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Forage, Livestock and Tree Crop Integration in Southeast Asia:
Present Position and Future Prospects

C.C. Wong 1 and F. A. Moog2

1Centre for Food Crops and Industries, MARDI, P.O.Box 12301 GPO. 50774 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Research Division, Bureau of Animal Industry, Visayas Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines


The current scenario for the development of forage, livestock and tree crop integration in Southeast Asia is presented and discussed in relation to its potential for the future development of a sustainable ruminant industry in the ASEAN countries. Using the Malaysian model, the R & D on beef-oil palm integration commencing from its early conception in the seventies to commercialization of its package technology in the late nineties is highlighted. The field of scientific endeavour covering (a) forage feed availability, (b) improvement of forage feed supply and quality in relation to ecological zones and age of crops, (c) management of plantations for optimal livestock production, (d) integration effects on plantation crops and on the environment, (e) economic advantages that can accrue from reduced weeding and (f) potential use of crop by-products by ruminants are critically reviewed. Results of scientific findings have helped to dispel the prevalent negative attitudes of planters towards ruminant rearing in plantations and also provide a firm basis for a holistic approach in livestock- tree-cropping integration. Although nutrient availability per tonne of DM forage declines with the age of plantation crop, the major nutritional drawback is the significant dry matter yield reduction per unit of land area. The use of agro-by-products from the plantations to overcome the diminishing supply of forages in mature stands is highlighted. The cattle component is now regarded as complementary to plantation crop production. Through conscientious partnership of research institutions, government agencies and plantation entrepreneurs, cattle tree-crop integration has evolved into a successful and economically viable investment. Future research and development priorities will depend on reorientation of commitment to multidisciplinary and multisectoral systems approaches that address efficient resource use and management for environmentally sustainable development of the ruminant industry within the plantation systems.


The new millennium will witness the inevitable increased urbanization of Southeast Asia, a steady rise in standards of living as a consequence of economic development and a rapid increase in population. Despite the recent economic downturn of the Southeast Asia countries, the projected trends in the per capita consumption of livestock products will be significantly increased over the years. In the past, total meat consumption per capita increased from 9.4 in 1961 to 21.0 kg year-1 in 1995 with pigs and poultry being the major meat sources (FAO 1999). This increase in demand for livestock products has exacerbated competition for agricultural land and labour between animal and crop production. As livestock density increases particularly in areas of intensive cropping systems, it is only a matter of time before the issues of land constraint for future livestock production and environmental sustainability will need to be addressed rationally.

Traditionally, cropping agriculture in Southeast Asia is already intensive. Plantation agriculture is the only sector that has the potential for maximization of land use and promotion of agricultural diversity and sustainability using environmentally friendly cultural practices. It is for these reasons that integration of livestock within the agriculture cropping industry in Southeast Asia has received renewed emphasis in the new millennium (Table 1).

Table 1. Availability of forages for ruminants from potential grazing areas of Southeast Asia

Land use type


 (million ha)

Yield *

( tons DM/ha/yr)


(million tons DM)

Permanent Pasture




Forest & Woodland




Permanent Crops




Other Land Use








* Average yields proposed by Roxas et al. (1997)
   Adapted from Pezo et al. (1999)

Over 210 million hectares of agricultural land are estimated to be under perennial tree crops in Southeast Asia (Alexandratos 1995). The countries in Southeast Asia with huge plantation crops are Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. These countries account for over 80% of the plantation land.

The potential for integrating such perennial tree crops with large and small ruminants is considerable. Rubber, oil palm and coconut plantations in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, teak forests in Lao PDR and Myanmar, and coconut and tropical orchards in

Philippines and Thailand have not been fully exploited for ruminant integration purposes. In Malaysia, the preferred options under rubber are small ruminants and large ruminant under oil palm. Under coconut, both large and small ruminants are adopted. 

