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Issues related to sustainable development of livestock production

by A.W. Qureshi


The purpose of this paper is to outline the technical issues and major policy considerations related to the sustainability of livestock development. The identification of these issues is primarily based on the manifestations of unsustainability in certain patterns of livestock production in developing countries. For the purpose of this paper sustainability of livestock development will be looked at in the context of management and conservation of the natural resource base, i.e. animal and feed resources. The environmental and socio-economic considerations underlying sustainable development are elaborated in FAO (1989).

Livestock development over the past three decades has been mainly directed towards satisfying the rapidly increasing demand for milk, meat and eggs in the urban centres. The required intensification of animal production was often limited by both an inadequate indigenous feed and animal resource base along with a fragile socio-economic capacity in most developing countries. In many cases, the political pressure exerted by the urban demand led to the importation of exotic stock and concentrate feeds. Technologies which proved successful in the socio-economic context of developed countries were applied. Technical institutions were also founded on similar rationale. Large amounts of public funds were used to support the modern production systems. The traditional livestock sector was also stimulated by the increasing prices for animal products but its growth was hampered by inadequate input supply and support services.

The signs of unsustainability of such development began to surface in the past few years. The sudden increase in grazing pressure and lack of capacity for conservation among the graziers led to the degradation of rangelands. Feed imports could not be sustained. Lower adaptability of imported stock did not allow rapid multiplication and crossbreeding raised the fears of erosion of the indigenous genetic diversity. The pollution of water and air has been limited to the few areas of livestock concentration in intensive production units. The large-scale use of insecticides in the past for Tsetse control and sporadic pollution of waterways with acaricides may have had significant environmental consequences.

Apart from the manifestations of unsustainability, the overall increase in animal productivity in the past three development decades has been minimal. Increased external assistance per se did not have a lasting impact on the performance of the livestock sector in developing countries (Bommer & Qureshi, 1988). Particularly, smallholder or rural livestock production did not pick up any significant momentum. Major issues underlying these generalized observations are outlined in the following sections.


Development Patterns

The high economic demand for milk and meat in developed countries has led to the establishment of capital intensive systems that require high animal productivity, high levels of concentrate (grain) feeding and highly mechanized or automated infrastructure. The production technologies developed over the years have successfully met these requirements. The problems currently faced by these systems arise basically from economic pressures and revolve around capital costs, input costs and subsidies. There are also environmental problems associated with high concentration of stock, animal wastes and high levels of fertilizer use for pastures. Feed availability is not a constraint in feed deficit areas thanks to the well-established trade in feedstuffs. Large quantities of feed are imported from developing countries. In 1988, some 3.7 million tons of cereal brans and oilseed cakes were imported in the developed countries from the feed-deficit developing countries.

The prevailing production systems in the developing countries are a world apart. Large numbers of ruminant livestock graze common grassland especially in Africa. This low-input system had, in the past, successfully met a large part of the demand for meat in urban centres and catered for the local demand for milk and meat. For the past 2–3 decades the system has not been able to meet the increased demand arising from population explosion, increased income and rapid urbanization. Livestock numbers on common grazing areas have increased way beyond the carrying capacity. The lack of economic capacity among the graziers to undertake range improvement resulted in degradation of most of these grasslands. After an increase in numbers and offtake during the past 2–3 decades, the present output is declining. The degraded common grasslands cannot be rehabilitated without massive investment and the politically difficult land tenure policy.

A sizeable proportion of the third world livestock is also kept in arable farming areas and is integrated in the system to provide draught power, fibre and dung as well as marketable quantities of milk, meat and eggs. A few holdings in these areas are large enough to warrant increasing the producing ability of the stock. On small farms, the large ruminants are kept primarily for work; milk and meat are by-products. Small ruminants are primarily kept for meat; milk is a by-product. Crop residues are the main feed resources although a small part of the land is devoted to fodder for work animals. Poultry and pigs basically scavenge the farm and household wastes. Supplementary feeding depends on the market for produce. In recent years, the increased price of milk and meat and improved marketing opportunities for the small farmers have, in some cases, resulted in increased fodder cultivation, better utilization of crop residues and by-products, supplementary feeding and animal husbandry geared towards marketable milk, meat and egg production. However, except for poultry, these improvements have not taken root to a significant extent.

