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Farming systems methods in the planning, implementation and monitoring of sustainable livestock development

by Pervaiz Amir and Abdus Salam Akhtar


Farming Systems Research (FSR) is an approach that (a) takes a holistic view of the whole farm as a system, (b) focuses on the relationships between the various components under the control of the farm household and of the interactions of these components with physical, biological and socio-economic factors under the household's control, and (c) aims at enhancing the efficiency of farming systems by focusing agricultural research to generate and test improved technologies. Basic characteristics of the approach is that it focuses on small farmers and is holistic, integrated, location specific and dynamic. In the case of livestock the results may be applicable across a wider range of situations. Historically, the concept was developed with a arable bias and it is only in the last decade that the livestock component has been added. Several Asian countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are now employing FSR methods in livestock development projects.

Initially, livestock interactions were only considered important in mixed farming systems where feed and labour interactions where obvious and easy to quantify. Pastoral and specialized range systems still have not yet been extensively subjected to the FSR approach. International Centres have taken a lead in testing the systems approach to farm level development and there is now increased interest to incorporate such methodologies into national programmes. International Development Organizations (IDOs), such as, FAO and the World Bank, are now encouraging the FSR approach in dealing with the broader issues of sustainable agriculture development; the environment; women in development and structural reform.

The current trend is towards more specialized, high input-output production systems based on modern technology, socio-economic factors and supported, as necessary, by instruments of policy, such as, subsidies, tariffs and quotas. Farming systems, particularly those producing grain and oilseed crops depend on crop rotations and other diversification strategies and are contrary to the trend towards specialization and intensification of most agricultural operations. Diversification helps reduce risk by spreading it amongst a number of crop and animal activities. The most common diversification strategy is the combination of crop and livestock enterprises, and many grain legumes found in the crop rotations provide valuable crop residues as well as a valuable source of nitrogenous fertilizer. Similarly manure recycling provides a valuable source of fertilizer and animals may provide the primary means of traction. Livestock development projects concerned with mixed farm production systems will certainly benefit from the FSR perspective.

Livestock Development Projects.

Great concern has been expressed over the performance of livestock development compared to the other agricultural sectors. (FAO, 1990) and the experience regarding livestock projects is disturbing. Such projects often fail to deliver tangible products to the beneficiaries and seldom trigger variables that can lead to long term growth. A recent Asian Development Bank review (ADB, 1990) found deficiencies and lessons learned from Bank financed projects. These included:

Pre-feasibility Planning Stage:

Project Implementation Stage:

Project Evaluation Stage:

The Asian Development Bank experience indicates that there is considerable scope for modifying the approach to livestock development projects. A prerequisite is to obtain accurate and relevant information, especially at the farm level, on which to plan projects. Equally important is to ensure the direct participation of the beneficiaries in the planning process. The planning, implementation and monitoring of the proposed activities requires multi-disciplinary teams experienced in the describing the existing situation, identifying constraints and designing, testing, evaluating and extension of appropriate technology. There is also a concern regarding the ability of many professionals (veterinarians and animal husbandry specialists) to adequately deal with non-commercial aspects of animal production.

Many training establishments, including those in developing countries, are not producing graduates with the necessary skills and understanding required to work with smallholder farm systems. In particular, small stock, such as rabbits, are poorly represented and there is a lack practical training which is important to gain the confidence of producers.


Planning Stage:

FSR data collection techniques employ both formal and informal approaches. The Rapid Rural Appraisal technique and informal diagnostic surveys have shown merit in generating valuable farm level data relevant for project design. These survey approaches are quick, cost efficient and can generate both quantitative and qualitative data. These techniques require assistance from a range of expertise and, as such, the demand on skilled manpower is high. Only essential information necessary to define project boundaries, identify constraints and opportunities, develop basic technical parameters is generated. Several surveys conducted in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan by the Arid Zone Research Institute in collaboration with ICARDA (Syria) proved useful in planning a recent IFAD funded Integrated Range and Livestock Development Project.

In Pakistan, FSR generated information has proved invaluable and is used by donor missions and government agencies to assist in conceptualizing projects and as a source baseline data. Amir and Ahmed (1990) cite several cases from Pakistan where FSR micro-data has used by policy makers particularly in Planning and Development Departments who are responsible for project screening.

Diagnosis Stage

Detailed case studies, farmer meetings and diagnostic surveys have provided valuable information that has identified problems and constraints related to animal health and productivity, social economics and the role of women. In particular, it is capable of identifying farmers aspirations. (FSSP, 1985 and 1987). Rapid appraisals of rural markets can generate basic information regarding marketing practices, margins, transportation costs, problems related to input supply regarding livestock (Young and Amir, 1988).

There is obvious scope for further donor missions and government agencies to involve FSR researchers, extension workers and farmers to identify both farm level and institutional constraints and to provide field level inputs to define appropriate approaches and potential solutions.

In Indonesia, the Directorate General of Livestock Services and university livestock faculties have initiated an on-farm livestock project that is coordinated under the Upland Agriculture Conservation Project. By using FSR diagnostic tools, livestock technologies can be disseminated and monitored in an effective manner.

