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The role of technology

The development and dissemination of new technology is an important factor determining the future of agriculture. The FAO study investigated three areas that are particularly critical, namely biotechnology, technologies in support of sustainable agriculture, and the directions that should be taken by future research.

Biotechnology: issues and prospects

Biotechnology promises great benefits for both producers and consumers of agricultural products, but its applications are also associated with potential risks. The risks and benefits may vary substantially from one product to the next and are often perceived differently in different countries. To reap the full potential of biotechnology, appropriate policies must be developed to ensure that the potential risks are accurately diagnosed and, where necessary, avoided.

What is the current role of biotechnology?

For thousands of years, human beings have been engaged in improving the crops and animals they raise. Over the past 150 years, scientists have assisted their efforts by developing and refining the techniques of selection and breeding. Though considerable progress has been achieved, conventional selection and breeding are time-consuming and bear technical limitations.

Modern biotechnology has the potential to speed up the development and deployment of improved crops and animals. Marker-assisted selection, for instance, increases the efficiency of conventional plant breeding by allowing rapid, laboratory-based analysis of thousands of individuals without the need to grow plants to maturity in the field. The techniques of tissue culture allow the rapid multiplication of clean planting materials of vegetatively propagated species for distribution to farmers. Genetic engineering or modification - manipulating an organism's genome by introducing or eliminating specific genes - helps transfer desired traits between plants more quickly and accurately than is possible in conventional breeding.

This latter technique promises considerable benefits but has also aroused widespread public concerns. These include ethical misgivings, anxieties about food and environmental safety, and fears about the concentration of economic power and technological dependence, which could deepen the technological divide between developed and developing countries.

The spread of genetically modified (GM) crops has been rapid. Their area increased by a factor of 30 over the 5 years to 2001, when they covered more than 52 million ha. Considerable research to develop more GM varieties is under way in some developing countries. China, for instance, is reported to have the second largest biotechnology research capacity after the United States.

However, the spread so far is geographically very limited. Just four countries account for 99 percent of the global GM crop area: the United States with 35.7 million ha, Argentina with 11.8 million ha, Canada with 3.2 million ha and China with 1.5 million ha. The number and type of crops and applications involved is also limited: two-thirds of the GM area is planted to herbicide-tolerant crops. All commercially grown GM crops are currently either non-food crops (cotton) or are heavily used in animal feeds (soybean and maize).

Area of GM crops for different commodities and countries

Source: ISAAA (2001)


Biotechnology: potential benefits, risnks and concerns

Potential benefits

  • Increased productivity, leading to higher incomes for producers and lower prices for consumers
  • Less need for environmentally harmful inputs, particularly insecticides.Scientists have developed maize and cotton varieties incorporating genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) which produce insecticidal toxins. Virus and fungus-resistant varieties are in the pipeline for fruits and vegetables, potato and wheat.
  • New crop varieties for marginal areas, increasing the sustainability of agriculture in poor farming communities. These varieties will be resistant to drought, waterlogging, soil acidity, salinity or extreme temperatures.
  • Reduced dependence on management skills through built-in resistance to pests and diseases.
  • Enhanced food security through reduced fluctuations in yields caused by insect invasions, droughts or floods.
  • Higher nutritional values through higher protein quality and content as well as increased levels of vitamins and micro-nutrients (e.g. iodine or beta-carotene enriched rice).
  • Better health value and digestibility. Scientists are developing varieties of soybean that contain less saturated fat and more sucrose.
  • Production of valuable chemicals and pharmaceuticals at lower cost than is possible at present. Products envisaged range from speciality oils and biodegradable plastics to hormones and human antibodies.