Spurred by high demand for milk, meat and eggs in urban centres, heavy investments were made in dairy farms, ranches and feedlots following the developed country model. This was facilitated during the mid-seventies to mid-eighties by growth in external loans, foreign exchange earnings and availability of capital at low interest rates. In most countries which encouraged this model the available foreign exchange was used to import high yielding stock and feedstuffs. However, the contribution of these enterprises to total milk and meat supply has been minimal and at high cost. With increased capital and foreign exchange shortages in recent years, the specialized livestock farming enterprises and feed industries are trying to re-orient their operations towards greater reliance on locally available feedstuffs and animal resources (FAO, 1990a). There is a growing realization of the value of multipurpose local stock and their capacity to utilise fibrous feedstuffs.

A major part of milk and meat in developing countries is produced by the resource-poor small farmers. Smallholders contribute by far the largest part of the labour force. To improve production and income, techno-economic changes must be brought in the small farming system. Availability of sufficient feeds of adequate quality is the basic constraint in the system. Possibilities of providing external feed inputs are limited. Due to a lack of sufficient attention to the smallholder, appropriate technologies to improve performance of locally available animal and feed resources within the rural system have not developed. Institutional capacities in developing countries have also not been built up from this viewpoint. Smallholder dairy development, for example, has succeeded only when appropriate production technology was supported by an integrated dairy development programme incorporating milk collection, input supply and favourable price policy (FAO, 1984).

Technology Requirements

The objective of livestock development at the national level has been to attain as much self-sufficiency as possible to satisfy mainly the urban demand. At the farm level, the objective is to increase income and utilise family labour year-round. The role of animal production technology in developing countries revolves around finding labour-intensive procedures which maximise production with low-cost inputs. Feeds comprise by far the largest component of input cost. The efficiency of feed utilisation in terms of herd or flock output is the primary consideration in technology development. Other elements of the development of appropriate and affordable technologies that ensure sustainability are: conservation and improvement of resource base; minimization of wastes and environmental degradation; and recycling of wastes for animal feed or biogas.

Direct transfer or transplantation of technology from developed to developing countries has rarely been successful and sustainable in achieving the above objectives. However, in the case of a few specialized enterprises where such a transfer has been successful, the longer term consequences have been dependent upon imported feeds and exotic animals in order to take maximum advantage of the transferred systems. The side effects of imported technologies has been the neglect of indigenous livestock and feed resources (Preston and Sansoucy, 1987).

A sustained growth of indigenous production of milk and meat is dependent upon the introduction of new technologies that would be adopted by producers, especially, the smallholders. A systems approch is indispensable for the development of such technologies. This approach should incorporate the rigour of the scientific method as well as the human element of involving the producer of the farmer at all stages of development. There is a pressing need to utilise the effective tools and techniques that are available to pursue a farming systems research and extension strategy. The farmer must be a key partner in every effort in the improvisation and introduction of the required technologies.

Multi-disciplinary effort and effective linking of research, extension and training are important requisites for the systems approach. The process of increasing animal productivity must also be effectively linked with other developmental elements such as market considerations, produce organization, incentives and policy-making. Vigorous research-extension efforts have proved to be the basic requirements for improving animal production systems.

During the past three decades, most developing countries have been able to establish institutional infrastructure for livestock development, e.g. research centres, extension services, veterinary laboratories, disease control services and educational institutions at various levels. The technical performance of this infrastructure is variable from country to country and from institution to institution. On the whole, the institutional impact on livestock production has been open to question. The development concern these days is not so much about the capacities in terms of physical infrastructures or size of trained manpower but about the usefulness of this capacity in improving farm output. The underlying constraints emerge from the prevailing traditional, neo-social, economic and political environment (Bommer & Qureshi, 1988).

Self-reliant livestock production in developing countries requires a strategy to optimise production from available feed resources through an integrated technology which employs multi-purpose crops, multi-purpose animals and recycling of residues and by-products. The identification of needs and a careful study of feed and animal resources are essential first steps. Resources must be examined in the context of various agro-climatic zones and fodder crops which might be grown. Ruminant production systems must then be matched with the resources in a way that aim for economic rather than biological maximisation. To introduce new technologies it is important to start with on-farm improvements. The utilisation of locally available feed resources must be maximised to reduce or eliminate the importation of concentrate feeds (FAO, 1985).

