Today, non-food functions of livestock are generally in decline and are being replaced by cheaper and more convenient substitutes. At the same time, the asset, petty cash and insurance functions of livestock are being replaced by financial institutions as even remote rural areas enter the monetary economy. Except for some parts of South Asia, the animal as draught power is declining as more farmers mechanize, partly attracted by government subsidies. Manure continues to be important in mixed farming but its role in overall nutrient supply is diminishing because of the competitive price and ease of management of inorganic fertilizer. The same applies to animal fibres: although the demand for natural fibres is still high, and in many places even increasing, there are a growing number of synthetic substitutes for wool and leather.
Connected with this is an increasing selectivity as to the parts of the animal used for food. Traditionally, virtually all of the animal was utilized. Now the trend is towards lean meat, and other products - such as offal, blood and bone - are being increasingly used industrially, or recycled as feed. Thus, there is a trend from multi-purpose to single purpose animals, with animal protein the overriding objective. This is also reflected in the choice and manipulation of genotypes which favour specialization over product diversity. Another trend is the growing importance of monogastrics as economic converters of concentrate feed.
Two other basic trends can be observed: livestock production is growing faster in the moister parts of the region, and it is moving closer to urban settlements. In Asia, as in the rest of the world, it is the humid and sub-humid zones that still offer a large potential for agricultural production. This is not without problems since these zones are the richest in natural resources and biodiversity. Human populations are increasing over-proportionally in these areas while other zones, such as arid and highland areas have reached a level of population density above which significant increases can no longer be sustained.
From FAO's work on livestock geography, there is clear evidence that livestock populations are increasing faster in the moister areas than in other zones. This implies that growth in livestock coincides with increases in human population. To some extent, this can be explained by a continued close integration of animals in mixed systems. More importantly, however, this phenomenon reflects the increasing "urbanization" of livestock production, influenced by urban demand, good market access and adequate infrastructure. This type of livestock production is largely independent of agro-ecological conditions and far outpaces other land-based systems, as shown below.
This trend is in line with the observed shift to monogastric species and poultry. In some rural areas, the lack of infrastructure, economies of scale and insufficient marketing facilities face heavy competition from urban production, so that livestock production is limited to subsistence levels. This trend towards urbanization is clearly not sustainable in the long term, mainly because of waste disposal and environmental problems as well as public health implications.
Structural changes. Two important structural changes apply across production systems: a general growth in scale and a trend away from horizontal to vertical integration. Levels of livestock production and processing are increasing in response to technological development, market requirements and insufficient returns to labour in traditional systems. Where alternative employment opportunities exist, such as in the rapidly industrialized countries of the region, traditional subsistence-orientated livestock farming is often abandoned, opening up market and expansion opportunities for other farmers or commercial entrepreneurs.
In particular, poultry production has often developed from a simple farm operation to a complex vertical operation of related industries and enterprises, including grain production for animal feeds, feed mills, slaughterhouses and processing plants, food chain stores and wholesale enterprises.
Further structural changes relate to the new trends in the importance of different production systems. The growth potential for extensive grazing and roughage production is limited. In response to increased population pressure, good pasture land is being converted into crop land, leaving increasingly poorer land for grazing and mixed farming. Industrial production of pigs and poultry is therefore increasing relative to production from grazing and mixed farming systems. Pork and broiler production will also increase relative to ruminant meat production. This is a direct result of the better conversion efficiencies of concentrate feed in pigs and poultry.
Faced with increasing resource constraints that stem from a small land base, countries resort to importing meat and other livestock products to satisfy the growing demand. This is evidenced by a growing trade deficit in these products. The developing countries of Asia had a net trade deficit of 313,000 tons of ruminant meat and a net trade surplus of 409,000 tons of monogastric meat. While the region as a whole is self-sufficient in all livestock products, there are important differences between the sub-regions. Australia and New Zealand make up for the deficit of the other sub-regions, particularly for beef and milk.
