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Description of Systems

This section provides readers with the quantitative estimates of the magnitude of the resources involved in each system defined, together with the major outputs and a set of productivity indices. This information is supplemented by a brief description of the main features of the system, emphasizing both the environmental aspects as well as the development paths along which these systems are evolving. Given the magnitude of the clusters being addressed, meaningful range values of detailed technical coefficients, representative of the systems, could not be provided given the existing data sources.

3.1 Grassland-based Systems (LG)

The importance of the grassland-based system in different world regions is shown in Figure 4. Central and South America and the developed countries dominant the picture in terms of meat production, together accounting for more than three-quarters of the world's production.

3.1.1 Temperate Zones and Tropical Highlands (LGT)

Definition and geographical distribution

The grassland based system in temperate and tropical highlands is a grazing system constrained by low temperatures. In the temperate zones, there are one or two months of mean temperatures (corrected to sea level) below 5° C, whereas in the tropical highlands daily mean temperatures during the growing period are in the range of 5 - 20° C.

The cases located in tropical highlands comprise parts of the highlands of South America and eastern Africa. The cases in temperate zones include southern Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the United States, China and Mongolia.

Typical cases are Mongolia's steppe system, New Zealand's dairy and sheep enterprises, dairy systems close to Bogota, Colombia, South American camelid and sheep grazing systems in the Altiplano of Peru and Bolivia. Extensive grazing systems are also found in parts of northwest Pakistan involving sheep for mutton and wool (Nawaz et al, 1986) and transhumant sheep on degrading high altitude pasture in Nepal (Pradham, 1987). Further cases are reported for Chinese Merino wool sheep on communal grazing in Jilin Province and sheep ranching at high animal productivity in Oregon, United States on grass-clover pastures (Nawaz and Meyer, 1992).

Resources and production

Temperate breeds perform well in tropical highlands situations, except at very high altitudes, only encountered in the Andes of South America. Local breeds play an important role where subsistence objectives are still important, cash income is limited and few purchased inputs are used. At the other end of the intensity scale, New Zealand systems use highly selected animals, artificial insemination (AI) with fresh semen, and a range of advanced technologies to maximize animal output from the pasture produced.

By definition, range is the primary feed resource of this system. Quality varies widely. Oceania's systems involve top-dressing with fertilizers, introduction of legumes, appropriate fencing to achieve highly productive legume-grass pastures. Relatively even rainfall distribution and seasonal mating allow for comparatively high productivity levels using a minimum of hay or silage. In the less intensive grazing systems of Africa and Asia, seasonal fluctuations in feed supply are mainly buffered by the loss of weight of the animals. This, however, limits their productivity.

The developments in New Zealand document the potential of appropriate intensification, which allows for a highly competitive dairy and sheep sector, producing and exporting from a very remote part of the world in spite of heavy subsidies being applied by some competitors. The country has developed labour-extensive, not very capital-intensive technologies to enhance the productivity of the basic resource, a productive rangeland.

In the tropical highlands, the LGT system is affected by seasonality of fodder supply which, in turn, largely depends on rainfall patterns. Extensive systems adapt by accepting weight losses and reductions in milk output. Where milk markets generate the appropriate incentives, dairy cows are either fed cut-and-carry forages or, as is the case in the dairy system of the highlands of Bogota, Colombia, pastures are irrigated.

Product use varies widely, ranging from very commercially export-oriented New Zealand farmers, to South American farmers mainly producing for the domestic market, to Asian and African small-holders catering for local markets and their own subsistence.

Issues and perspectives

The regions in which the LGT system predominates have a combined human population of 190 million which represents only 3.5 percent of the world total, and almost half of this population lives in Asia. In OECD member countries far fewer people (14 million or 1.7 percent) use the LGT system, but they control more land and cattle per inhabitant than in the other regions (Table 1).

The major interaction is through the market, where the same animal products are supplied by mixed and landless systems. Market forces and environmental concerns are putting a ceiling on the potential for intensification of this system. Thus, globally, their market share is declining vis-à-vis other production systems.

The major environmental concern in the temperate and tropical highland grazing system is the degradation of rangelands through inappropriate range management practices. These rangelands are frequently part of watersheds, in which range degradation causes problems of flooding, siltation of rivers, etc. Nevertheless, these issues are normally less serious than in mixed farming systems where crop production is practised. Rangeland management frequently involves controlling wildlife, which either compete for forage, transmit diseases or, in the case of predators, cause mortality of animals.

Since the LGT system is found mostly in marginal locations, its production potential in global terms is relatively low. In developing countries it tends to form a subsistence basis for certain groups of the population. Here, its future role is seen more in providing employment for these groups than in making a major contribution to output and economic development. In developed countries, frequently with production surpluses, the production from these systems is declining in relation to other values and uses assigned to these land resources, such as the recreational value, value as a wildlife and biodiversity reserve, and the contribution to water conservation. Therefore, the extensification of production linked with increasing farm sizes may lead to production systems which are both economically viable and environmentally acceptable to societies at large.

3.1.2 Humid and Sub-humid Tropics and Sub-tropics (LGH)

Definition and geographical distribution

The LGH system is defined as a grazing system found in regions with more than 180 days of growing period. It tends to be concentrated more in the sub-humid zone, particularly in regions where access to markets or, for agronomic reasons, crop production is limited. By definition only very limited cropping is considered for subsistence.

The LGH system is found mostly in the tropical and subtropical lowlands of South America: the llanos of Colombia and Venezuela as well as the cerrados of Brazil. Vera and Seré's (1985) description of extensive ranching in the Llanos orientales of Colombia at low management and nutrition levels is a typical example. Also, dual purpose (meat and milk) extensive ranching in the Llanos nordorientales of Venezuela (Vera and Seré, 1985) based on Criollo, Zebu and European breeds is another typical case. On the high rainfall side in the humid tropics, the system of Amazonian ranching as well as ranching systems in West and Central Africa developed and belong to this system. At 3540 mm average annual rainfall, beef and milk operations in Amazonia, Colombia (Ramirez and Seré, 1990) and in Brazil are cases in point, producing at low input/low output conditions. Also dual purpose milk-beef systems in the Mexican lowlands and estancias in Argentina are typical cases of this system.

In Asia the development of perennial crops in the high rainfall humid tropics (tea, rubber, oilpalm, etc) and the annual cropping in the sub-humid zones have limited the expansion of pure livestock systems.

In the African setting, many of the potentially suitable land resources are not used as a result of trypanosomiasis constraining livestock production. An example of agropastoralism in the sub-humid zone is described by Otchere (1984) for the Kaduna plains in Nigeria. This system is characterized by low performance of cattle due to disease pressure.

Outside Latin America, this system is important only in Australia because of its ample land resources in relation to its population.

Worldwide, the LGH system comprises about 190 million head of cattle, an important share of them of Zebu breeds. In the sub-humid and humid regions, cattle are clearly the dominant species, and in very high rainfall areas, such as the Amazon delta and some parts of Queensland, Australia, buffaloes are ranched. African hairsheep and dwarf goats are usually only kept for local consumption. In the sub-tropics, wool-sheep are an important component of the system, for example, in Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, and Australia.