It is not surprising that a number of livestock integration projects in plantation crops, especially coconut, had been initiated to spearhead such development as early as the seventies to stabilize, if not increase the income of smallholders from the dual use of land. Such an endeavour has resulted in voluminous publications on R & D integration projects which were extensively reviewed by Reynolds (1995). The 3.16 million hectares of coconuts in Philippines offer tremendous potential for integration of ruminants and diversification of income (Moog and Faylon 1991, Deocareza and Diesta 1993, Castillo 1995). The present low copra and coconut oil prices and an uncertain future for coconut plantations with declining production due to senility of the palms are reasons for ventures into livestock integration. Although higher yielding hybrid coconuts are being introduced, the adoption of new technologies has been slow for various social and economic reasons.

 In Indonesia, the cattle component was estimated to contribute as much as 75% of the total farm income in a coconut-cattle enterprise (Iniguez and Sanchez 1991). In Malaysia, the high food import bill, estimated at RM 12 million (ringgit) per year, has prompted the government to promote a national policy on integration of livestock in plantations as an urgent measure to reduce the food bill in the face of a recent slowdown in national economic growth. 

Presently, livestock-tree cropping integration is still being looked upon as an avenue for the expansion of food crops and the ruminant industry in Southeast Asian countries with limited land resources.

Constraints in improvement and utilization of forage supply in the plantation environment

(a) Environmental factors

The environmental factors affecting forage supply are fairly universal among the three plantation crops in Southeast Asia.

Generally, the light environment in tree crop plantations is highly variable and dynamic and is largely determined by the age of tree crops, planting density and pattern. The light environment can be almost as high as full daylight at planting and down to as low as less than 10% of full daylight when the tree crop canopy closes. The natural ground vegetation normally declines with decreasing light and increasing age of the main crops.

(b) Natural forages

Luxuriant undergrowth or ground vegetation forms a free source of nutritious feed for ruminant production. The plantation ground vegetation was estimated to comprise 83% of the total forage resource available in Malaysia (Devendra 1981).  Survey and sampling on utilization of the ground vegetation in rubber and oil palm indicated that 60 -70% of the vegetation could be utilized for ruminant production.  The ground vegetation normally comprises grasses, broad-leaved weeds, ferns and others.  The most obvious species are Paspalum conjugatum, Axonopus compressus, Mikania cordata, Imperata cylindrica, Cyrtococcum oxyphyllum, Nephrolepis bisserata, Eupatorium odoratum, Gleihenia linearis and many others (Wan Mohamed 1977, Chen and Bong 1984, Chee et al. 1997).  Not all species are suitable for grazing and selective weeding of non-palatable ones may be necessary. Similar broadly adapted forage species are also found in other countries of Southeast Asia with the exception of a few site specific species.

Forage production from a number of existing species could amount to 2,000-3,000 kg DM/ha or higher during the first three years of tree crop planting (Chen et al. 1978, Chen and Shamsudin 1991, Pillai and Seeveneserajah 1988).  Soon after that it declines sharply when reaching the 6th to 7th year of planting and levels off at 400-800kg DM/ha until approximately the 20th year.  A substantial percentage (7% to 28%) of the species present is not palatable to animals (Dahlan 1989).

(c) Nutritive quality of forages

The nutritive quality of the forages is highly variable and is exacerbated through the complexity and ecological succession of natural forage resources in plantation crops. The feeding value of the ground vegetation is comparable to improved pasture grasses. 

The crude protein of grasses under most plantations ranges from 8 to 17%, broad-leaved weeds from 13 to 22% while plantation legumes range from 15 to 18%.  The estimated energy content of grasses in plantations ranges from7 to 10 MJ/kg dry matter (Table 2).

Table 2.  Nutritive values of natural forages in Malaysia



Chemical Composition


CP (%)

CF (%)

ME (MJ/kg)






Rubber Estate
















Oil palm

P. conjugatum        





A. compresus





I. cylindrica              





N. biserrata            





In open

A. compressus        





P. conjugatum         (4wk)





Guinea (4wk)          





I. cylindrica              





Asystasia intrusa





Asystasia intrusa





C. pubescens




Adapted from Wan Mohamed et al. (1987) and Chin (1991)

Nitrogen content of tropical grasses increases slightly with shade intensity.  Feeding studies indicated the lack of significant effect of shade on intake and digestibility in tropical forages. Nutritionally, the edible forage feed resources in plantations are adequate to provide grazing cattle with a daily liveweight gain of 250 g/head in terms of metabolizable energy (7 to 10 MJ/Kg DM) and more than adequate for crude protein (8 to 22%) requirements (Wong and Chin 1998). 