Risks and concerns

  • Products are tailored largely to the needs of large-scale farmers and industrial processing in the developed world, with the result that resource-poor farmers in developing countries will fail to benefit.
  • Market concentration and monopoly power in the seed industry, reducing choice and control for farmers, who will pay ever higher prices for seed. One company alone controls over 80 percent of the market for GM cotton and 33 percent for GM soybean.
  • Patenting of genes and other materials originating in the developing countries. Private-sector companies are able to appropriate without compensation the products resulting from the breeding efforts of generations of farmers and from research conducted in the public sector.
  • Technologies that prevent farmers re-using seed. These require farmers to purchase seed afresh every season and could inhibit adoption by poor farmers. In the worst case, ignorance of this characteristic could result in complete crop failure.
  • Food safety. This has received added attention after a potentially allergenic maize variety that was not registered for food use entered the food chain in the United States.
  • The environmental impact of GM crops. There is a risk that inserted genes may spread to wild populations, with potentially serious consequences for biodiversity, or contaminate the crops of organic farmers. Genes for herbicide resistance could encourage the overuse of herbicides, while those for insect resistance could generate resistance in insects, forcing the use of more toxic products to kill them.

Why do we need modern biotechnology?

BT cotton in China: a success story

One of the most impressive successes in agricultural biotechnology is China's experience with Bt cotton.

Following research by various public- and private-sector partners, Bt cotton was released to the country's farmers in 1997. It quickly became very popular, with the area devoted to it expanding from 2000 ha in the first year to 70 000 ha in 2000. The reasons for this popularity were mainly economic, but there were important environmental and human health benefits too.

In general, cotton is very susceptible to pests and normally requires many applications of insecticide, which are expensive, require a great deal of extra labour, and often cause health problems in farm workers. Farmers using the new Bt variety needed over 80 percent less insecticide than those using non-Bt varieties and only a third as many applications. They were able to cut both their labour and other input costs. Their yields were also higher: 3.37 tonnes per ha as opposed to 3.18 tonnes with non-Bt cotton. The overall cost of producing a kilogramme of cotton was 28 percent lower.

There were positive effects on biodiversity, with farmers and government extension agents reporting a greater variety of insects and more beneficial species in fields with Bt cotton. In addition there were considerable health benefits for the farmers: only 5 percent of Bt cotton growers reported poisonings, against 22 per cent of growers of non-Bt cotton. The overall economic benefits of Bt cotton were assessed at US$334 million per year in 1999.

Globally, agricultural production could probably meet expected demand over the period to 2030 even without major advances in biotechnology. However, biotechnology could be a major tool in the fight against hunger and poverty, especially in developing countries. Because it may deliver solutions where conventional breeding approaches have failed, it could greatly assist the development of crop varieties able to thrive in the difficult environments where many of the world's poor live and farm. Some promising results have already been achieved in the development of varieties with complex traits such as resistance or tolerance to drought, soil salinity, insect pests and diseases, helping to reduce crop failures. Several applications allow resource-poor farmers to reduce their use of purchased inputs such as pesticides or fertilizers, with benefits to the environment and human health as well as farmers' incomes.

Most biotechnology is generated and controlled by large private-sector companies, which have so far mainly targeted the commercial farmers who can afford their products. Nevertheless, there is some public-sector work directed towards the needs of resource-poor farmers. In addition, most of the technologies and intermediate products developed through private-sector research could be adapted to solve priority problems in the developing countries. If the poor of these countries are to reap this potential, national and international action is needed to foster private-public partnerships that will promote access to these technologies at affordable prices. This is the main policy challenge for the future.

What policies are needed to harness the potential of biotechnology for the poor?

In the case of GM crops, most of the commercial applications developed so far are directed towards reducing production costs, not towards meeting the needs expressed by consumers. The perception of the expected benefits and potential risks of such crops, and of biotechnology as a whole, differ among regions, countries, interest groups and individuals. The urban and landless poor in developing countries need cheaper food. In contrast, for consumers in developed countries, where food is plentiful, the health and environmental concerns associated with biotechnology outweigh the possible cost savings. These consumers will be more inclined to accept the new products if they can be assured of their safety through appropriate regulatory frameworks.

Greater and better targeted investments in GM research for developing countries will be needed to ensure that the farmers of these countries have access to the resulting new crop varieties. The focus should shift from pesticide-tolerant crops towards the characteristics that matter to resource-poor farmers: improved resistance or tolerance to drought, waterlogging, salinity and extreme temperatures; improved resistance to pests and diseases; better nutritional values; and higher yields. Such a shift could be based on new private-public partnerships, exploiting the greater efficiency of private-sector research but under the guidance of public-sector donors. Research funds could be made available on the basis of public tenders.