Herd structure normally reflects the fact that these systems tend to produce mainly beef. Either they sell store cattle for finishing close to market places or they produce finished steers of three to four years of age. Milk is more important in the subtropical and drier parts of the tropics, particularly where farms are smaller and access to markets is provided.

Criollo cattle (Bos taurus types introduced by the Spaniards 400 years ago) constituted the main animal resource in tropical Latin America. Over the last 50 years, Zebu cattle (Bos indicus) have replaced the Criollo cattle in the tropical areas of Latin America. In Australia, British breeds, poorly adapted to the tropical environment have also been increasingly replaced by Bos indicus and its crosses. In Africa, trypanotolerant Bos taurus mainly the N'Dama breed, are important in humid ecosystems, and a range of Bos taurus and Bos indicus breeds are found in sub-humid regions (which tend to be in mixed systems).

As opposed to the LGA system, forage quantity and quality in LGH depend more on soils than on rainfall. African rangelands tend to be of better quality than the Latin American ones. Seasonal fluctuations occur particularly in the sub-humid zone, which are dealt with by exploiting spatial variability of the land resources. The tropical savannas of Latin America are of such low quality that they have to be burnt in order for cattle to graze the young regrowth. During the wet season, the higher well-drained regions are grazed, while the lowlands are burnt and grazed during the dry season. In the high rainfall rainforest regions, pastures are almost exclusively sown pastures established after clearing. Highest gains are achieved during the relatively dry period when cattle graze forages of somewhat higher dry matter content and animals face less moist soil conditions. Some mineral supplementation (mainly phosphorus) is used given the low fertility and leaching of the soils.

The LGH system produces approximately 6 million MT of beef and veal and 11 million MT of cow milk. By far, the most important geographic region is Central and South America. Production technology is based on the use of abundant land, some investments such as fencing to improve labour productivity, but very limited purchased inputs and labour. Where milk is produced, inputs and labour are used more intensively. Productivity levels tend to be low (e.g. weight gains of 0.3 kg/head/day in steers, milk yields of 2 kg/cow/day in addition to what the calf suckles). In developed countries, operating with higher product prices, and frequently lower prices for technological inputs, the systems are more intensive and productive in terms of output per animal or per hectare of land.

The LGH system is predominantly market oriented. When distance to the urban markets is large and/or when soils are poor, calves and lean steers are fattened in more convenient systems, leading to a certain degree of specialization of the systems.

Issues and perspectives

Globally, 6 percent of the world's population live in areas where the LGH production system predominates. Its importance in terms of sustaining livelihoods of rural populations is expected to decline as interaction with crop cultivation turns it into a mixed system (Table 2). In rainforest regions, efforts are being made to incorporate perennial tree crops, frequently as silvo-pastoral systems. In the savannas, this system is being converted into a mixed farming system by including annual crops, such as maize, soybeans, sorghum.

The impact of ranching on deforestation of rainforest areas, particularly in Central America, Mexico, and Brazil is one of the more notorious negative impacts attributed to livestock (Hecht, 1993). Particularly in the Brazilian case, this process was fostered by a set of policies, which have been changed in the meantime.

Burning of savanna pastures is another important environmental impact of range utilization. This is said to release more CO2 than the burning of tropical forests.

Loss of wildlife genetic resources is an issue frequently associated with ranching. In the case of the rainforest regions of Latin America, where ranching is an important form of land use, this is probably not a major issue, given the large proportion of rainforest still untouched. In the Latin American savannas, human population density is very low and large national parks areas are maintained, again limiting the impact of livestock on wildlife biodiversity.

Horizontal expansion of the LGH system is limited in all agro-ecological settings. In the rainforest, environmental concerns, technical problems and policies generally discourage further clearing for pasture establishment. In the sub-humid zones, the presence of the LGH system is largely determined by low population pressures, and the existence of lands not attractive for crop production, either because of edaphic restrictions or distance to markets. The transformation of this system into a mixed one is induced by horizontal expansion of crop production driven by population growth and by agricultural research developing crops adapted to the frequently infertile acid soils.

Feed quality is the major constraint in LGH rangelands limiting output per animal. Pasture improvements only play a limited role for solving this bottleneck. The economics of improving pastures are not attractive enough under the prevailing conditions. Both improvements in road infrastructure and new technologies making the joint establishment of pastures with commercially worthwhile nurse crops feasible, are making ley farming systems, involving rotations of crops and pastures, a potentially attractive path into mixed farming systems (Thomas et al., 1992).

3.1.3 Arid and Semi-arid Tropics and Sub-tropics (LGA)

Definition and geographical distribution

The LGA system is defined as a land based system in tropical and subtropical regions with growing periods of less than 180 days, where grazing ruminants are the dominant form of land use, i.e. this enterprise generates more than 90 percent of the total value of production and 10 percent or less of the dry matter eaten by animals is provided by crop production (stubbles, crop by-products or annual forage crops).

This system is found under two contrasting socio-economic environments: on the one hand, in sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East and North Africa regions, where it constitutes a traditional way of subsistence for important populations, and on the other hand, it is found in Australia, parts of western United States and southern Africa, where private enterprises utilize public or privately owned range resources in the form of ranching. The system is of very limited importance in Central and South America, Asia and Eastern Europe and CIS countries (Table 3).

Typical cases include pastoralists in the Sahel and Beduins in Syria. Goat production under extensive ranching conditions is described for Botswana in Trail et al. (1977). FAO/IFAD (1982) analyze beef/milk production under high pressure on natural resource with cattle being important risk balances in the Kordofan and Darfur Provinces of Sudan.

Typical cases also include beef/milk systems on natural and improved pastures in Veracruz, Mexico (Fernandez-Baca et al., 1986) and goat meat and milk production at medium altitudes in Venezuela (Garcia Betancourt, 1993). Further cases are described by Cooksley et al. (1991) for cattle feeder stock production in Queensland, Australia, mutton and wool in southern and western Australia (Turner, 1982) and extensive cattle ranching in the semi-arid western states of the USA (Ray et al.. 1989). El Serafy et al. (1992) gives another example of extensive pastoralism with supplementation and finishing of Barki sheep and goats in northwestern coastal Egypt.

Agropastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa are at the border to mixed farming. Here pastoralists have developed arrangements with crop farmers, whereby the pastoralists have access to the crop residues and crop producers benefit from the recycling of nutrients to the soil via animal manure. Both the crop and the animal system are managed by distinct decision makers, but decisions are closely interrelated.

Recent surveys of livestock biomass distribution in selected countries of sub-Saharan Africa document the increasing contribution of crops to feeding the regional ruminant livestock population (Wint and Bourn, 1994).

Resources and production

Africa's pastoralists have developed very resilient grazing systems which manage to maintain relatively high human populations on rangelands of low and highly variable productivity. They use a mixture of species (cattle, sheep, goats, camels) and traditional breeds mainly selected for adaptation to the harsh environment. Small ruminants with their higher reproductive rate play a key role in building up livestock populations after periodic droughts have destocked the system.

