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Chapter 1



Small farm systems constitute an integral part of Asian agriculture. These systems, which are labour-intensive and combine animals with mixed cropping, vary between regions and Asia presents, by any standard, a preponderance of small farms and a complexity of production systems that is unique to the region. This type of farm forms the backbone of food production in all countries and therefore constitutes an important target area for research and development.

The complex systems utilize draught power from animals, produce crops for home use, sale and animal feed, and also provide animal products for domestic consumption and commercial sale. Crops and animals thus play an important complementary role in the use of the available natural resources and the achievement of self-sufficiency with respect to feed, fertiliser and the requirement for human food. These mixed activities contribute significantly towards the stability of farm households and self-reliance.

Although the importance of small farms in food production is widely recognized, questions and doubts have emerged about their efficiency and especially the contribution made by animals. National targets for animals proteins, relative to the contribution from crops, are far from being realized, which in turn has raised further doubts about the efficiency of existing production systems and utilization of resources to support these systems. Additionally, these aspects are exacerbated by a number of associated concerns which include inter alia:


The overriding problem is population increase which is greater in absolute terms than in any other region. It is estimated that the population in Asia will grow from 2.6 billions in 1985 to 4.4 billions in 2025. Within this, South-East Asia alone will account for a projected increase to 2.3 billion, equivalent to 52% of the total. In this context, malnutrition and abject poverty will be continuing concerns.

The magnitude of the latter is reflected in Table 1.1, published by the World Bank(1992) and based on data by Ravallion et al. (1992). The table illustrates that, in 1985, about 65% of the total estimated number of 714 millions poor people were found in Asia. Of this, 13.2% or 182 million were found in South-East Asia. By contrast, in East Asia, the projections for the year 2000 suggest that the percentage of the population below the poverty line will decrease to 4.2%, corresponding to 73 million poor people.

The combined maladies of poverty and awesome population growth clearly emphasise the importance of increasing food production. They determine the demand for animal products in terms of both quantity and quality. Together with income growth and increasing urbanisation, these will also determine the composition of food demand.

The task of producing more food in Asia will therefore increase the pressure on the natural resource base and determine how it must be managed and used. As it is, serious environmental problems have already arisen. Rapid industrialization and urbanization have resulted in chronic air and water pollution. In the rural areas, rapidly increasing populations have led to increased pressures on the use of limited and decreasing natural resources: increased fuelwood demand, further deforestation and deterioration of soil quality.

Table 1.1 The extent of poverty (World Bank, 1992)
RegionPercentage of population below the poverty line*Number of poor (millions)
South Asia51.849.036.9532562511
East Asia13.211.34.218216973
Sub-Saharan Africa47.647.849.7184216304
Middle East and North Africa30.633.130.6607389
Eastern Europe**
Latin America and the Caribbean22.425.524.987108126
All developing countries30.529.724.1105111331107

* Set at US$370 annual income.

** Does not include the former USSR.

The focus on more efficient management and use of natural resources is justified by the two urgent priorities of the 1990's: reduction of poverty and protection of the environment. These two critical components will thus have to be simultaneously addressed through strategies that can ameliorate the situation.

The response to the need for increased food production was achieved in the 1950's through the Green Revolution with impressive increases in cereal production, although the benefits were mainly confined to the irrigated lowlands of Asia. In the four decades since then, economic development has been associated with the redistribution of wealth and meeting the basic needs of the poor, such as nutrition, education and sanitation. During this time, there has been a considerable impact on prosperity and standards of living. Social indicators like life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, primary school enrolments and anthropometric measures of malnutrition further reflect the improvements made. These trends have led to the world food supply now being demonstrably adequate and the remaining problem is one of distribution of the available resources (Anderson, 1991).


Efforts to maximise the productivity of crop-animal systems need to consider the natural resource base, as well as the socio-economic environment, in the context of the objectives of development and the targets to be achieved. Figure 1 provides a conceptual framework and the broad relationships between these factors.

Figure 1. Sustainable crop-animal systems in Asia

Figure 1

The more formidable task is that of translating the concept into strategies for action at the farm level. These strategies need to focus specifically on crop-animal systems which involve community participation of farm households and to directly address both production, post-production and consumption systems. Central to this development and wider application of potentially important technologies is on-farm research and development and, in particular, the utilization of research results (Devendra and Chantalakhana, 1992).

A strategy for the development of sustainable crop-animal system must therefore consider the following issues:


In these circumstances, it is appropriate to examine and assess the current contribution of animals to small farm systems and potential opportunities for increasing the level of production and developing strategies that can make these systems more sustainable. These aspects will be considered with specific reference to south-East Asia which is essentially made up of those countries in Indo-China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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