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Small ruminants in the household economy of Lesotho: Towards a dynamic functional perspective - Le rôle des petits ruminants dans l'économie familiale au Lesotho: Vers une évolution dynamique

J.P. Hunter

Ministry of Agriculture and Marketing
P.O. Box 333
Maseru 100
Lesotho


Summary
Resume
Introduction
Small ruminant ownership and distribution
Ownership and 'mafisa'
Ownership and labour migration
Income of small ruminant owners
Small ruminant acquisition
Conclusions
References


Summary

Basotho stockkeepers have raised Merino sheep and Angora goats for wool and mohair since their introduction in the 19th century. When grain production for export became increasingly unprofitable and labour migration to South Africa became more attractive, wool and mohair became the principal sources of domestically generated rural cash. Small ruminant keeping was ideally suited to this function as it had the advantage of being complementary in labour requirements to migration. Small ruminants also provide households with meat and serve as a store of savings from migrant incomes and as insurance against retirement. Using data from a nationwide socio-economic survey and from measurements of a sample of sheep and goats, this paper analyses these roles for different classes of livestock holders. In a country in which landlessness is increasing, small ruminant ownership tends to be associated with access to land, and owners tend to be well-situated in the income distribution. Small ruminant ownership is thus a key element in a rural household's pursuit of economic security and prosperity.

Resume

Depuis plus d'un siècle, les éleveurs Basotho possédaient des moutons Mérinos et des chèvres Angora pour la production de laine et de mohair. Quand la rentabilité des productions céréalières destinées à l'exportation diminua et que la migration de main-d'oeuvre vers l'Afrique du Sud devint plus intéressante, la laine et le mohair devinrent la source principale de revenu monétaire rural. L'élevage des petits ruminants était parfaitement adapté à cette fonction d'autant plus que les besoins en main-d'oeuvre de cette production étaient complémentaires des besoins en main-d'oeuvre migratoire. En plus de fibre, les petits ruminants fournissent la viande auto-consommée et servent de refuge à l'épargne des migrants et aussi d'assurance. Cette communication analyse, à partir d'une enquête socio-économique et un échantillon de moutons et de chèvres, le rôle des petits ruminants pour différentes classes d'éleveurs. Dans un pays où la pression foncière augmente, la propriété de petits ruminants tend à être associée avec l'accès à la terre et les éleveurs de petits ruminants sont plutôt bien placés dans la distribution des revenus. Il apparaît que la possession de petits ruminants est un élément clé dans la recherche d'un revenu stable et de la prospérité des ménages ruraux.

Introduction

In Lesotho, Merino sheep and Angora goats are kept primarily for their wool and mohair (Hunter, 1987). Only 5.2% and 2.9% of sheep and goat managing households sell or trade small ruminants (LHS, 1985). Money earned from wool and mohair provides the largest source of domestically generated income to the rural economy and exports of these products are Lesotho's major source of domestically generated foreign exchange. As the economy is well integrated into the southern African cash economy, a household's ability to earn cash is a major determinant of its welfare.

The commercial focus began over 100 yr ago when the Basotho started acquiring Merinos and Angoras in response to the income opportunities presented by high wool and mohair prices (Kimble, 1978; Hunter, 1987; 1988a). Further impetus to commercial sheep and goat keeping was provided by the decline of alternative domestic opportunities (such as commercial grain production) and the rise of labour migration to South African mines and its subsequent dominance as an income-earning strategy. Herding, unlike cultivation, was complementary to migration since it did not demand intensive use of adult labour. By the end of the 19th century, Basotho flocks had been almost entirely transformed from meat producing traditional varieties to fibre producing exotic ones (Hunter, 1987).

Sheep and goat keeping appear to be highly profitable enterprises, providing a rate of return on investment of 6% to 10% (Swallow et al, 1987a; Hunter, 1988b). No conventional investments pay rates of return even closely comparable to those paid by investment in livestock (Swallow, 1985).

Bank savings deposits, about the only other investment that rural people can make, pay between 4% and 6% and these, unlike livestock, are not inflation resistant. Liquidity of deposits is desired by stockkeepers (Swallow et al, 1987b) but the high profitability is a strong incentive for them to keep livestock and, if possible, to expand their herds and flocks. This profitability is a function of low production costs and high output prices, as physical productivity is low. For 1700 adult ewes selected on random days during the shearing season at woolsheds throughout Lesotho, live weight was 29.3 kg, greasy wool yield was 2.28 kg with 52% clean yield, and staple length and diameter were 61.8 mm and 19.7 microns. For 2000 adult does, weight was 26.2 kg, greasy fleece weight 0.82 kg with a clean yield of 85.5% and a staple length of 132.2 mm.