Under conditions in developed countries, this system has evolved into a very labour-extensive, large scale operation, usually handling only one animal species of a specific breed, particularly Bos indicus cattle breeds.

Range is the overwhelming feed resource used in the LGA system. The variation in rainfall quantity and its seasonal distribution determines a high variability over time and space in terms of available feed resources. At the regional level, similar variability can be observed across the country groupings used in this study.

Where the length of the growing season is above 75 days, some cropping is possible. Small areas that can be irrigated are sometimes planted to alfalfa to produce hay to supplement animals on the range.

Managing the production risk caused by the variability of feed availability is the central issue in the LGA system with regard to production technology. Pastoralist systems rely mainly on movement of stock across a diverse landscape. In this context the importance of small patches of wetlands and the interface with cropping systems are being recognized. The stocking rates managed by pastoralists under similar ecological conditions are higher than those used by commercial ranchers. This is related to the diverging utility functions of both types of decision makers.

Pastoralists have developed labour-intensive, purchased input-extensive systems. Ranchers use less labour but more capital and tend to make a less efficient use of the land resources, but achieve higher productivity in terms of the livestock capital involved in the operation. They apply a series of management practices and inputs to manage production risk and to enhance output. Many are also related to movement of animals (e.g. transfer of young animals to be fattened in other regions and production systems, strategic stock sales). Price risks are hedged through livestock options markets, particularly in the United States.

Pastoralists basically seek to attain their subsistence from their livestock and are therefore more interested in continuous flows of food, such as milk, dairy products or blood, than in terminal products such as meat of slaughtered animals. This is also a reason for keeping small ruminants, being smaller units easier to handle and trade. With the growing urban demand for livestock products, pastoralists are also increasingly producing for the market.

In ranching systems production is almost exclusively for the market, normally for calves or lean steers, which are then finished in other systems. In the subtropical LGA system wool production plays an important role. This is largely due to the fact that wool production is less sensitive to variations in feed supply than mutton production. An extreme case is the production of Karakul lamb hides in Namibia, where newborn animals are killed for their hides, in this way eliminating the lactation feed requirements of the ewe.

Issues and perspectives

In western Asia, northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, the LGA system is important for the livelihood of large sectors of the rural population. In developed countries this system is extremely labour-extensive.

In sub-Saharan Africa, agropastoralism is the most important interface between livestock production and other agricultural production. In other regions these systems are interrelated with other livestock production systems that have access to better quality feed and are closer to markets. In low income countries without an export market, incentives to produce quality beef are weak. This in turn limits the attractiveness of livestock production stratification.

The degradation of rangelands in the LGA system is an intensively debated issue. The conventional view that population pressure is linked to, the deterioration of traditional property rights, and that the transformation of rangelands into an open resource is leading to their degradation. Degradation is defined along the lines of long term decline in secondary productivity (animal outputs) reflecting declines in primary productivity, as the botanical composition of the vegetation shifts towards less productive and less palatable species and increased soil erosion. This view is presently being challenged by ecologists, who are developing alternative theories of rangeland management, which explicitly take into account the high variability of primary production in these systems (Behnke and Scoones, 1993).

The evolving views of the functioning of this system are also leading to rapidly evolving development perspectives. It is now acknowledged that pastoralists are making a relatively efficient use of the rangeland resources, although substantial increases in output are improbable and partial interventions are rarely successful. Public sector efforts to manage the system have generally failed. Policies should help pastoralists to be able to operate flexibly to cope with variability. The public sector's role is seen as less regulatory and more into monitoring the situation, to promote efficient use of the rangelands.

Globally, new roles are emerging for these rangelands, besides that of producing ruminant animal products. In developing countries, the pressure to expand crop production is increasing the population pressure on the remaining rangelands. In developed countries, the utilization of these rangelands for animal production has often been subsidized through very low prices for grazing permits and public investments in irrigation. The rangelands are increasingly seen as a large CO2 sink, important wildlife habitats, areas of recreational value, etc. Societies will have to find new ways to make the legitimate interests of those presently utilizing these resources compatible with the interests of societies at large.

3.2 Mixed Rainfed Systems (MR)

The geographic distribution of the mixed rainfed system is depicted in Figure 5. Sub-Saharan Africa; West Asia and North Africa; and Central and South America are relatively unimportant in terms of meat production, whereas developed countries and Asia together contribute about 70 percent of the total meat production from mixed rainfed farming systems.

3.2.1 Temperate Zones and Tropical Highlands (MRT)

Definition and geographical distribution

This system is defined as a combination of rainfed crop and livestock farming in temperate or tropical highland areas in which crops contribute at least 10 percent of the value of total farm output.

The MRT system is found in two contrasting agro-ecozones of the world:

The main common feature of these two regions is that low temperatures during all or part of the year limit and determine vegetation that is quite distinct from the tropical environments (e.g. C3 versus C4 grasses).

Typical cases include smallholder peasant farmers in northern China, family-run farms in central and northern Europe as well as North America in the temperate region and typically smallholder operations in the Ethiopian highlands and the highlands of Central and South America (traditional ley farming system with potatoes, barley and pastures as main elements).

Resources and production

Climatic conditions in temperate regions require substantial active interventions by farmers to feed their animals during the harsh winter period. This necessity makes it economic to maintain animals selected for relatively high levels of productivity. Multi-purpose cattle (meat, milk and traction) were bred over the last 50 years for higher productivity in specialized traits as rapid economic development required increased labour productivity in the rural sector of developed countries. These breeds (Holstein Friesians being a very good example) have been introduced into many livestock systems with very different resources and requirements. Under frequently harsher conditions (lower quality feeds, seasonal feed stresses, higher disease challenge) smaller, less productive but better adapted breeds have developed.

The wide range of intensity levels that are found in this type of system is largely related to the feed resource utilized, and this is in turn largely determined by economic factors, mainly related to the relative prices of livestock outputs in terms of feeds available. (This point is further elaborated in the description of the LLR system). The need to feed animals during winter in temperate regions requires forage conservation. This, in turn, is only economical if the output per animal is relatively high. In countries, where this system is carried out at high levels of intensity, a range of forage and dual purpose crops are grown, frequently in rotation with cash crops.

On the contrary, in the tropical MRT system livestock tend to be of secondary importance vis-à-vis the crops, with animals providing a range of services to the system.

In temperate locations, soils play a key role as the major nutrient pool in the system. Over the centuries, farmers have developed a farming system which efficiently recycles nutrients. In the course of the development process, with increasing urbanization and growing incomes, production technology evolved leading to higher specialization, more use of external inputs and more open systems. The growing negative externalities of these systems for the environment are inducing important shifts in the type of technologies being developed.

An example is the use of purchased feeds in the land-scarce MRT system of western Europe. This allows an increase in the number of stock kept per farm, thus leading to a manure disposal problem as increasing amounts are spread on a limited farm area. As a consequence water and air pollution are increasing. In response to these problems, a series of regulations and technologies have been adopted to handle animal wastes.

In most tropical MRT systems production is less intensive and soils can cope with higher doses of manure than in temperate regions.