It can be expected that many countries of the region will become permanent importers of livestock products. Indonesia, for example, imported 30,000 tons of red meat in 1997, and the country's Meat Importers Association estimates that imports of red meat will rise to 196,000 tons in 1999, and reach 346,000 tons in 2003. This situation is even more pronounced on the feed side. Taiwan, for example, imports more than 10 million tons of coarse grains and soybeans, equivalent to 95 percent of its concentrate feed utilization.
Technological changes. In line with the structural changes outlined above, the development, transfer and adaptation of technologies will focus on improving efficiency of feed utilization and increasing animal productivity. Feed requires land for production and this continues to be the limiting factor to the sector's expansion even if countries resort to feed imports. Continuing industrial development in the region will also make traditional livestock raising practices less competitive because of diminishing returns to labour, even though this process will be very gradual.
We are therefore witnessing a dualistic mode of development, with two conflicting components. First, a modern, demand-driven and capital-intensive sector, producing poultry meat, eggs, pork, and sometimes milk, increasingly uses state-of-the-art technologies. This sector utilizes resources, in particular concentrate feed, efficiently - with the notable exception of fossil fuel. It is rapidly expanding to meet urban demand but it is also susceptible to market upheavals; it generates little employment, poses great environmental risks because it tends to concentrate in areas with good market access, and it creates a number of new challenges for human and veterinary public health. Technology uptake has been fast, driven by commercial interests.
At the same time, a traditional, resource-driven and labour-intensive sector, continues to provide a multitude of services to subsistence-oriented farms. While not efficient in terms of introduced inputs, this sector uses resources of little or no alternative uses, and for the same reason, its potential to expand beyond moderate growth rates is constrained by low technology uptake, insufficient market facilities and infrastructure, and small economies of scale. Often, these systems are closed cycles of nutrients, farm labour, energy, etc. Unless these cycles are broken, technology uptake will remain constrained.
Production system pathways. Livestock systems develop in response to resource endowment and market opportunities. Grazing systems have limited scope for expansion. To some extent, in countries such as Laos and less densely populated areas of Indonesia, the Philippines and China, these systems can intensify by incorporating new technologies, especially in the higher potential areas. Usually, this needs to be facilitated by stronger institutions, local empowerment and regulation of access to resources. Where this does not happen, and where population pressure persists, grazing systems are threatened with resource degradation through overgrazing.
Historically, where agro-ecological conditions were favourable, grazing systems have developed into mixed farming systems, now common throughout Asia. Mixed farming systems will see continued intensification and important growth, with livestock based on crop by-products and surplus. Some productivity gains can be achieved by further enhancing nutrient and energy flows between the crop and livestock component. Involution of the mixed farming system may occur, such as in the Himalayan hills and Hindukush area, where the stability and sometimes very existence of mixed farming is threatened by the disappearance of livestock, triggered by population pressure, fragmentation of arable land, poverty and lack of market access.
Under more favourable agro-ecological and market conditions, industrial systems have emerged, in parallel with, and sometimes supplanting, mixed farming systems. Because of generally poor infrastructure and institutions, these are usually established close to demand centres, resulting in excessive animal densities, nutrient surpluses and other environmental and human health problems that highlight an "urban trap": while profitable in the short run, these systems cannot be sustained in urban or peri-urban environments. Such considerations caused, for example, Singapore, to abandon livestock production altogether. The answer is to allow specialized commercial production to operate in an area-wide concept where nutrient balances are maintained and the land's capacity to absorb animal waste is respected.
The evolutionary and significant trends described above must, if they are to be sustainable and progressive, take into account their impact on the public domain or public goods. These face four main challenges which include: the contribution of livestock to food security and food production; the protection of the environment in the face of increasingly intensive farming methods; the maintenance and generation of social equity which may be jeopardised by industrialisation and job loss; and the protection of human health and welfare.
It is therefore essential that policy makers and planners responsible for livestock development define future strategies in the broader context of human development and the sustainable utilization of our limited natural resources.
This article is adapted from Livestock production in the Asia and Pacific region - current status, issues and trends by H. Steinfeld, published in the latest issue of FAO's World animal review (No. 90, 1998/1)
Published December 1998