In spite of a commercial focus, Lesotho's small ruminant economy has many of the problems and constraints facing livestock economies in other parts of Africa. Animals are communally grazed and this has caused unsustainable overgrazing. There has been noticeable long term range deterioration and soil erosion is becoming increasingly severe. As a result, the long term viability of the sheep and goat industry may be threatened. Some of these problems of the small ruminant sector are shared with the wider livestock industry but some are unique to it. Solutions are difficult to devise and even more difficult to implement. Solutions must nonetheless be found if small ruminants are to achieve their full potential in contributing to Lesotho's economic development. This paper analyses the functions performed by small ruminants in the Basotho household economy.

Small ruminant ownership and distribution

Most cattle and small ruminant holders appear to operate an integrated farming enterprise combining animal and crop production. Estimates and projections made from 1970 data show that ruminants are held by about 49% of rural households (Eckert et al, 1982) and that about 90% of these have cattle and 62% sheep and/or goats. Although 38% of households have only cattle, as few as 3% specialise solely in either sheep or goats. About 24% of sheep owners have cattle but no goats and 19% of goat owners have cattle but no sheep. For the 62% of livestock-owning households with small ruminants, there is considerable overlap in ownership with 50% having all 3 ruminant species, 14% cattle and goats and 19% cattle and sheep. Only 17% of owners have no cattle. Overall, 77% of small ruminant owners have goats and 82% have sheep.

Average holdings in the samples were 5.6 for cattle, 55.0 for small ruminants, 44.5 for sheep only and 25.2 for goats only. The largest herds and flocks were associated with ruminant owners who kept all 3 species (56 sheep, 32 goats and 8 cattle) and these had the majority of sheep (79%) and goats (85%) and almost 50% of the cattle. By contrast, the 38% of ruminant owners who hold only cattle have only 30% of all cattle. Livestock owning households appear to have a disproportionate access to land as 16.5% of rural households but only 3% of livestock owning households are landless and 93% of landless households to have no livestock at all (Eckert et al, 1982).

Census data (LHS, 1985) suggest that goat and particularly sheep ownership is more widespread among middle-aged (35% owning sheep and 33% goats) and, to a lesser extent, among elderly owners (30% and 26%) than amongst younger ones (8% and 10%). Middle-aged men (41-60 yr) hold approximately 50% of the animals, are slightly less than 50% of the small ruminant owners and have average sized flocks (44 sheep and 29 goats). Younger owners (21-40 yr) have smaller flocks (41 and 18) while the flocks of elderly owners (> 60 yr) are larger (49 and 38). A higher percentage of young men acquire goats than sheep, although they have a smaller percentage of the total flock than their sheep owning contemporaries. Only about 12% of flocks are owned or managed by women and their flock sizes are smaller than those owned by men.

Ownership and 'mafisa'

Access to livestock income is not limited to those who own animals. There are several arrangements whereby owners may loan livestock to others. Ownership and management may be distinct as may their benefits. The most formal and probably the most common loan ('mafisa') had the important political function of welding the loyalty of commoners to chiefs in earlier times (Kimble, 1978). It legally provides the recipient with current production (wool, mohair, milk, dung, traction) in exchange for labour services or access to cattle posts. Permanent production (sales and slaughter values and progeny) are retained by the owner. In practice, there is some blurring between current and permanent values and owners and recipients sometimes share both (Swallow et al, 1987b). There is no legal or customary limit to the duration of 'mafisa'.

In 1960 about 23% of sheep-managing and 22% of goat-managing households were receiving animals on a 'mafisa' loan and 10% of sheep and 14% of goats were involved in these arrangements (Morojele, 1965). In 1985, 19% of sheep managers and 21% of goat managers were involved in 'mafisa' (LHS, 1985) but the percentage of the flock involved had fallen (by 50% for sheep and 57% for goats). Almost 70% of sheep borrowed on 'mafisa' are received by households with smaller than average flocks (41-50 head) and 'mafisa' animals substantially augment the owner's own flock. In flocks of 10 or fewer sheep, borrowed animals are almost 38% of owned animals. Although slightly less than 12% of households in the category borrowed 'mafisa' animals, the average number borrowed was 17 or about double the number owned. In flocks of less than 40 sheep, over 20% of households borrowed an average of 19 'mafisa' sheep each. The average number of animals borrowed by those with average-sized flocks was 37. Larger flock owners tend to loan a larger percentage of 'mafisa' sheep than smaller owners but the pattern is not a marked one. The 'mafisa' pattern for goats is broadly similar except that almost 25% of borrowed goats go to households which own none. This contrasts with an insignificant percentage of sheep borrowed by households without them.