In temperate developed countries, the MRT system produces one or a few livestock products almost exclusively for the market. The relative importance of livestock versus crops in terms of income generation grows with rising per capita incomes in the country concerned. At the same time products embody more and more post-production services. On the contrary, in least developed countries (LDC), the MRT system livestock perform a series of functions in mixed systems: a continuous flow of cash income; means to concentrate nutrients through manure (typically potatoes in the Andean MRT system); fuel; animal traction; a cash reserve for emergencies; and as a buffer to risks in crop production.

Issues and perspectives

The MRT system supports a relatively small and declining number of farmers in developed temperate countries, but additional people are employed as part of the commodity systems (processing, marketing, transportation, supply of inputs, etc). In developing countries, these systems tend to be run by a large number of smallholders. This fact and the similarity of many technical issues to the ones addressed in temperate environments have made this system an attractive subject for technical cooperation projects.

Given the magnitude of this system, and the nature of the policies implemented to steer its development, its interactions via markets with other production systems worldwide are substantial.

Over time, the MRT system has been under strong pressure to specialize in meat or dairy production, frequently reducing production of pigs and poultry, where the links to the land are not as direct as in the case of ruminants. This has given rise to the large and dynamic sector of landless monogastrics systems. A similar but less pronounced trend could be observed in the evolution to pure crop production systems and separate landless ruminant systems.

In developing countries with poor road and marketing infrastructure, high capital costs and volatile markets as well as substantially lower opportunity costs for labour, incentives for specialization are few.

Among the land-based systems, the MRT system is certainly the one where technical change has had the largest impact in terms of changes in intensity of production, land use, input use, genetic makeup of breeds, etc. Thus, impacts in terms of loss of domestic animal biodiversity, use of agrochemicals to sustain feed production and waste disposal are substantial.

The MRT system is the largest in terms of stock numbers of both cattle and small ruminants as well as their meat and milk outputs. This can also be expected to link the system to a substantial share of global methane production from ruminants.

A large proportion of the land used by the MRT system was originally forest. Clearing occurred over several centuries, but must have made a significant contribution to global CO2 production.

Effluents from tanneries and to a lesser degree from slaughterhouses are an important post-production negative impact of these systems. Developed countries, where the MRT system predominates, are, as a whole, net importers of many livestock products, among them hides and skins. In the past, these were imported raw and tanned in developed countries. This process is changing with tanning increasingly occurring in LDCs, thus causing the pollution in the countries of origin.

Globally, this MRT system is the most important source of animal products, providing 39 percent of the beef and veal production, 24 percent of the sheep and mutton production and 63 percent of the cow milk produced (Table 4).

The MRT system has rapidly evolved in the past decades in reaction to unprecedented rates of economic growth in the developed countries. This included substantial pressure on the MRT system to increase labour productivity. This was achieved through mechanization, specialization, increased use of inputs, and increased scale of operations. The increase in labour productivity achieved was nevertheless obtained at the price of opening the system by importing feeds, fertilizers, fossil energy to operate machines, etc., and extracting large amounts of nutrients via increased outputs or accumulating them as manure beyond the threshold of the quantities which could be efficiently utilized to maintain soil fertility, thus contaminating groundwater, polluting the air, etc.

The challenge for this system is to find ways and means to return to intensity levels with efficient nutrient cycles and fewer negative externalities, while at the same time generating an adequate income for a socially desirable number of farmers, in order to not only to produce agricultural commodities, but also maintain the other functions developed countries' societies expect from these regions (recreational value, clean air and water supply to cities, biodiversity conservation, etc). This will require important changes in policies, institutions and technologies.

In the OECD member countries, such changes could bring a reduction in output levels as prices decline due to the reduced protection of domestic production and increased international trade. In eastern Europe and CIS, mixed systems will replace inefficient large-scale landless systems as these economies open up to the markets. Both developments should introduce more environmentally sound livestock production in the developed temperate economies. This will largely be achieved through the implementation of appropriate policies and regulations. The fact that in developed temperate countries farmers are relatively few, and tend to manage large commercial operations and that the public sector has the resources to enforce policies, makes this avenue feasible.

3.2.2 Humid and Sub-humid Tropics and Sub-tropics (MRH)

Definition and geographical distribution

In the humid and sub-humid regions of the tropics and sub-tropics, livestock production is based on the mixed farming system. Given the range of socio-economic conditions, soils and climates, this livestock system is very heterogeneous in its composition. It is found in all tropical regions of the world, mainly in developing countries. Parts of the southern United States are the only significant developed region included in this system (Table 5).

Typical cases are smallholder rice-buffalo systems in southeast Asia or soybean-maize-pasture operations in the Brazilian cerrados of the large-scale commercial type.

Resources and production

This system includes regions with especially difficult climatic conditions for livestock (high temperatures and high humidity). Adaptation of highly productive temperate breeds to these challenges has been notably poor. In many parts of Africa, trypanosomiasis constitutes an additional constraint for these systems. Particularly in African and Asian smallholder systems, the local breeds are still widely used. In Latin America, Bos taurus cattle, sheep and goats were introduced some four centuries ago. Bos indicus cattle were introduced a few decades ago and have now replaced the earlier introduced cattle breeds in tropical areas.

Among feed resources, the relative importance of rangelands vis-à-vis crop stubbles and straw depend mainly on the relative availability of land. This is depicted by the ratio of agricultural land per inhabitant. In Central and South America MRH systems comprise five times more agricultural land per inhabitant than in the MRH systems of Asia. This explains the overriding importance of straw as a feed resource in Asia.

The multiple functions of livestock in this system, particularly under smallholder conditions, make technical change very difficult to introduce into this system. Traditional technologies tend to be very efficient in using the local resources, but by definition are neglecting the opportunities created by trade and markets to purchase inputs enhancing the productivity of the local resources. In many cases livestock are only of secondary importance in relation to the farmers' objectives, a fact also reducing the chances for intensification of livestock production.

In Central and South America, extensive ranching systems are increasingly evolving into mixed systems as urban demand for crop staples and livestock products as well as road infrastructure expands. Pastures have traditionally been established jointly with an annual crop, mainly maize or rice. Lack of sustainability of continuous annual cropping on acid infertile soils, typical for the large savanna ecosystems of South America, has increased incentives for developing nutrient efficient crop pasture rotations. This is also related to the shift in policies reducing price support, input subsidies for crop production. Thus a policy framework promoting competitive production systems should also promote more sustainable mixed systems.

In the African and Asian MRH system, the multiple roles of livestock have prevailed, particularly animal traction and manure. In Central and South America, this system caters to large domestic markets and, particularly in the case of Brazil, it is also linked to export markets. Under smallholder conditions milk tends to be a more important output than meat.

Issues and perspectives

The MRH system applies to approximately 14 percent of the global population. This ratio is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa where 41 percent of the region's population is associated with the system and in Central and South America where it is 35 percent.

The system is replacing grazing systems in Africa and Latin America. In Africa, the process is mainly driven by population growth, and, in Central and South America, by economic development and technological innovations.