Effects of Bt cotton in China

Source: Huang at al. (2002)

Further change is on the horizon

The rapid progress made in both generating and extending new biotechnology applications, together with the uncertain public response to these applications, make it difficult to predict the long-term prospects for these technologies, including their impact on future production. However, developments in the short term - the next 3 years or so - are somewhat easier to foresee.

The success of Bt cotton in China has paved the way for further expansion of GM crops in this country, which has considerable potential for GM products. China is a major producer of soybean, maize and tobacco - all crops for which GM traits have been developed elsewhere. Wide-scale adoption of GM technology in China could well provide the impetus for other developing countries to follow suit.

While the adoption rates for GM technologies in developing countries are likely to rise, they are expected to slow in the developed world. This mainly reflects the impressive growth of the past, which limits the remaining potential. GM soybean, for instance, already accounts for two-thirds of the soybean area worldwide and for an even larger share of the area in developed countries. As the global area of such crops expands, other, more sophisticated biotechnology applications may gain importance. Examples include GM-based nutraceuticals or cosmetic applications. As these new applications are likely to produce a broader range of benefits than "merely" cheaper foods and feeds, consumers in the developed countries may become more inclined to accept them.

Towards sustainable agriculture

Given a conducive policy environment, the next three decades should see the spread of farming methods that reduce environmental damage while maintaining or even increasing production. In some cases these technologies will also reduce the costs of production.

No-till/conservation agriculture

The negative impact that soil tillage can have on soil biological processes and hence on productivity has been increasingly recognized. In response, no-till or conservation agriculture (NT/CA) has been developed. This form of agriculture can maintain and improve crop yields, providing greater resilience against drought and other stresses.

Like organic farming, NT/CA sustains biodiversity and saves on the use of resources. However, unlike organic farming, it can be combined with synthetic inputs and GM crops.

It involves three principal elements:

NT/CA can raise crop yields by 20 to 50 percent. Yields are less variable from year to year, while labour and fuel costs are lower. Once demonstrated to farmers at a given location, NT/CA tends to spread spontaneously over a larger area. The main obstacles to its spread are the complexity of managing crop rotation, the transitional costs of switching to new practices and, to a certain extent, the conservatism of agricultural extension services. Retraining, sometimes combined with increased financial incentives, may be needed to speed the pace of adoption.

Integrated pest management

Pesticides involve a range of hazards in their production, distribution and application. When used conventionally, they can eliminate natural predators as well as target pests, and generate resistance in pests. They may also pollute water and soil resources and cause a range of health problems to operators and their families.

Integrated pest management (IPM) aims to minimize the amount of pesticides applied by using other control methods more effectively. Pest incidence is monitored, and action is taken only when damage exceeds tolerable limits. The other technologies and methods used include pest-resistant varieties, bio-insecticides and traps, and the management of crop rotations, fertilizer use and irrigation in such a way as to minimize pests. Chemical pesticides, if they are used at all, are chosen for minimum toxicity and applied in carefully calculated ways.

Many countries have successfully introduced IPM and have experienced increased production accompanied by lower financial, environmental and human health costs as a result. Again, extension systems and policy frameworks in many countries have tended to favour the use of pesticides. These must be reformed if IPM is to spread faster in future.

Integrated plant nutrient systems

No-till/conservation agriculture can raise crop yields by 20 to 50 percent. Yields are more stable, resilience against drought improves and labour and fuel costs are lower, but management is more complex.

All crop production uses up plant nutrients in the soil. Conventional fertilizers usually replace only a few key nutrients, while others continue to be depleted. Many resource-poor farmers cannot afford these fertilizers, resulting in soil mining. In other cases there is overuse, leading to the pollution of soils and water resources.

An integrated plant nutrient system is one in which practitioners aim to optimize the use of nutrients through a range of practices that include the recycling of vegetable and animal wastes and the use of legumes to fix atmospheric nitrogen. External nutrients are used judiciously, in ways that minimize costs and reduce pollution. Managing the use of fertilizers precisely can increase their efficiency by 10 to 30 percent.

The promise of organic agriculture

Organic agriculture is a set of practices in which the use of external inputs is minimized. Synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, synthetic preservatives, pharmaceuticals, GM organisms, sewage sludge and irradiation are all excluded.