Elderly resident owners are the largest borrowers and the largest loaners in 'mafisa' arrangements. They receive 7.5 sheep and 3.3 goats and loan out 1.5 sheep and 1.8 goats. Resident younger owners are also net recipients. Non-resident owners, by contrast, are net lenders. Some 'mafisa' redistribution appears to be from large to small owners or, in some cases of goats, from owners to non-owners but much of the redistribution seems to be to larger owners, a category that often coincides with older residents.

Major reasons for 'mafisa' loans (LHS, 1985) are to obtain herding labour (45%), to help others (18%), to obtain better flock management (14%), and to gain access to grazing land (3%). Reasons for borrowing on 'mafisa' (Swallow et al, 1987a) are to increase income from livestock products (70%), to help others with their herding problems (20%) and to reduce their herding costs (6%).

A relatively small number of sheep and goats are involved in 'mafisa' but about 20% of small ruminant households are either lenders or borrowers. For these households, 'mafisa' may allow them to overcome critical resource constraints and permit small owners to augment their incomes. Sharing and redistribution of livestock do not appear to be primary motivations for 'mafisa' but this is frequently the result, especially with the elderly, who command sufficient labour and for whom additional wool and mohair receipts are a valuable income supplement. There is evidence that other livestock sharing arrangements may be at least as prevalent as 'mafisa' but little is known of their incidence or how they operate.

Approximately one-third of middle-aged men own either sheep or goats. Allowing for those who keep only a single species, in excess of 40% in this age group appear to own small ruminants and another 20% probably have access to small ruminant income either through 'mafisa' or less formal arrangements. As many as 60% of households headed by middle-aged men may derive income from small ruminants.

Ownership and labour migration

No discussion of the rural household in Lesotho can fail to make reference to the ubiquity of labour migration. Migration to South Africa is a major source of income and a means by which wealth can be accumulated. Few rural households, and they are invariably the poorest, rely solely on agriculture for survival (Eckert et al, 1982). Migration is mainly a male phenomenon and typically starts in a person's youth and ends 20 yr later (van der Wiel, 1977). Some 44% of males aged 20 yr to 59 yr are migrant labourers but 52% aged 20 to 39 are migrants.

People who are able to acquire livestock usually have access to land and may be better able to establish an independent livelihood. Survey data (LHS, 1985) indicate that male owners of sheep and goats are disproportionately resident at home: 86% as opposed to only 61% of all males. Younger male owners are more likely to be resident than are their contemporaries in general, although this is less pronounced in the case of goat than of sheep owners. Residents in all age categories are likely to have much larger flocks than nonresidents. Questionnaire responses highlight the importance of migration to South Africa for male owners. More than 96% are either currently migrants (27%) or have been so in the past (69%).

When wealthy families are compared with poorer ones, only a weak negative correlation between wealth and labour migration is observed (van der Wiel, 1977) but the evidence suggests that wealthier families have fewer migrant heads, implying that the heads of wealthier families leave the migrant stream earlier (Morojele, 1962; van der Wiel, 1977). Middle-aged resident owners have 50% more fields, 6 times as many small ruminants and almost twice as many cattle as their non-resident peers.

Income of small ruminant owners

Lesotho's economy is characterized by widespread market relations. The ability to acquire cash is the major determinant of a household's well-being and 24% of residents owning small ruminants rely on relatives' remittances as their principal source (LHS, 1985). Although this is the largest proportion of various alternative sources of cash, it is less than 50% of those who rely on it in the sample of owners who have cattle only (Swallow et al, 1987b). The next largest groups (about 33%) rely on sales of livestock or livestock products as their principal sources of cash, while about 40% rely on various non-livestock activities to produce cash.

Beer sales are the largest secondary source of cash, although almost 20% of households have no variation in household income source and almost all are dependent on remittances as the primary source. Livestock income plays a minor role in meeting the cash needs of this group. Only 5% mention livestock sales as a primary source and only about 20% mention sale of livestock products as a secondary source. Those who continue to rely on remittances have relatively small flocks averaging 24 sheep and 13 goats, which is about half the average for residents. Those whose principal source of cash is livestock have larger than average flocks and those who rely on the sale of livestock products, mostly wool and mohair, have Angora flocks twice as large as those who rely on the sale of livestock but their sheep flocks are only 33% larger. This is probably because Basotho prefer mutton to goat meat and sell sheep in rural areas mostly for slaughter. Mohair revenues have also tended to keep ahead of inflation whereas wool prices have not (Hunter, 1987). Livestock sellers would thus place a greater emphasis on Merinos while wool and mohair sellers would put somewhat greater emphasis on Angoras.

