Carrying capacity: outdated concept or useful livestock management tool?

By J. Dijkman

ODI-Pastoral Development Network ; Livestock: Coping with Drought


Herd of Djallonké ewes bred at the Technical Support Centre at Kolokopé.©FAO Carrying capacity (CC), in its most basic definition, determines the maximum livestock or wildlife population that a habitat or ecosystem can support on a sustainable basis. In livestock production, the concept has been applied mainly to the management of the arid and semi-arid rangeland regions of the world and especially to pastoral systems in Africa where livestock are primarily dependent on grazing resources for feed supply. The CC concept, more than in other disciplines, has provided a planning and management tool which has formed the basis of many proposed development interventions designed to ensure the continued sustainable exploitation of these rangeland ecosystems (Stoddard et al., 1975). Pastoral systems in other regions, such as intensive dairy or beef production in Western Europe, are highly dependent, and can produce economically, on outside feed resources. It is, hence, hypothesised that the CC concept has not been applied to any great extent in these systems, as potential livestock production is not restricted by the available land and its primary productivity.

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