Livestock development efforts in the past laid primary emphasis on rapid genetic improvement arguing that improvements in feeding will be ineffective when animals with low genetic potential are raised. In recent years there is a growing consciousness to balance the rate of genetic improvement with improvements in feed availability and management. There is also an increased realization of the potential of indigenous cattle, buffaloes, sheep and goats as multi-purpose animals suited to sustainable production systems and as efficient convertors of locally available feed resources. Innovated breeding and management procedures have not been effectively implemented to improve reproduction and to increase the milk, meat and work outputs of the indigenous stock.


Technology Development

Developing technologies for sustainable animal production has always been the objective of animal scientists even this was not expressly stated. This concern had been well taken into account regarding the environment in which the technologies were developed. However, the use, rather than misuse or misplacement, of a proven technology could be an issue in the context of sustainability in different environments. The important issue in this regard is the development of appropriate and affordable livestock technologies suited to specific agroclimatic zones in developing countries. To satisfy the criteria for sustainability, these technologies should support agricultural development which “conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, and is environmentally non-degrading, economically viable and socially acceptable” (FAO, 1989). This would mean further research and development effort for the expansion of the feed base, conservation of animal genetiċ resources, recycling of wastes and efficient feeding systems.

Methodology to evolve sustainable production systems requires a multi-disciplinary approach and development of appropriate indicators of medium-term or long-term sustainability. These indicators should be practical enough to be used in project formulation, monitoring and evaluation.

Sustainable Institutional Support

The institutional framework for improving production systems needs to be structured, or restructured, to ensure multi-disciplinary collaboration and cost-effectiveness. Participation and cost-sharing by the farmers' organizations may be necessary in most cases. Present institutional structures for research, extension and veterinary services need evaluation.

Import/Export and Price Policies

Past experience has highlighted the unsustainability of livestock production and feed imports in most developing countries. The impact of imports on the existing production systems needs to be fully understood before allowing the import of milk, meat, feeds or live animals. Similarly, the export of agro-industrial by-products from feed-deficit countries disrupts livestock development efforts.

Price policies for milk, meat, feed or eggs should be geared towards creation of an economic environment in which it would be profitable to conserve and utilise local feed and animal resources for production. These policies should be devised and implemented for the benefit of the producer.

Degradation of Grazing Lands

Common grazing lands are most vulnerable to degradation. The basic issue in rangeland rehabilitation is land tenure policy which would encourage range improvement and proper grazing management. Access to the rangelands by the nomads and other poor segments of the population is also an issue.

Conservation of Indigenous Breeds

The relevance of the conservation and genetic improvement of indigenous animal genetic resources is well recognised (FAO, 1990b). The important issues concern the cost and the cost-effectiveness of methods to be employed. It has often been mentioned that these efforts should be supported by public funds and external assistance. However, this point of view should not divert the attention from efforts to develop privately-supported and cost-effective methods for conservation.

Methane Emission by Ruminants

There are various estimates of the contribution of ruminants to methane production and global warming. The reliability of these estimates apart, the issue concerns the options available to reduce methane emission. One option on which greater concentration of efforts may be needed is that of devising practical feeding procedures to reduce methane production per unit of milk or meat output.


Bommer, D.F.R. and A.W. Qureshi, 1988. Livestock development projects: successes and failures. Proceedings VI World Conference on Animal Production, pp. 198–212. Helsinki.

FAO. 1984. Report of the Expert Consultation on Dairy Development, Rome.

FAO. 1985. Report of the Expert Consultation on the Substitution of Imported Concentrated Feeds in Animal Production Systems in Developing Countries. Rome.

FAO. 1989. The State of Food and Agriculture. Part III. Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management. Rome.

FAO. 1990a. World Meat Situation and Outlook. Commodities and Trade Division Paper No. ME 90/1. Rome.

FAO. 1990b. Animal Genetic Resources: A Global Programme for Sustainable Development. Animal Production and Health Paper No. 80. Rome.

Preston, T.R. and R. Sansoucy, 1987. Matching Livestock Systems with Available Feed Resources. FAO Animal Production & Health Paper No. 63 pp. 32–49, Rome.

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