AGA IN ACTION
Role, impact and welfare of working animals
Working animals play a fundamental role in livelihoods improvement as they provide farm power and contribute to food security and poverty reduction, income generation and gender equity. Animals assist men and women with crop production (ploughing, planting, weeding, fertilizing and threshing) and transport (on-farm, marketing, riding, pack transport). Oxen are the most frequently used draught animals in the world but bulls, cows, buffaloes, equines and camels are also employed. Horses are used for transport and some tillage where they thrive (mainly temperate and high altitude areas). Donkeys are hardy for transport in semi-arid and mountainous areas, but do not thrive in humid tropics. Camels and camelids have characteristics and specific geographical ranges that limit their widespread use.
Smallholders who use animals for soil tillage can cultivate larger areas more efficiently and quickly than with human labour, thereby greatly increasing their yields. Working animals create synergy in nutrient cycles, farming and marketing systems: animals allow farmers and traders to transport manure, harvests and market products. They increase people’s transport capacity and range; provide families and entrepreneurs with access to supplies, services and livelihoods. Animals supply effective feeder transport to complement motorised vehicles. Working animals are multipurpose, producing profitable livestock products, including meat, milk and manure.
Human, animal and tractor power are not mutually exclusive and each has advantages depending on the environment, scale and socio-economic context. People aspire to prestigious, modern machines but tractors may be unaffordable and inappropriate on small farms or in difficult terrain.
Animal welfare is recognized as being integral to programmes and activities that address working animals and a core component of responsible animal husbandry. The welfare of working animals, apart from being a common good per se, has a direct impact on their health and on their capacity to carry out the required functions. However, animal welfare practices are insufficiently applied worldwide despite their acknowledged positive impacts,. There is also a lack of summarised and documented evidence about these impacts when one tries to build the case for animal welfare.
In light of these issues, FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division has started a series of initiatives to highlight the role and impact of working animals in livelihoods and identify necessary actions to raise their profile in agricultural and rural development programmes, as well as to improve their welfare.
An electronic consultation on role, impact and welfare of working (transport and traction) animals is taking place between 1 and 28 February 2011; its objective is to collect relevant information, data and ideas to prepare background documents for a technical meeting which will be held by FAO jointly with the Brooke and potentially other organizations in June 2011.
The e-consultation will provide an opportunity for scientists, development workers, governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations and the international community at large with an interest in working animals and their welfare, to share their knowledge and experiences.