The phosphorus and calcium contents present in the natural forages were more than adequate to fulfil the recommended standard mineral requirements. Although nutrient availability per ton of forage DM declines slightly with age of plantation crop, the major nutritional drawback is the significant dry matter yield reduction per unit land area.  This could result in low carrying capacity of the natural forages in mature plantations. Often efficient use of available feed is hampered by low animal numbers, inadequate intensification of the production system and poor technology delivery and use.

(d)  Improvement of forage supply with shade tolerant species

The search for shade tolerant forages was then   undertaken   in   the   hope     of identification of shade tolerant species for an ecosystem that could prolong their dry matter production and utilization.  Results of pot trials and field studies using artificial screens and the natural canopy of plantation trees on both grasses and legumes indicated that the majority of the improved forage grasses behaved like sun plants with linear relationships to sunlight level in terms of dry matter production.

All these studies indicated that exotic species were not high yielders in shade.  The indigenous grasses like Axonopus compressus and Paspalum conjugatum performed well and were tolerant under reduced light while legumes such as Desmodium ovalifolium, Calopogonium ceruleum and Calopogonium mucunoides persisted well (Wong et al. 1985). Research findings also illustrated the importance of appropriate forage management to ensure good persistence and productivity of shade forages (Wong et al. 1985). The goal of achieving productive and shade tolerant forages remains as elusive as at the commencement of the R & D programs in the seventies. Thus, alternative tree crop planting for livestock production has been advocated (Abd. Samat and Shelton 1995, Chen and Dahlan 1995, Abdullah and Mohd. Sukri 1997).

While R & D supports the benefits of changing tree crop planting patterns and density, the adoption of such recommendations remains to be seen. Unless the commodity prices decline to a low level, the alternatives may not be well received. Recently, the crude palm oil price has declined considerably, but the uptake of the integration technology is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some plantation owners are adopting the technology through various incentives provided by the Government.

Herd management and production under tree crops

Under normal circumstances, animals can be released for grazing 18 to 20 months after field planting when young shoots are beyond the reach of animals.

To manage the ground vegetation effectively   to   the   satisfaction of   the plantation managers, grazing management  requires  a  systematic  but flexible system to equate animal stocking rate with forage availability.   Surplus stock need to be sold or transferred out to avoid the deleterious effect of overgrazing.  In young oil palms, 3 Kedah-Kelantan steers/ha can be kept for 2 years (3rd and 4th year) till they are finished off.  An average daily gain of body weight of 320 g/head has been reported (Table 3).  Subsequently, the stocking rate could be adjusted to 2 and 1 Kedah-Kelantan cattle/ha for a period of 2 years when the canopy is closed. 

Lower carrying capacity of 0.3 to 0.4 Kedah-Kelantan cattle/ha may be adjusted on native pasture, depending on seasons, soil types, age of plantation crops and plantation management (Chen et al. 1978, Chen et al. 1991b).

Table 3. Comparison of carrying capacity and liveweight production of cattle from native pastures under oil palm and improved pastures in the open

Type of Forage







Liveweight Gain



  Native forages under


1 + - 3






oil palm


4 - 4 +







4 + - 5






  Improved pastures in








the open








* Local KK cattle

Similarly, sheep grazing on native vegetation under rubber at a stocking rate of 17 sheep/ha with 2 and 3 year old rubber trees, produced about 90 g/head/day or 429 kg/ha/year liveweight (Table 4).  This may drop to 2 sheep/ha producing only 72 kg/ha/year in 7 to 8 year old tree stands indicating the sharp decline in forage availability (Tajuddin et al. 1990, Chong et al. 1991). 

