Livestock production efficiency and resilience 

Livestock provide food and livelihoods for one billion of the world's poor, especially in dry and infertile areas where other agricultural practices are less practicable. They play an important multifunctional role in many developing regions providing food, income, draught power for ploughing and transport. They can also provide valuable asset functions, such as collateral for credit, and emergency cash flow when sold in times of crisis.

The livestock sector has expanded rapidly in recent decades and will continue to do so as demand for meat and dairy products continues to grow. An increase of up to 68 percent by 2030 from the 2000 base period has been estimated and this is mainly driven by population and income growth in developing countries (FAO, 2006. World Agriculture: towards 2030/2050). Livestock is also the world’s largest user of land resources, with grazing land occupying 26 percent of the earth’s ice-free land surface, and 33 percent of cropland dedicated to the production of feed (FAO, 2009. The State of Food and Agriculture: Livestock in the Balance). The quick expansion of the sector is a cause of overgrazing and land degradation and an important driver of deforestation. It is also responsible for methane and nitrous oxide emissions from ruminant digestion and manure management, and is the largest global source of methane emissions. However, the carbon footprint of livestock varies considerably among production systems, regions, and commodities, mainly due to variations in the quality of feed, the feed conversion efficiencies of different animal species and impacts on deforestation and land degradation (FAO, 2010. Green House gas emission from the Dairy Sector. A life Cycle Assessment).

Significant productivity improvements are needed for developing countries to meet growing food security and development requirements, while minimizing resource use and GHG emissions from production.

Improving milk production in Cajamarca, Peru

FONCREAGRO in association with the private sector is undertaking a number of pro-poor livestock initiatives with the aim to increase milk production in poor and vulnerable areas of Peru, such as the Cajamarca region. Production efficiency is achieved through: breeding programmes (using crosses from Brown Swiss); improved pasture and manure management; decrease in the use of synthetic fertilizers, and improving livestock health through the provision of veterinary services and the sanitation of canals and treatment of animals for diseases such as liver fluke. Such practices have increased milk production per cow by 25 percent with significant improvement in quality. In addition, weaning age has decreased, calves reach 280kg in 20 months instead of 30 months and time between births has been reduced from 16.5 months to 14.9 months. These efficiency improvements has resulted in increases in production and income (by approximately 60 percent) but with a smaller more efficient herd. This has resulted in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and smaller impact on the resource base. Continuity of the system is ensured through training of all members of the community on all aspects of the production system. 

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Multinutrient blocks improve digestibility of fibrous feeds

Livestock production in developing countries is largely dependent on fibrous feeds – mainly crop residues and low quality pasture – that are deficient in nitrogen, minerals and vitamins. However, these feedstuffs can be better used if the rumen diet is supplemented with nitrogen, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins. One of the most suitable methods used to supply animals with the nutrients not found in fibrous feed (in tropical smallholder conditions) is to feed the animals urea and molasses in the form of urea-molasses mineral blocks. These mineral blocks increase productivity of meat and milk production and promote higher reproductive efficiency in ruminant animal species, such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and yak. The success of the technique has resulted in its adoption in over 60 countries (FAO 2007a. The State of Food and Agriculture, Paying Farmers for Environmental Services). 

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Control of animal diseases related to climate changes: Rift valley fever

The recent outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in Madagascar in 2008 provides an example of how principles and tools such as rapid disease detection, early warning, early response, as promoted in the EMPRES programme, can be used for the control of emerging diseases. The virus, which causes high livestock losses and is also a severe threat to human health, was found in test samples which triggered a country wide survey of livestock and the establishment of surveillance systems. Sentinel screening of herds in thirteen locations were establish through the contracting of local, private veterinarians to undertake field surveillance and undertake weekly visits to communities. Mosquitoes and other samples were collected in the infected areas in order to identify vector species. To prevent human contamination, information campaigns were organized and protective equipment was distributed to professionals working in slaughterhouses. In autumn 2008, a month after the first training, a veterinarian in a remote area launched an alert. The implementation of local measures immediately after detection of the first cases prevented the outbreak from spreading. (EMPRESS Transboundary Animal Diseases Bulletin No 35). 

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last updated:  Thursday, December 30, 2010