In many parts of the world, farmers are clearing rainforests to expand this system e.g. in South America along the Andean foothills (the western border of Amazonia) and in Central America. In Africa, this process is somewhat constrained by the tse-tse/trypanosomiasis complex.

This system is particularly important for large areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The main challenge is finding ways to increase the productivity of the system under serious constraints for both public and private investments. It is generally acknowledged that the biological potentials of mixed systems will be the key to productivity increases, and the expectation is that purchased feed inputs will be replaced by enhanced knowledge about the system, in particular, nutrient cycled within the system. In the more humid parts of Asia, annual crops have been replaced by perennial crops and livestock play a minor role.

In Latin America, low population density, high degrees of urbanization and relatively high per caput incomes have induced farming systems generally more oriented towards livestock production. In the tropical rain-forest regions, very resource consuming systems were established, in some cases driven by policies and in others by poverty. Many of the policies that promoted wasteful utilization of these resources have been stopped in the process of structural adjustment.

3.2.3 Arid and Semi-arid Tropics and Sub-tropics (MRA)

Definition and geographical distribution

The MRA system is a mixed farming systems in tropical and subtropical regions with a vegetation growth period of less than 180 days. The main restriction of this system is the low primary productivity of the land due to low rainfall. The more severe the constraint, the less important crops become in the system and the more livestock take over as the primary income and subsistence source.

The system is important in the West Asia and North Africa region, in parts of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Nigeria), in large parts of India, and less important in Central and South America.

Typical cases are dryland farming-sheep systems in northern Africa and in the Indian subcontinent, and also the small ruminant-cassava systems in northeastern Brazil.

Resources and production

The more arid the conditions become the greater the necessity to keep livestock as an asset for farmers. Given the low intensity of the system and the multiple purposes of livestock, the introduction of improved breeds has been quite limited. Thus, loss of domestic animal biodiversity is not likely to be very significant under these conditions.

Globally, 11 percent of the world cattle population and 14 percent of sheep and goats are found in this system. Small ruminants are particularly important in West Asia and North Africa under the MRA system.

Grazing land not suited for crop production is the main feed resource of the system supported by strategic use of crop stubbles and straw. Land not used for cropping is frequently community owned. Traditional rules on access to this resource have frequently not withstood the changes occurring in the last decades, particularly population pressure. This leads to common problems of overgrazing and resource degradation.

Given the high risk involved in crop production this system tends to produce crops mainly for subsistence. They are usually produced very extensively, thus minimizing the financial risks but also limiting the potential for good harvests. Livestock are produced extensively with minimal use of purchased inputs.

As is the case in other largely smallholder systems, livestock have a range of simultaneous roles in this system, including animal traction, production of manure, use as cash reserve, in addition to the production of meat and milk. Fuel-wood is often scarce as a result of deforestation and range degradation, leading to the ever-increasing role of animals as providers of manure for fuel, in addition to means of transport.

Issues and perspectives

While this system supports larger populations than any grazing system, only 10 percent of the world population is related to this system. Fifty-one percent of the population involved is in Asia, mainly India, and 24 percent in the West Asia and North Africa region (Table 6).

The major concern related to this system is the degradation of land resources, due to their limited production potential under growing population pressure. In livestock terms, this relates particularly to overgrazing and range degradation. This is connected to increasing stock numbers but also to crop production being expanded into increasingly marginal lands.

Given the extensive livestock rearing practised, livestock in the MRA system produce relatively high amounts of methane per animal kept and more so per kilogram of meat or milk produced.

There is a close interaction with the LGA system. With increasing population pressure, the LGA system tends to evolve into mixed systems, mainly the MRA system, due to the greater caloric efficiency of cropping vis-à-vis ruminant production when land becomes scarce.

The outlook for this system is relatively similar to the one for the LGA system. The resource base puts a clear ceiling to agricultural intensification. Low and variable response to inputs makes their use financially risky. Population growth in this setting is leading to over-exploitation of the natural resource base, as traditional property rights cannot cope with the growing demands on the resource base. Alternative development strategies and the reduction of population pressure on the resource base are key elements for the sustainable development of these regions.

In the past, irrigation has been seen as the logical strategy to cope with the central constraint to agricultural production in this region, i.e. low and variable rainfall. Results have been mixed at best. Some reasons for the frequent failures were the high investment, the length of the training required to educate rainfed farmers in efficient irrigation management, the short useful life of many irrigation schemes due to salinization. Furthermore, best locations for irrigation schemes have already been exploited by now. Thus, a blend of other strategies is required in these regions, which involves promoting the mobility of workers to other regions and sectors, the in situ development of other sectors of the economy such as mining, tourism, fisheries, etc.

3.3 Mixed Irrigated Systems

The geographic distribution of the mixed irrigated system is shown in Figure 6. The picture is dominated by Asia with 71 percent, followed by the industrialized countries. The mixed irrigated system contributes about 23 percent of the total meat production worldwide. Draught is another major livestock output.

3.3.1 Temperate Zones and Tropical Highlands (MIT)

Definition and geographical distribution

This system belongs to the group of the land-based mixed systems of temperate and tropical highland regions. The peculiar feature is the existence of irrigation, which strongly influences the feed availability for ruminants and the variability of crop production. This changes the production environment substantially and determines the competitiveness of animal production vis-à-vis crop production in a given location.

This system is found particularly in the Mediterranean region (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria) and in the Far East (North and South Korea, Japan, and parts of China). These are agro-ecologies in the transition between subtropical and temperate conditions, where plant growth is limited, both by low temperatures in the cold season and by moisture availability during the vegetation period. Their importance in tropical highlands is negligible (Table 7).

Typical cases are south European family farms combining one cycle of irrigated crop production with livestock production based on the grazing of drylands, crop stubbles and some irrigated alfalfa. The transition to mixed irrigated arid systems is gradual, with the latter having year-round production on irrigated land, thus reducing the opportunities for grazing crop stubbles. Far-east Asian mixed family farms are mainly based on irrigated rice and dairy cattle.

Resources and production

Traditional local sheep and cattle breeds have been largely displaced as management practices and product prices allowed for more intensive production and the associated increase in the use of external inputs (energy for water pumping, fertilizers, agrochemicals.)

In the Mediterranean region, the main feed resource has traditionally been the silvopastoral system, supplemented by crop y-products. In the land-scarce, intensive East Asian systems, the main resources are cereal straw, intensively managed pastures, forages and imported feeds.

Livestock production technology is basically the same utilized by the MRT-system. High product prices and a high opportunity cost for labour make intensive production systems viable. This implies a heavy effort to actively adjust seasonal feed supply to the rather constant requirements of the herds and flocks. This is achieved through forage conservation (hay, silage) and through the feeding of grains and grain by-products.

In the more extensive situations, such as in the Chinese MIT system, the integration of livestock into the farming system is broader in physical terms. Animal traction is an important input into the crop system. Less productive animal breeds are fed less concentrate feeds and therefore consume more crop by-products. Manure is actively allocated to the more productive irrigated fields thus transferring nutrients from other parts of the farm to the irrigated fields. Weeds are fed to the ruminants.