For small ruminant owners, livestock derived income tends to increases with the age category of the owner (Table 1). For wool and mohair income this is not unexpected since flock size increases with the owner's age. The proportion derived by resident owners from livestock sales also tends to increase with the owner's age, which is not expected. A significant component of livestock sales is sheep, although sales of cattle and goats also increase for this group. It appears that elderly small ruminant owners treat their livestock as a depletable asset. The pattern for livestock income for those who own only cattle is the opposite of that for small ruminant owners, as it tends to decrease with age category. Despite this, and the fact that livestock-derived incomes are smaller, total incomes are similar, or a little greater, because of higher levels of non-livestock income.

Table 1. Cash income (Maloti) from livestock and non-livestock sources for different categories and ages of owners in Lesotho.

Species owned and age of owner (yr)

Wool and mohair

Livestock sales

Total livestock income

Non livestock income

Total income

Small ruminants


20-40

331

109

440

1236

1676


41-60

376

266

642

2208

2850


>60

434

381

815

1495

2310


Average

386

231

617

1852

2469

Cattle


20-40

0

247

247

1434

1681


41-60

0

89

89

2814

2903


>60

0

73

73

2500

2573


Average

0

102

102

2172

2274

With the exception of the youngest category of livestock owners, most earn cash close to the national consumption level. About 25% of small ruminant owners and more than 50% of those who have only cattle have not achieved independence from primary reliance on migrant remittances for cash. Either these remittance-dependent owners have been unable or unwilling to invest in livestock or an alternative activity, or they have been unsuccessful. Alternatively, such investment has been seen as unnecessary owing to large numbers of dependable migrant family members with high cash incomes and access to other resources.

Small ruminant owners reliant on remittances have a number of female workers similar to other groups (Table 2) but more male workers and fewer fields, as would be expected. Cattle-only owners, who are also heavily reliant on remittances, also have fewer fields but, unexpectedly, have fewer male workers. Those small ruminant owners who rely principally on remittances average 46% higher cash incomes (M 2905) than those who rely principally on livestock sales or sales of livestock products (M 1992) even though the latter groups have a greater livestock income. Livestock-holding households with small ruminants seem to have 45% to 50% more workers and 5% to 15% more fields than those without.

Table 2. Resources available to resident male heads of households owning livestock in Lesotho.

Ownership type

Cattle

Small ruminants

Fields

Male workers

Female workers

Non- livestock income

(n)

(n)

(n)

(n)

(n)

(Maloti)

Small ruminants

6

55

2.15

1.171

0.248

2469

Relying on remittances

37

1.96

1.165

0.253

2603


Relying on livestock

104

2.24

1.122

0.245

1093


Cattle

4

0

1.88

0.700

0.248

2172

Small ruminant acquisition

The ability to acquire livestock, and particularly small ruminants, is a key element in a strategy to achieve some independence from reliance on migrant earnings. A few owners create herds and flocks through purchase from accumulated savings but most obtain them by inheritance. Inherited animals may originally have been acquired (in the previous generation) by having a large number of daughters and receiving more in bohali (bride-price) than was paid out for sons, through stock theft and stock raiding which were once an important feature of Basotho life, as gifts, as payments-in-kind for labour, by chiefly perogative, or by having a large number of wage-earning family members.

A national 20% sample of households designed to assess the impact of labour migration on the provision of manpower in Lesotho (BOS, 1972) found that the average number of small ruminants increased with the number of currently working migrants. The percentage of households with more than 50 animals was also positively related to the number of migrants in the household. Households with migrant workers were more likely to have small stock and 75% of those with no migrants were without small stock. This proportion declined with increases in the number of migrants until only 45% of households with 4 migrants or more had no small ruminants.

Conclusions

Sheep and goat keeping are well suited to Lesotho's environment and are compatible with labour migration. Many households raise Merinos and Angoras as part of a strategy to earn cash with which to purchase the necessities of life in Lesotho's increasingly monetarized economy. Small ruminants are particularly well suited to this strategy as they absorb savings from migrant incomes and serve as an accumulation of wealth. In addition they do not place demands on migrant labour since herding can be done by young family members.

