The purpose of this manual is to help trainers and technicians analyse small production systems and to help smallholders improve their systems effectively. Anecdotes are presented as educational material. They make it easier for the small backyard animal keepers to reach more general conclusions for themselves, and for them to feel more confident than if they received advice passively during a training period. Generally, keepers co-operate only when they receive some direct advantage from the project that they are involved in. Due to lack of trust, results are frequently short lived, even if the intervention has proved sustainable elsewhere.
Figures, tables, schemes and photographs have been used to support the text and to identify materials that are available to trainers and field technicians. Figures are indicated with the number of the chapter, followed by the number of the figure in red. The manual may also be used to browse through the 144 illustrations until an interesting topic is found. Some of the photographs represent different scenes as they appear in the field. When the caption begins with the words: " Try to analyse the system before you click on the picture to read the legend ", the reader is invited to deduce from the image as much information as possible before reading the caption.
This method demonstrates how small details can provide a lot of valuable information. Learning from details is also useful if the analysis is performed by means of interviews. Information received from interviews should agree with a direct analysis of reality. A good technician knows by experience that this is hardly ever true. Hoping to get knowledge of reality simply by asking people is an oversimplification of the job. It is much better to ask people to explain what we see and try to understand the logic that makes things as they are. In this way technicians learn before judging.
Most of the opinions reported here come from experience and are points of view that pertain to general aspects of reality. Thus, in particular conditions, these opinions are not always in agreement with the way things are commonly seen. They are useful however in helping technicians understand how important it is to analyse the systems, how these systems are often more complex than they may at first appear and how some minor detail can change the final judgement of efficiency or sustainability.
Examples are frequently given to make the subject less abstract, and also to show how many factors can play a role, because the fact that a system is small does not mean it is simple. Most of the examples
come from direct experience and a few have been provided by reliable field technicians. Many examples of simple, appropriate technologies are reported. They show that improvement of rural livestock systems is possible through adoption of equipment or structures studied and developed locally. The contribution of the Experimental Centre at Viterbo is indicated with.
Problems that may emerge even during a simple system analysis are so numerous that examples from backyard small animals may not always be available. Thus, examples from large animal husbandry have also been used when they are considered useful in understanding the nature and effect of specific constraints that must be identified before viable projects can be developed. To obtain satisfactory and sustainable results, all factors actually or potentially capable of influencing the livestock system should be identified beforehand. However, some cannot be foreseen because they are beyond the control of the rural family at the level at which intervention for food security can be effective.