Meat, milk and wool, the main outputs of this system, are mainly produced for the market. Manure is an issue only where animals are stabled, at least for certain periods of the day or the year. Animal traction has been displaced completely by engine-powered equipment in developed countries and the MIT system in China is gradually following the same path. Pigs, ducks, geese and chicken play a minor role, mainly in LDCs in utilizing crop by-products and family labour.

Issues and perspectives

About 10 percent of the world population live in regions where this system is dominant. A large share of them belong to developed countries with relatively high income levels and where agricultural trade is important.

This system tends to be found in regions with rather high population density. The major issue in environmental terms is the use of water, with agriculture competing with the use for urban supply. Another important issue is the management of the lands that are not irrigated. Particularly in the Mediterranean region, complex silvopastoral systems have been developed combining rainfed tree crops (olive trees, hazel nuts, cork-oaks) with extensive grazing, mainly of small ruminants.

Interactions with other systems are mainly trade related and are expected to increase in the future as agricultural protection is reduced. This competition will be mainly with mixed rainfed temperate systems, which produce largely the same commodities.

This system is clearly associated with very intensive agriculture in temperate regions with a high population density. This is the case of the Far East and the southern European regions. They are producing typical commodities of temperate environments at very high levels of intensity. It is related to the historical land scarcity and to policies heavily protecting domestic agriculture. With the outcome of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, it can be expected that these systems will be less and less viable, having to compete with very efficient rain-fed systems producing the same commodities. The system can be expected to shift to more extensive production, using less water and chemical inputs. This will reduce the negative impacts of the system on the environment.

The expansion of international trade and particularly the incorporation of southern European countries into the EU, has led to an increase in the intensive production systems of off-season vegetables and fruits on the best irrigated land. The integration with livestock has been reduced, with ruminant grazing systems declining in absolute terms and concentrating on the marginal sites.

3.3.2 Humid and Sub-humid Tropics and Sub-tropics (MIH)

Definition and geographical distribution

This is a mixed system in tropical and subtropical regions with growing seasons of more than 180 days, in which irrigation of crops is significant.

The MIH system is particularly important in Asia. High population densities require intensive crop production and the irrigation of rice makes it possible to obtain more than two crops per year, even under conditions of very seasonal rainfall, substantially reducing yield variability as compared with the yield of upland rice or other rain-fed crops. Animal production has in the past been closely linked to the animal traction issue. In many Asian countries, small-scale mechanization is replacing it now, releasing feed resources for animal production to the markets. Typical cases are irrigated rice-buffalo systems of the Philippines, Vietnam, etc.

Resources and production

Buffaloes and cattle have mainly been selected for animal traction in this system, involving both tillage and transportation. As mechanization expands, these animals selected mainly for the adaptation and animal traction performance may gradually be substituted by highly productive breeds to respond to a growing demand for meat and, to a lesser extent, dairy products. Pigs and poultry (particularly ducks and geese) play an important role in utilizing otherwise lost feed resources. Potentially valuable genes of adaptation to high fibre diets, tolerance to diseases, etc may be at risk in this system.

Given the land scarcity, the major feed resources comprise crop by-products, straws, brans, weeds and roadside pastures. High yielding varieties of rice have emphasized grain production, frequently at the expense of their contribution to animal feed production (quality and quantity of straw, use of herbicides to control competition from weeds, etc). Highly productive forages for cut-and-carry systems, capable of growing on non-irrigated land are a potential avenue for intensification. Short term forage crops relay-planted into rice fields are also being tested. Tuber crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes, capable of producing acceptable yields of feeds of high energy concentration per kilogram of dry matter are an important resource for pig and to a lesser extent poultry production.

The high productivity of land in this system is achieved through intensive land use of irrigated areas. Hence, the need for animal traction or mechanization to rapidly till the land after harvest to achieve a new crop cycle. This clearly limits grazing of stubbles and explains the efforts to harvest straw and treat it for feeding ruminants. Cattle and buffaloes are mainly tethered or fed cut-and-carry forages. Ducks are to some extent fed on insects in rice fields, a system in conflict with the increasing use of insecticides in rice production.

The main contribution of ruminants to this system has been animal traction. This function is gradually being taken over by small-scale machinery. Gradually, ruminants are assuming the role of providers of an additional cash income, a way to convert fibrous crop by-products and slack family labour into marketable livestock products, which are increasingly demanded by urban dwellers.

Pigs and poultry provide meat for both home consumption and for the growing urban markets. MIH systems throughout the world produce 13 million tonnes of pork (18 percent of global production), more than any other land-based tropical system. Manure is recycled on the fields.

Issues and perspectives

Among the tropical and subtropical systems, the MIH system is the one related to the largest population group, 990 million people, 97 percent of which are in Asia (Table 8).

The environmental issues are related to the hygiene risks involved in keeping animals very close to people in areas of high population density. System-wide environmental issues are the frequently low efficiency of water utilization, and related erosion problems and the production of methane from paddy fields.

Competition for urban markets for livestock products is the main form of interaction with the landless monogastrics system, both domestically and globally through international trade.

This system has developed under high population pressure into a very closed system, capable of sustaining the basic needs of a large population. The challenge is how to maintain its sustainability in a changing setting: economic development is creating alternative employment and raising the opportunity cost of labour, consumers are purchasing increasing quantities of animal products and expecting products of different attributes: less fat, more homogeneous characteristics, more processing, etc. At the same time, expanding international trade is providing opportunities to access low cost feeds. These trends are promoting a certain degree of specialization while environmental concerns favour the maintenance of the traditional highly integrated system.

3.3.3 Arid and Semi-arid Tropics and Sub-tropics (MIA)

Definition and geographical distribution

This is a mixed system of arid and semi-arid regions, in which irrigation makes year round intensive crop production feasible. It is found in the Near East, South Asia, North Africa, western United States and Mexico.

Typical cases are luzerne/maize-based intensive dairy systems in California, Israel and Mexico; small-scale buffalo milk production in Pakistan; and animal traction based cash crop production in Egypt and Afghanistan.

Resources and production

Cattle and buffaloes for milk and animal traction are the main ruminant resource. Sheep and goats are important where marginal rangelands are available in addition to irrigated land. In the MIA system, pigs are kept only in the Far East; they are virtually inexistent in West Asia and North Africa, largely for cultural reasons (Islamic and Jewish religions only). The main introduced breeds are dairy cattle to supply milk to large urban centres. Under good management conditions, intensive dairy schemes have been quite successful in hot but dry environments. Some of the world's highest lactation yields are achieved in the MIA system in Israel and California. The traditional smallholder MIA system in Asia relies heavily on buffaloes for milk production.

Luzerne is the forage crop favoured for use under irrigated conditions, due to the plant's capacity to colonize and improve desert soils brought into irrigation schemes. Furthermore, luzerne is high yielding and of high quality, a fact which makes it particularly suitable to supplement ruminant rations based on straws of low digestibility. Straw from irrigated crops is an important feed resource. In this system, efforts to treat straw to increase digestibility are quite attractive. Under developed country conditions, ample use of concentrates is made to feed high production dairy cows.