Few small ruminant owners rely solely on their flocks for their livelihood. For most, they are one of many strategies that include labour migration, horticulture or cash cropping, handicrafts, beer brewing, construction and, for a fortunate few, ownership of a Cafe or shop. The majority of small ruminant owners also have cattle. Small ruminant owners appear to have better than average Cash and non-cash incomes, 84% also own cattle and almost all have land and plant more fields than those who have cattle only. Fewer than 30% of rural households are small ruminant owners and their distribution tends to have a distinctive age profile. Livestock, and particularly small ruminants, are gradually acquired by young household heads, achieve their widest distribution amongst middle-aged heads and are gradually dissipated with age.

All livestock sales increase for elderly holders but those of sheep increase most. This may be because mutton is the preferred meat but may also be because better formal and informal marketing channels exist for sheep. More goat sales could be expected if there were better or more reliable goat marketing channels. For younger age groups the data show limited sales, probably because herds and flocks are still being built up.

Some proposed solutions to the problems of overstocking and poor range condition involve limiting numbers by imposing user fees, restricting migratory herding patterns, and broadening the extent of collective range management associations. Increased attention to breeding, coupled with a vigorous culling programme and imposition of price penalties for poor quality wool and mohair have also been proposed to deal with some of the problems of the small ruminant sector. Despite their anticipated benefits, all these policies impose costs on livestock holders. If they did not, they would be ineffective. Knowing the magnitude of these costs and on whom they are imposed is a necessary feature of policy analysis. Minimizing the consequences for a household's long term welfare is a necessary feature of policy design.

Reduction in livestock numbers will necessarily have an adverse impact on rural incomes, especially for elderly owners for whom livestock function as a pension. The goal should be to achieve the desired reduction while minimizing income and wealth loss. An important codicil to this is to increase the productivity of the remaining livestock, which will require a package of proven improvement measures. This may be easier for Angoras (Hunter, 1988b) but research efforts should be devoted to isolating improvements for all species. Alternatives to livestock as savings and pension accounts also need to be provided. Since livestock are a hedge against inflation, particular attention should be paid to devising a financial instrument which, at least in part, replicates this function.

Planners have long assumed that livestock have ritual, ceremonial or traditional functions and that they are accumulated principally for prestige. This view is changing and it is increasingly being recognised that livestock in Lesotho, as in other parts of the world, play an economic role. Efforts to come to terms with Lesotho's rangeland problems are long overdue. To be effective, such efforts must take into account the functions of livestock in the rural economy.

References

BOS 1972. 1970 Census of Agriculture Report. Bureau of Statistics, Maseru, Lesotho.

Eckert J B. Kenneth C N. Forrest E W and Ronald A W. 1982. Towards the year 2000: Strategies for Lesotho's agriculture. Research Report No. 10. Ministry of Agriculture and Marketing, Maseru, Lesotho.

Hunter J P. 1987. The economics of wool and mohair production and marketing in Lesotho. Research Division Report RD-R-80. Ministry of Agriculture and Marketing, Maseru, Lesotho.

Hunter J P. 1988a. An introduction to the economic history of modern Lesotho. Ministry of Agriculture, Maseru, Lesotho.

Hunter J P. 1988b. The setting of grazing fees and the attempt to establish control of animal numbers on the Lesotho range. Ministry of Agriculture, Maseru, Lesotho (mimeo).

Kimble J. 1978. Towards an understanding of the political economy of Lesotho: The origins of commodity production and migrant labour 1830-ca1885. M.Sc. Thesis. Lesotho National University, Roma, Lesotho.

LHS 1985. Livestock holders survey. Ministry of Agriculture and Marketing, Maseru, Lesotho.

Morojele C M H. 1965. 1960 Agricultural Census: Basutoland. Part 7. Livestock and Poultry. Ministry of Agriculture, Maseru, Lesotho.

Swallow B M. 1985. Tenure of grazing land in Lesotho: Implications for a general livestock model. Lesotho National University Roma, Lesotho (mimeo).

Swallow B M, Brokken R F. Motsamai M, Sopeng L and Storey G G. 1987a. A survey of the production, utilisation and marketing of livestock and livestock products in Lesotho. Research Division Report RD-R-81. Ministry of Agriculture, Maseru, Lesotho.

Swallow B M, Brokken R F. Motsamai M, Sopeng L and Storey G G. 1987b. Livestock development and range utilization in Lesotho. Research Division Report RD-R-82. Ministry of Agriculture, Maseru, Lesotho.

van der Wiel A C A. 1977. Migratory wage labour. Its role in the economy of Lesotho. Mazenod Book Centre, Mazenod, Lesotho.


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