Meeting the nutrient requirements of ruminants under declining forage resources in mature plantations is important for livestock management and production (Wong et al. 1988, Chen and Shamsudin 1991, Abdullah et al. 1997). In their papers, they highlighted the complexity and ecological succession of natural forage resources in plantation crops.  The dry matter yield of the natural forages declines over the years in relation to the closure of tree crop canopy and the reduced light transmission. However, nitrogen content of tropical grasses increases.  Feeding studies indicated the lack of significant effect of shade on intake and digestibility in tropical forages although there were some small changes in the chemical composition of plant cell walls.  Nutritionally, the edible feed resources in plantations are adequate for grazing cattle in terms of crude protein (8 to 22%) and metabolisable energy (7 to 10 MJ/Kg DM) contents. Although nutrient availability per ton of DM forage declined slightly with age of plantation crop, the major nutritional drawback is the significant dry matter yield reduction per unit of land area.  This could result in low carrying capacity of the natural forages in mature plantations. 

Wan Mohamed et al. (1987) reported low conception rate (52%) of Kedah-Kelantan cows with access to fertile bulls year round and grazing on native forages in a 10 to 15 year old oil palm plantation.  There was an increasing trend of anoestrous animals from 10 to 41% towards the end of the second year of observation.  The authors attributed this effect to the low forage availability at that time.

Table 4. Comparison of sheep performance grazing in double hedgerow and conventional planting systems


Double hedge-row

Conventional planting**


N-fertilized grass

Native forage


   Stocking rate (lamb/ha)




   ADG (g/lamb/day)




   Liveweight gain     





Source:  Chong et al. (1994)
* 2 year-old rubber; 
** 3 year-old rubber with PKC supplementation

Further refinement and development of methods of herd management in the plantation sector for effective weed control and livestock production was undertaken.  This has led to the use of portable electric fences.  Such a method of controlling grazing animals, particularly bigger ruminants like cattle is gaining wide acceptance.  Some plantation managers have even developed the practical use of electric fences to rotationally graze animals in paddock as large as 20 hectares through the use of a selected fence wire colour for its effectiveness and the wire is cheaply attached to the tree crop trunks (Abd. Rahman 1996). 

Sufficient animal numbers over a specific area for a predetermined time are needed to achieve effective biological weeding while at the same time to avoid overgrazing.  These are some of the research findings that have been modified and adapted for commercialization in the plantations through joint projects. There are many published papers on livestock-tree-cropping systems in Malaysia.  Through the concerted effort of researchers and extension officers and cooperation from various institutions and agencies in the last 25 years, a basic package of technology on the integration system was developed and is now available for application on a commercial scale (Harun and Chen 1995).  However, the adoption is rather slow.  Nevertheless, the achievements of R & D in integration are by no means small.  Despite the lack of its popularity among the planters, its acceptance among the smallholders in government schemes was obvious during the economic recession of the eighties.  In the early years, R & D was centred on collection of primary data to assess the viability of livestock-tree-cropping systems.  By their sheer bodyweight, the herds caused soil compaction which led to reduction in yield from rubber and palm oil.  It was also reported that the animals were helping to spread the weed, Asystasia intrusa through their droppings laden with Asystasia seed.  More often than not, overgrazing by unscrupulous herders also contributed to the soil erosion.  The above concerns expressed by planters are justified in view of the lack of information and scientific data to support livestock integration in plantations.

Availability and utilization of agri-by-products from plantations

In areas where the ground vegetation has been limiting in forage or deteriorated due to drought, overgrazing or closed canopy, the use of agro-by-products such as oil palm fronds (OPF), palm press fibre (PPF) and others may be considered as the main by-products useful for livestock production in association with plantation crops are rubber seed meal, copra cake, palm kernel cake (PKC), PPF, palm oil mill effluent (POME) or oil palm sludge, oil palm trunk (OPT) and OPF (Alimon and Hair-Bejo 1996).  There is now a wealth of information on the nutrient quality, utilization and conservation of these by-products in livestock production systems (Table 5).  The current interest is centred on OPT and OPF in MARDI (Abu Hassan 1995 and Abu Hassan et al. 1996). The digestibility of PPF is 22.3% and 31.8% TDN.  PPF is best fed directly to animals at no more than 20% of the total diet.  Among the palm residues, PPF is the most nutritious, with a crude protein of 18.8% and TDN of 27.5%.  It can be fed fresh, or ensiled in drums for longer storage and transportation (Chen et al. 1996). Research results showed that  OPT is more responsive to treatment.  Its digestibility can be increased from 23.6 to 36.4% after steaming.  With NaOH treatment, its value increases to 54-62% which is equivalent to that of the tropical grasses (Abe et al. 1990, Oshio and Abu Hassan 1990,  Abu Hassan 1995). 

