with the result that the project is not longer perceived as an activity of the main Government-financed development effort. Project staff and programmes can as a result be sidelined by under-resourced and empire-conscious sector managers, thereby dramatically reducing the sustainability of project interventions. Comprehensive preparatory work opens the opportunity for sector rather than project loans, which in turn provide the opportunity to reorganize and revitalize moribund institutions and achieve truly sustainable livestock development.

As important as the management structure is the quality of the staff selected to manage and implement development interventions. There is no obvious formula to success here; however, the preparation of very clear terms of reference for management will help Government recognize the personal and technical qualities required and make management more accountable. The same applies to the technicians implementing development programmes, who must be drawn into the management decision making process. The establishment of forums which allow technicians to interact regularly with project management and the preparation of annual work plans by technicians for management review are essential features of successful project implementation. The establishment of these interactive processes should be conditional to loan effectiveness and closely monitored at supervision. Effective staff participation is a key to staff commitment and morale, which once lost is almost impossible to recapture.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) is frequently omitted as an integral part of project preparation, being tacked on for inclusion through a project financed consultant input. This rarely works. Typically, by the time the consultant is in place and has developed and M & E format, a mass of critical data have been lost. Furthermore, development programmes once implemented do not take kindly to the superimposition of an M & E framework. Another frequent weakness of monitoring is that it ends up as a one-way flow of information. Without beneficiary feedback, much of the value of monitoring is lost and the accuracy and efficiency of field data collection deteriorates. The increased adoption of project preparation methods such as the logical framework matrix would enable the more effective integration of M & E into project design. The danger of such methods, however, is that unless applied in a common sense manner, the methodology overwhelms its objective!

Project Supervision produces varying responses by project management. Generally, management feel threatened by the supervision process and consequently strive to present the project in its best light, studiously avoiding implementation issues. Regular, consistent and firm but flexible supervision can greatly improve project performance. Unfortunately, it is a rare commodity and project supervision is frequently indifferently applied. Project supervisors rarely have time for a thorough inspection of field activities and are frequently under intense headquarters pressure to increase commitment of funds. Furthermore, in the absence of an effective monitoring system, an enormous amount of project time and energy is devoted to preparing material for project supervisors, much of which is neither accurate nor relevant.

Regrettably, the UN system in particular has failed to adequately modify its methods of project implementation and supervision as it increasingly devolves project management responsibility to recipient governments. The World Bank approach of retroactive financing and half yearly in-country supervision contributes significantly to effective project implementation and deserves the close consideration of UN agencies, particularly FAO. Regular, consistent and flexible project supervision is certainly a cornerstone to successful project implementation. Greater attention to the objectives, form, timing and adequate funding of project supervision at the preparation stage would undoubtedly result in more effective project implementation.


In this paper I have tried to summarize some key elements of successful livestock project implementation. It is difficult to be specific to large ruminant production as it rarely occurs as an entity isolated from other livestock and agricultural production systems. Similarly, many of the observations in the paper are common to any form of Third World agricultural production. If any single point deserves reiteration it is the importance of technical competence, dedication, intuitive innovation and team effort in project implementation. This asset can bring even an indifferent project to a successful conclusion. Without it most projects fail.

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