Milk production management in the MIA system is highly diverse, ranging from traditional buffalo management in backyards fed mainly cut-and-carry forages and straw to large-scale dairy farms milking several hundred cows, mainly Holstein Friesians. In this case, herd management is aided by computer programmes determining management interventions such as daily levels of concentrate supplementation, timing of drying, vaccinating, pregnancy checking, etc.

In the traditional MIA system, irrigated crop production is the main source of income with livestock playing a very secondary role. This is generally reflected in rather extensive management of the livestock enterprises.

Using irrigable land for forage production tends to be economical only for relatively efficient milk production, if an attractive urban market for fresh milk and dairy products exists. This is the case when imports of dried milk and dairy products are restricted or consumers are willing to pay a premium for products made from fresh milk vis-à-vis those based on reconstituted milk. Elsewhere, MIA systems are cash crop oriented and large ruminants are kept mainly for animal traction. Furthermore, fuelwood tends to be a scarce resource in these systems, a fact frequently leading to the use of manure as fuel.

Issues and perspectives

The MIA system is predominant in regions that are home to over 750 million people, two thirds of them in Asia and one third in West Asia and North Africa (Table 9). A large proportion of the total labour input into these systems is allocated to irrigated cash crop production.

Milk production is mainly located in the proximity of urban centres. Particularly in modern, large scale operations, manure disposal tends to be an environmental problem. The main draw back of the MIA system, however, is water use, deficient drainage and salinization of irrigated land. The existence of certain fodder crops that tolerate relatively high levels of salinity, opens an avenue for livestock production as a strategy to live with the problem of salinization.

The main interaction with other systems occurs through the international market, particularly for milk and dairy products.

The MIA system makes an important contribution to food availability and employment in semi-arid and arid regions. The long term sustainability of these systems is nevertheless challenged by the problem of salinization of soils. Livestock play only an ancillary role, which may even decline in the development process, as appropriate mechanization becomes economically viable and as freer international trade and better infrastructure enhance the opportunities for consuming livestock products produced within more suitable environments.

3.4 Landless Systems (LL)

The developed countries dominate the picture of landless intensive production with more than half of total meat production as shown in Figure 7. Asia is already contributing some 20 percent and eastern Europe 15 percent, with the latter recently in sharp decline.

3.4.1 Monogastric Production System (LLM)

Definition and Geographical Distribution

This system is defined by the use of monogastric species, mainly chicken and pigs in a production system where feed is introduced from outside the farm, thus separating decisions concerning feed use from those of feed production, and particularly of manure utilization on fields to produce feed and/or cash crops. Thus, this system is an open system in terms of nutrient flow.

The importation of nutrients normally occurs via markets, also international markets. While the return of nutrients through manure frequently causes problems given the high

water content and thus high cost of transporting those nutrients to land-based systems capable of using them. On the other hand, mineral fertilizers are frequently a cheaper source of nutrients, thus reducing demand from other production systems for this resource, therefore turning it into "waste". Thus, the disposal of manure creates a major environmental impact of this system, particularly when production takes place close to highly populated urban centres. It also adds dimensions of pollution by odours and human health risks.

Landless monogastrics systems are found predominantly in OECD member countries with 52 percent of the total landless pork production and 58 percent of the landless poultry production globally. In the case of pig production, Asia is second, with 31 percent of the world total. For poultry, Central and South America follow with 15 percent (Table 10). To a large extent, this geographical distribution is determined by markets and consumption patterns, in addition to urbanization levels.

In developed countries with abundant road and cooling infrastructure, large-scale landless operations are located close to ports in net grain importing countries such as pig operations in the Netherlands or northern Germany. In grain exporting countries, such as the United States, landless systems tend to be located in grain producing areas, such as the states of Iowa, Illinois, etc. In countries with less developed infrastructures, such as roads and chilling, these operations are close to major urban centres, reflecting the feasibility of transporting grains vis-à-vis animal products.

Resources and production

The landless monogastric system is almost exclusively based on hybrid and high producing, exotic breeds. This genetic material is widely traded internationally. The expansion of this system is clearly linked with the extinction of traditional breeds.

The system is frequently stratified, implying that different enterprises specialize in the production of parent material, the production of young animals or the fattening process. The short production cycle of these species implies a high turnover and therefore a capacity to rapidly adjust to changes in demand for the products and to prices of inputs. It also implies that stock numbers are a poor indicator for the importance of the sector.

The system is characterized by an ample use of feeds of high energy concentration (mainly cereals, oilseeds and their by-products). This feature is central to understanding the rapid growth of the system worldwide. The high energy concentration allows transport of feeds over longer distances. This provides for the expansion of production pulled by market incentives, based on imported feeds. Production of feeds is separated from their utilization. Transportation of concentrate feeds can be achieved at substantially lower costs than that of perishable animal products, even though the quantities are larger. Furthermore, consumers tend to pay a premium for fresh animal products vis-à-vis frozen/preserved products. Seasonality of feed production is easily overcome through grain storage and/or deferred purchasing on the market.

The system is very knowledge- and capital-intensive, easily transferred across agroecological conditions, given the scarce links to the land base. Production efficiency is high in terms of output per unit of feed or per man-hour, less so when measured in terms of energy units. Concentrate conversion rates range between 2.5 - 4 kg/kg of pork, 2.0 to 2.5 kg feed DM/ kg of poultry meat, and even lower for eggs. Capital intensity is high in all cases but wide variations are found. Very sophisticated automated systems are used in developed countries, responding to high labour costs. Variability of production within individual enterprises over time is low as long as management systems in place control exogenous factors correctly, i.e. disinfection, isolation from animals external to the system, effective quality control of feed inputs, etc.

Capacity of traditional breeds to cope with these challenges has been replaced by ability to perform at higher levels of efficiency in terms of desired outputs, as long as these external challenges are controlled by management. Management and infrastructure requirements generate large economies of scale in these systems. This implies large herd/flock sizes, large volumes of wastes and high animal health risks.

Since products of this system are almost exclusively geared to urban markets, they have to comply to standardization and other specific quality criteria to be efficiently transported, processed and marketed. Many of these criteria are determined by the processing industries, rather than by the final consumers per se.

Issues and perspectives

Given the tradeable nature of the inputs and the animal products involved in these systems, this system cannot be related to specific populations. Consumers of the system's outputs are mainly urban populations, frequently close to where the production base is located but also in other urban settings due to the active trade.

The large-scale nature of the system and the heavy investments lead to very high labour productivity but very low employment. Thus, this system produces outputs for a large number of urban consumers but generate employment for few people. This employment tends to be relatively stable over time due to the low seasonality of production.

While the employment effect at the production level is low, it must be acknowledged that the forward linkages in processing, wholesaling and retailing, as well as the backward linkages in inputs and services required, generate additional employment.

The most important interactions with the environment are generation of large volumes of wastes and air pollution, as well as the increased demand for cereals, with the impact of the latter on the land resource base. In addition, the genetic erosion related to traditional breeds of chicken and pigs is of concern. Finally, given the character of substitutes of ruminant meats, it can be argued that the rapid development of "modern" landless monogastric systems has reduced the market incentives to expand ruminant production, thus reducing pressures for deforestation and degradation of rangelands.