Both the OPF and OPT can be added up to 5% of the total ration.  Thus, the oil palm residues can become promising roughage for ruminant production in Malaysia. The constraints are in using them as economical feeds to livestock.  This will be dependent on transportation and processing cost.  Although there is no convincing economic evaluation of OPF  and OPT as animal feed, it is presumed the livestock production should be carried out in situ to reduce cost of package and transportation.  In addition the use of in situ can reduce cost of package and transportation.  In addition the use of medicated urea-molasses blocks may be introduced.  The medicated urea-molasses block will upgrade the assimilation of nutrient from poor quality forage and roughage and at the same time the tissue provides a useful non-protein nitrogen, energy, mineral supplement and control of gastrointestinal parasites (Wong et al. 1988, Wan Zahari and Nor Ismail 1993, Sani et al. 1995, Abd. Rahman 1996).

Table 5. Chemical composition of oil palm by-products (% dry matter).










 Palm kernel cake








 Palm oil sludge








 Palm pressed fibre








 Oil palm fronds








 Oil palm trunks








 Empty fruit bunch **








 Source:  Wong and Wan Zahari (1992)

CP = crude protein ;  CF = crude fibre ;  EE = ether extract ; ME = metabolisable energy (MJ,/kg.)
** Data from Dr. Mat Rasol Awang (pers. comm.)

Challenging issues

With the current low prices in copra and coconut oil, monocropping of plantation crops is regarded as being no longer an economic proposition. Similarly, world palm oil price has been declining recently. Unless return to farm labour from monocropping can be sustained or increased, the livestock and plantation crop integration as a commercial venture will remain a competitive strategy to be adopted for high productivity of crops and maximization of land use. It is hoped that both the crop and animal integration in plantations will in future become a common reality and widely practiced in Southeast Asia.  However, several major issues have to be resolved:

(a)  Crop damage

The perpetual concern of planters over soil compaction has been overrated.  Field data from continuous stocking rate trials and mob-grazing systems indicated the lack of significant differences between the grazed and ungrazed oil palm paddock on yield of rubber and oil palm. If soil compaction is a major factor, depression of crop yield should be evident.

Research carried out in a commercial project rearing cattle under oil palm indicated higher FFB in the grazed field than that of the ungrazed.  A depression of FFB production was evident in high stocking rate under continuous grazing.  This was due to inadequate forage supply and subsequent damage to young fronds.

Over the years, R & D has helped to dispel these negative notions of integration.  Many of the constraints posed by the planters are over-exaggerated and can be avoided through proper management of animals if the concept of environmentally sustainable agriculture for the new millennium is accepted. Where there is adequate forage in the field, animals do little damage to the tree crops.  It is under high stocking rates and insufficient forage that the damage to tree bark and fronds will result.

 (b)  Feed availability and quality

On the contrary, results indicate that grazing animals have greater access to a diversity of plant species under rubber and oil palm.  The grazing animal performed better with higher liveweight gains. The slightly lower temperature in plantations is a plus factor in the overall growth performance of ruminants especially for breeds with some exotic blood.  Changes in botanical composition can be drastic under declining light intensity, stocking rate, species adaptability, palatability and plantation management.

Many studies have been undertaken to demonstrate that improvement of natural pastures through introduction of improved forage species can significantly increase daily weight gain of animals. Leguminous cover crops usually planted in mixtures of Centrosema pubescens, Pueraria phaseoloides, Calopogonium mucunoides and Calopogonium caeruleum are promoted for integration (Moog et al. 1989). However, these species are generally non-sustainable and declined from 50% in total composition to zero in 20 months when grazed by sheep under  3-year old rubber (Chong et al. 1991). Only the less palatable species such as C. caeruleum increased from 42 to 100% within the same period. The dominance of C. caeruleum is a great asset to plantation management but the increasing density of non-palatable woody shrubs and obnoxious weeds in plantations posed more problems.  Thus, a special program of selective weeding once in two or three years, depending on the situation, is needed.  The combination of animal grazing with judicious use of herbicides in the management of forages is preferred (Rosli and Mohd Nasir 1997).