Technology Testing

Where new technologies are being introduced; testing, refining and tailoring them to meet farmers needs is an important stage (Zandstra, 1985). Some livestock projects assume that commercially available techniques are equally applicable under smallholder conditions and often this assumption leads to the failure of many livestock projects. For example, imported exotic breeds seldom perform as expected under smallholder management conditions. Preliminary testing using FSR methods assist in ensuring that new technologies are appropriate, and it may be advantageous to establish on-farm evaluation units within projects. This project component should be staffed with a multi-disciplinary team to ensure the smooth transfer of technology. At this stage it will be necessary to that the following into account:

These prerequisites are crucial for the successful transfer of improved technologies. Livestock projects that have a wide array of technology options will benefit more from on-farm testing, compared to situations where totally new solutions have to be devised. In some cases, technologies practised by progressive farmers, when properly extended, may find greater acceptance than imported technology that is unfamiliar under village situations. On-farm testing and evaluation can help ensure that inappropriate technologies are not introduced by projects. An example of such inappropriate technologies is found in the introduction of Holstein-Friesian cows in Indonesia. Lack of milking machines, high feed requirements and disease susceptibility made these cows a liability to many farmers who had obtained them on loans. Projects that focus on animal distribution programs, especially of exotic stock, should be aware of the limitations of such an approach to small farm development.


General Model:

The historic approach to livestock development involved upgrading government livestock farms, development of infrastructure, provision of village level veterinary support, animal distribution, provision of processing units. Such projects are usually coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture under their respective livestock departments. The experience with these projects has been mixed. They normally depend on the existing over burdened staff and limited resources. Without direct private sector participation these projects are unlikely to have real impact. All too often these projects generate additional government jobs, help certain interest groups but rarely serve the target beneficiaries, especially, were the beneficiaries are smallholders. Furthermore, this approach is rarely sustainable once disbursement is completed and no institutional structures are left behind to ensure continuity.

Pilot Project Approach

Pilot projects often take a single component, for example, feeding concentrate or multi-nutrient blocks and test these ideas through limited farmer participation with the hope of extending such components on a wider scale. The impact of such activities is limited, although, such projects are helpful in addressing single issues.

Maximization and ‘Best Bet’ Approach

In Pakistan, a new concept of “Yield Maximization” has gained popularity over the past few years. Essentially, research results that demonstrate high probability of success (best bet) are brought to the farmer's field. Inputs are subsidized, demonstration trials conducted and the local administration fully involved to create a dramatic impact over a short time period. All forms of media (print, TV and radio) are used in these campaigns and the private sector is involved in input supply, marketing and processing are fully involoved. The hope is that once a group of farmers is convinced with the technology's superiority, then widespread adoption will follow. Recent work by the University of Faisalabad, Punjab, has shown that farmers responded well to molasses/urea multi-nutrient blocks and new fodder varieties and a significant impact can be achieved in a short period (Majid et al, 1989). However, the approach is dependent on trained manpower and is costly in terms of input subsidies.

FSR tools that focus on “before and after” effects and “ with and without treatment” effects are helpful to measure the benefit of new technologies. A detailed discussion on various on-farm methods that can be used to assist livestock projects can be found in Amir and Knipscheer (1989). The principle concern of all these methods is not to give away to sophisticated technologies that are unlikely to be beneficial to the majority of small farmers but to concentrate on proven practices that can be verified under farmer conditions with his direct participation (Hart and George, 1983). The final decision maker is the farmer and he should be the principle judge of the technology.

It must, however, be emphasized that there is a tendency to call everything under the name of applied research and development “Farming Systems Research” - this is not correct and value of FSR methods must be kept in mind. For instance, FSR methods are of limited value for single commodity projects where resource interactions are of less concern.


Farming systems teams placed in rural areas offer the opportunity and facilities for livestock monitoring. Quick surveys focusing on key variables can be undertaken and results tabulated in short period (Maddock, 1987). Similarly quantifiable data can be generated over longer periods to assist project evaluation (Casley, Dennis and Kumar, 1987 and Smith, 1985). Most livestock projects using FSR tools have shown that data monitoring and analysis can be simplified and that computer aided spreadsheet can efficiently generate the needed information1. Advanced dairy record management programs are helpful for research but seldom meet the needs of project managers. Field reports on animal performance and farmer response to various project interventions can be prepared by different members of multidisciplinary teams. Furthermore, gender issues pertaining to females can be integrated into the monitoring systems.

1 For an excellent illustration of livestock data collection and monitoring forms see Gomez and Mallorie, 1987.


There are significant well tested FSR methods available that can help development agencies improve implementation of smallholder livestock projects. Whilst, International Development Agencies have played a significant role in developing these approaches, however, it is important that developing countries develop their own capability to modify and refine these methods to suit their own conditions.

Most of methodological development has focused on mixed farm systems with less attention given to pastoral systems. The International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) has, however, been working in both situations. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has made a significant contribution in realizing the value of FSR as a tool in livestock development (IDRC, 1985). However, not enough attention has been given to given to development of methodology relevant to livestock production systems, also, that greater use of existing methods must be put into practice. There remain a number of outstanding issues:


This paper has been concerned with the potential use of FSR methods to assist livestock projects during the planning, implementation and monitoring stages. It was argued that there is now a wide range of FSR tools available to help implement livestock projects. Training needs still not been fully addressed and further attention is warranted. FSR methods need wide scale testing in development projects and the idea of including an on-farm research and development unit with each large project has value. In addition, the whole livestock project development cycle needs review to ensure that livestock are a competitive investment on a comparative basis with other agricultural enterprises.


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