The system is typically competing with traditional land-based production for market shares in the urban markets. It must be kept in mind that poultry and pork are close substitutes for beef and mutton, thus also interacting with the ruminant systems. In a broader sense, the demand for cereals created by these systems is also competing for land resources with land-based ruminant systems.

Given the strong demand for these commodities, production can be expected to continue growing rapidly, particularly in LDCs. Landless poultry and pig production systems account for the majority of the output in developed countries and are rapidly increasing their share in LDCs given their high supply elasticity in the short run.

The landless monogastrics system is an open system where important market failures imply a need for regulations. The negative impacts related to waste management are generally clearly located and regulations as well as technological innovations are mitigating the negative effects, particularly in developed countries. An important trend is the move to select more appropriate sites for production, away from urban centres to where enough land is available to make manure disposal through farming feasible.

The environmental impacts of these systems related to their high derived demand of cereals are of a global nature, given the links of these systems to the international grain markets.

3.4.2 Ruminant Production System (LLR)

Definition and geographical distribution

This system is defined by the use of ruminant species, principally cattle and marginally sheep, in production systems where feed is mainly introduced from outside the farm system, thus separating decisions of feed use from those of feed production and particularly of manure utilization on fields to produce feed and/or cash crops. Thus, this system is very open in terms of nutrient flow. It shares this feature with the landless monogastrics system. The main difference is that ruminants need more fibrous rations and that the feed conversion of concentrates to liveweight gains is substantially lower. These systems are only competitive under market conditions where consumers can afford to pay a substantial premium for quality beef over chicken or pork.

Table 11 includes only information on ruminant meat production. Milk production has not been included in the quantitative analysis because the border between landless and land-based production is particularly blurred as roughage is essentially required to produce milk from healthy cows. In many cases, transport of roughage over a certain distance is economic. Thus the system description includes considerations on milk production but no quantitative estimates are provided.

Landless ruminant production systems are highly concentrated in a few regions of the world. In the case of cattle, they are almost exclusively found in eastern Europe and the CIS and in a few OECD member countries. Landless sheep production systems are only found in western Asia and Northern Africa (Table 11).

Typical cases are large-scale feedlots in the United States and in eastern Europe and the CIS. Intensive dairy operations in the same regions are more land-based, due to the need to feed palatable fodder, which cannot be transported economically over long distances. Small-scale peri-urban dairy production, frequent in many LDCs, particularly in Asia, was not included in this system due to its very distinct nature, where manure is frequently recycled to home gardens or used as fuel and feeds which are mainly roughage produced close-by. These types of production are considered under mixed small-holder systems. Examples are sheep fattening in Syria, feedlots in Texas and large-scale dairy operations in Eastern Europe.

Resources and production

The landless ruminant system is based almost exclusively on high producing, specialized breeds and their crosses which, nevertheless, have not been bred specifically for performance under "landless" conditions. Furthermore, the limited proportion of total animals in these systems indicate that displacement of traditional breeds cannot be attributed specifically to this system.

With regard to milk production, the Holstein Friesian breed is clearly the most important one as well as for beef production, English breeds predominate in the United States, while large European dual-purpose breeds provide animals for fattening. This clearly reflects the overall endowment with land and particularly range. The abundance of rangeland in the United States has led to the specialized production of calves from beef breeds for feedlot operations, while under European conditions these animals are a joint product with milk, mainly from mixed systems.

Apart from the high energy concentration feeds such as grains, this system requires fibrous feeds to maintain the rumen functions. This is frequently achieved through the use of silage, hay or fresh chopped forages. This requirement increases the complexity of these systems. To a large extent, ruminants are used like monogastric animals and their capability of efficiently utilizing fibrous feeds, not suitable for direct use by humans, is neglected. This is particularly true for the brief fattening process in North American feedlots, which improves carcass quality of young animals raised mainly on range of low opportunity cost.

This system is producing 12 percent of the global beef production. Production is highly concentrated in developed countries, mainly eastern Europe, the CIS and OECD member countries. The production system is highly capital-intensive, leading to substantial economies of scale. It is also feed-intensive and labour-extensive. Key efficiency parameters are daily weight gains and feed conversion, basically reflecting the efficiency in the use of capital invested in infrastructure or in the form of lean animals and feeds. Weight gains are usually in the range of 1 to 1.5 kg/day and feed conversion rates are about 8 to 10 kg of grains per kg of weight gain.

In market oriented systems, such as the North American feedlot operations, economic performance is largely related to the evolution of prices of lean versus fat animals. Profitability is highest when the price differential for fat animals is large, as this effect is reflected in the price obtained for the total liveweight sold and not only for the additional weight gained in the feedlot. To avoid the downside risk involved in these price fluctuations, feedlot operators often hedge the risk through the option market.

In this system products are almost exclusively geared to urban markets. In the case of the high quality beef produced, there is very limited processing involved. The situation of milk is more similar to the one of poultry and pork, a large and growing proportion being processed into dairy products.

Issues and perspectives

Direct employment effects of this system are limited. Some additional employment is generated in specialized services and inputs required (particularly feed production, transportation, processing, supply of feeder cattle) as well as in the processing and marketing of the products.

These systems are competing for market shares and resources with all other livestock production systems through the cross-price elasticities for different meats and animal protein sources. Given the dependency on cooling and road infrastructure of trade in fresh animal products, this competition is stronger in developed countries than in countries with poor infrastructures. For the same reason, competition is stronger in cities close to ports than in the hinterland.

This system is closely linked to land-based systems that normally provide the young stock for landless systems. This constitutes an important difference to landless monogastrics systems, in which replacement stock is produced within the same system.

These interactions are basically the same as those of landless monogastric systems. The most important ones are related to the production of animal wastes, leading to water and air pollution, acid rain and human health hazards. Furthermore, these systems induce extensive use of cereals with related environmental concerns (degradation of soils, nutrient transfers, use of agrochemicals, etc).

The landless ruminant system is producing only a small fraction of the ruminant meat output in developed countries and is of negligible importance in LDCs. It is critically dependent on high prices paid for quality beef and milk, and on ample supplies of low cost grains. The landless ruminant system can be expected to continue growing slowly in North America, driven by population growth, but with per caput consumption of beef stagnating. Its importance can be expected to decline in the European Community as production becomes more extensive in response to policies of reducing support to agriculture and promoting environmentally friendlier production systems.

The situation in eastern Europe and the former USSR is different. There, this system developed under central planning as an industrial process to produce these goods. With the shift to market economies, its importance is declining and ruminant production in that part of the world is shifting to the land base and to a smaller scale.

A growing market for grain-fed beef exists in Japan and the newly industrialized countries of Asia. The growth rate of this market will depend mainly on the evolution of the international price of cereals and the increased per caput incomes. This market will in part be supplied domestically and through exports from the United States, Canada, Australia and possibly South America.

Globally, the system will continue to be of limited importance and mainly concentrated in the United States and in a few high income, arid countries of the Near East.

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