Nonetheless, the problems associated with limited feed availability in mature plantations pose other opportunities for research into various feed options for ruminants. Recognizing these constraints in plantations, alternatives must be sourced such as the use of agricultural by-products from the mature plantation as in the discarded oil palm fronds, thinning of the existing stands to allow more light penetration or adopt new planting patterns like the recommended double hedgerow avenues. Only time will determine which will be widely adopted.

(c)  Animal nutrition

Another issue is the nutritional aspect. Undeniably, some of the understorey forages are high in nutritive value. Selective grazing will often result in good growth performance. But to manage forages in plantations where excessive growth of the understorey is under control, hard grazing is often needed. This often leads to the overall lower nutritive quality of the species. Wong and Chin (1998) reported that the forage quality can only meet the nutrient requirement of beef cattle for a liveweight gain of about 250 g/head/day. The question of grazing using improved breeds remains questionable unless special provision is made in the feeding program.

Experience in Malaysia indicated the tendency of plantation managers to favour exotic breeds or crossbreeds for integration programs for reasons of bigger and heavier size of these animals as well as their higher prolificacy. Sourcing of feed supplements or concentrates can be another barrier to overcome in integration projects in terms of land, labour and cost (see FAO, 1999).

(d)  Availability of cheap animals

The low base ruminant population in these countries is yet another issue. Adequate livestock numbers are a vital prerequisite for the development of improved animal production systems. In the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, there is a serious constraint of inadequate animal numbers. Hence, large numbers have to be imported mainly from Australia for fattening, at the expense of foreign exchange reserves. In Thailand, there appears to be significant cattle importation from neighbouring countries while in the Philippines, the large ranches that formerly supplied smallholders with breeding and fattening stock have been broken up as a consequence of land reform programs.  It is not surprising that the implementation of some integrated tree crop-livestock projects was affected by the availability of feeder cattle in Malaysia. This shortage can lead to higher costs for animals and these indirectly increased development costs of projects and can also affect the participation of small farmers.

(e)  Lack of capital

A lack of venture capital is a major constraint for ruminant production as such integration projects/operations have a long gestation period for income to be generated. This is more so for big plantations where the number of animals involved would be high.

(f)  Adapted animal breeds

Apart   from   the   low   population  base, animal production is also constrained by feed-related factors and diseases. There is the tendency of importing exotic breeds to replace if not complement the inadequate supply of feeder cattle. There is thus a conflict of utilizing the natural resources to meet the high nutrient demands of these exotic breeds. Hence, the importance of using adapted breeds in integration becomes strikingly important. It is suggested that the full genetic potential of the indigenous breeds, which are better adapted to the local environment and which have been limited in production potential by limited feed intake, be assessed realistically.  A good illustration is that of Malaysia trying to use exotic sheep for integration projects. The lack of adaptation and the high incidence of diseases in sheep can put a strain on the overall animal husbandry. Crucial is the need to match nutrient availability with the nutrient requirement of the animal species if the venture is successful.

 (g)  Economic aspects

Besides R & D being carried out on research stations, application of the integration technology in plantations has also been undertaken.  The economic projection for sheep integration in plantations was fairly pessimistic based on the existing databases in 1989 (Pillai and Seeveneserajah 1988, Eddie Chiew and Zainal Abidin 1989). However, a successfully implemented cattle-oil palm project in RISDA Espek at Terengganu Tengah proved that livestock could be used not only to control weeds and save 20 to 50% weeding costs, but could also be managed as an enterprise for revenue generation (Harun and Chen 1995). A return of 35% was recorded.

There was increased FFB yield of oil palm (20.99 t/ha/yr) as compared with that of non-grazing (17.98 tons/ha/yr).  The plantation management has strongly recommended Kedah-Kelantan integration with the plantation crop for extensive production systems. 

The ESPEK Plantation Management is now confident of the present package of technology in livestock-tree cropping systems.  The cattle component complements the oil palm production by controlling weeds and reducing weeding cost as well as generating extra income to the plantation.

(h) Extension constraints and technology adoption

The perceived detrimental effects of livestock on plantation crops have been over-exaggerated.  MARDI experience has shown that there are many benefits rather than the negative aspects of integration. The same can be said of the rubber and coconut plantations. Any organized and well managed plantations of any crops are always quite reluctant to accept this concept of integration.  About one third of all the estates in the country are involved in some kind of integration activities. Ariffin (2000) indicated that the current arrangement of promotions and incentives is not sufficient to encourage the greater uptake of crop-livestock integration at the estate level.

Many estate managers realize the potential of the integration system in terms of maximization of land utilization, reduced weeding costs and for additional income, but the low adoption of the system was due to inherent problems associated with the introduction of cattle into estates.

Other findings suggest that the added responsibility was not commensurate with incentives and compensations; the skill and management expertise were still lacking, compounded by the existence of disease and health problems,   prevalent animal theft and other social problems. Approximately 75% of all estates shared the view that greater involvement of estates could only take off vigorously if crop-livestock integration is considered to be a national project and all the necessary supports are put into place.

Which direction to take for livestock in   crop-livestock integration systems?

The positive interaction that livestock can contribute to soil and plants is often missed and hardly ever calculated adequately and credited as livestock products.  An experiment carried out in Sri Lanka illustrated this point well. When female cattle were grazing under coconut trees, the yield of coconut increased by 20%; and soil water holding capacity increased due to rapid turnover of biomass. When cattle were supplemented with additional feed eg. rice straw and rice bran,  animal performance and coconut yield and soil fertility increased.

Livestock farming must be practiced in the holistic interaction with soil and plant. When animals and crops are separated as in many countries in Western Europe and USA, excreta from intensive animal production becomes a waste and this gives rise to environmental pollution problems. When livestock and crops are well integrated, animals, soil and crop benefit and there are no pollution problems. Furthermore, the systems are environmentally sustainable. In Malaysia, government-owned estates such as FELDA plantations and ESPEK carry out integration. All are encouraged to be involved in cattle-oil palm integration.  However, the involvement of private estates is minimal but is gaining ground on the basis of low crude palm oil price in the market. The vast majority of estate managers realize the potential of integration systems in terms of their possible maximization of land utilization, reduced weeding costs and as an additional source of income, but have yet to implement changes.

The low adoption of the system is due to inherent problems associated with the introduction of cattle into estates. The level of technology on animal management is still insufficient.  Also the added responsibility requires some form of incentive and compensation, the skill and management expertise were still lacking, disease and health problems exist as well as animal theft and other social problems. In fact, other opportunities in the use of unoccupied land during early establishment offer better incentives and economic rewards, such as the cultivation of vegetable and tropical fruits.

The    future    adoption  of integration systems on estates will depend on the development of new types of research and training especially the training of estate managers who are well versed in livestock husbandry, exploitation of available by-product utilization for ruminant production and plant-breeding technologies to develop dwarf types of plants (Basiron 1998). Alternative spatial arrangements for rubber and oil palm have been instituted. While preliminary results are encouraging and practical, no firm recommendations can yet be made.

At the smallholder level, the application of these systems remains to be seen. Small farmers engaged in crop production will not respond to new technology unless the cash pay-off is about two to three times the cash outlay necessary for adoption (Mahadevan and Hickman 1982). Smallholders are generally reluctant to take risks that can jeopardize their subsistence.  The initial capital outlay in purchase of livestock and the risk factor on forage feed supply from the plantation can lay on the line the adoption of such technology.


The high population growth rate in Southeast Asia and the need for expansion of agricultural land to increase food production will naturally spearhead the development of livestock integration in plantation crops. Such development in the near future will gain prominence and acceptance among farmers. The choice is inevitable as resources are limited and the environmental issues will be a major concern. Sustainable agriculture should be promoted. The traditional use of ruminants as “sweepers” or “brushers” to keep the grass and weeds short in plantations will not be adequate for high economic returns. The future emphasis in plantation crops will be in planting high yielding hybrids integrated with livestock to increase productivity per unit of land area, increase employment opportunities and to overcome low and fluctuating prices of plantation commodities.  

The 21st century has been promoted as the millennium for the environment. In line with this designation, livestock integration in plantation crops will gain more support internationally. Countries of Southeast Asia will be able to get higher levels of financial assistance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed nations. Promotion of holistic approaches in animal and crop farming will see far greater integration than ever before. In Malaysia, which is considered to be one of the pioneers in research and development on livestock integration with plantations, the concept has started to bear fruit (Rosli and Mohd Nasir 1997, Rosli 2001). The systematic integration of beef cattle in oil palm has proven to be viable and potentially sustainable based on two economic models, namely the cow-calf and the male fattening systems. The number of estates involved increased from 120 in 1998 with a cattle population of 56,000 head to 167 estates keeping 115,390 cattle in year 2000. Such a fast adoption of new integration package technology after so many years of R & D that had undergone rigorous testing illustrates the importance of complete packaging of technology. Piecemeal research and development confined solely to technical, social or economic aspects will have limited impact on adoption.

Similarly, the future is very bright in coconut plantations especially in Philippines and Indonesia and in tropical orchards and planted forest land of Southeast Asia. The high light transmission and the abundance of undergrowth as well as the availability of agro-by-products in plantations are the resources that need to be exploited and integrated into a working production model for the different niches of the Southeast Asian countries. The working model will be location specific and adapted to suit the needs of the farming systems and the producers. The integrated farming system practised under plantations can produce beef and by-products of acceptable value to consumers comparable with those from intensive production systems. However, the modern producers are challenged with integrating knowledge from diverse disciplines into production practices suitable for their individual operation. Thus the producers will have to be aware of the interactions between nutrition, genetics, reproduction, physiology, microbiology, immunology and even molecular biology and their relationship with animal health, productivity and impacts on environment.

The promotion of integration of livestock in plantations is projected to maximize returns from the land. However, any expectation of very high returns through such an adoption will be an illusion as the concept itself is sustainable production within the many constraining factors like declining light regimes and forage availability with age of crops. Often, the initial high inputs include fencing and animal cost as indicated by Rosli (2001) and the skill in organizing plantation land of smallholder farmers into a sustainable production system are some of the major obstacles that need to be addressed. Thus, a persistent and close rapport among the participants in implementation of integration technology is needed if adoption is to be successful.

A major question is how globalization and trade liberalization will affect the livestock industry in ASEAN countries.  Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand are more or less self sufficient in poultry, pork and egg production. However, all these countries are net importers of beef and dairy products. Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are exporters of cattle to neighbouring countries. Can the ASEAN countries co-operate to enhance competitiveness of the livestock industry in order to overcome the impact of world trade liberalization? When AFTA is implemented fully, ASEAN countries can play a complementary role in the livestock industry to enhance competitiveness. This competitiveness of the livestock industry, particularly the ruminant sector should include productivity improvement through better production and managerial systems, lower cost of production through economies of scale, institutional support, abolishing tariffs imposed on production inputs, market access and greater intra-ASEAN sourcing of import requirements. The complementary roles played by the ASEAN countries will reduce business transaction costs and lead companies to produce products competitively for the world market.  


A wealth of fundamental and applied research findings on integrated livestock-tree cropping production systems has been accumulated over the last five decades.  The R & D findings are positive enough to refute the negative claims of monocultural plantation management. 

Although the livestock component will be secondary to the tree crops in the integrated system, its presence in the plantation as a cultural practice is environment friendly, resulting in greater outputs per unit of land, a reduction in the use of pollutant herbicides and increases in meat production.  Thus, the integrated production system encompasses the concept of sustainable development in terms of food production and the environment.  Through such a development, it is envisaged that the total concept of sustainable agricultural development can be put into practice.  Eventually, the R & D component can revolutionise changes in the plantation practices and bring benefits to livestock farmers. 

Key factors for success in integration are efficiency of the production process, an ability to keep production costs low and maintenance of strict animal health and hygiene standards.


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