Interest in organic agriculture has been boosted by public concerns over pollution, food safety and human and animal health, as well as by the value set on nature and the country-side. Consumers in developed countries have shown themselves willing to pay price premiums of 10 to 40 percent for organic produce, while government subsidies have helped to make organic agriculture economically viable.

As a result, organic agriculture has expanded rapidly in Western countries. Between 1995 and 2000, the total area of organic land in Europe and the United States tripled, albeit from a very low base.

In 2001, some 15.8 million ha were under certified organic agriculture globally. Almost half of this was in Oceania, just under a quarter in Europe and a fifth in Latin America. About two-thirds of the area is organic grassland. As a percentage of total agricultural land, organic agriculture is still modest - an average of 2 percent in Europe. However, many European countries have ambitious targets for expansion, with the result that Western Europe may have around a quarter of its total agricultural land under organic management by 2030.

With a number of large supermarket chains now involved, the market for organic foods is booming and potential demand far outstrips supply. In many industrial countries, sales are growing at 15 to 30 percent a year. The total market in 2000 was estimated at almost US$20 billion - still less than 2 percent of total retail food sales in industrial countries but a sizeable increase over the value a decade ago. Demand is expected to continue to grow, perhaps even faster than the 20 percent or so achieved in recent years. The supply shortfall offers opportunities for developing countries to fill the gap, especially with out-of-season produce.

Land area under organic management

Source: Willer and Yussefi (2002)

In industrial countries, organic agriculture is based on clearly defined methods enforced by inspection and certification bodies. Most developing countries, in contrast, do not yet have their own organic standards and certification systems. In these countries, organic agriculture may in fact be more wide-spread than in the developed world but is practised of necessity, since the majority of farmers are unable to afford or cannot obtain modern inputs. Most organic crops for local consumption are sold at the same price as other produce. However, many developing countries are now producing organic commodities in commercial quantities for export to developed country markets. These exports can be expected to increase in the coming years.

Organic agriculture offers many environmental benefits. Agrochemicals can pollute groundwater, disrupt key ecological processes such as pollination, harm beneficial micro-organisms and cause health hazards to farm workers. Modern monoculture using synthetic inputs often harms biodiversity at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels. The external costs of conventional agriculture can be substantial.

In contrast, organic agriculture sets out to enhance biodiversity and restore the natural ecological balance. It encourages both spatial and temporal biodiversity through intercropping and crop rotations, conserves soil and water resources and builds soil organic matter and biological processes. Pests and diseases are kept at bay by crop associations, symbiotic combinations and other non-chemical methods. Water pollution is reduced or eliminated.

Although yields are often 10 to 30 percent lower than in conventional farming, organic agriculture can give excellent profits. In industrial countries, consumer premiums, government subsidies and agritourism boost incomes from organic farms. In developing countries, well-designed organic systems can give better yields, profits and returns on labour than traditional systems. In Madagascar, hundreds of farmers have found they can increase their rice yields fourfold, to as much as 8 tonnes per ha, by using improved organic management practices. In the Philippines, organic rice yields of over 6 tonnes per ha have been recorded. Experiences of organic production in low-potential areas such as Northern Potosí (Bolivia), Wardha (India) and Kitale (Kenya) have shown that yields can be doubled or tripled over those obtained using traditional practices.

Organic agriculture also has social benefits. It uses cheap, locally available materials and usually requires more labour, thereby increasing employment opportunities. This is a considerable advantage in areas where, or at times when, there is a labour surplus. By rehabilitating traditional practices and foods, organic agriculture can promote social cohesion.

Locally, organic agriculture could become a realistic alternative to traditional agriculture over the next 30 years.

Certain policy measures are essential if the progress of organic agriculture is to continue. Support for agriculture is increasingly shifting from production goals to environmental and social goals, a trend that could favour organic agriculture. Agreed international standards and accreditation are needed to remove obstacles to trade. Extensionists often promote the idea that synthetic inputs are best and may need training in organic methods. Research to solve technical problems needs to be stepped up. Secure land tenure is essential if farmers are to undertake the long process of conversion to organic standards. If these measures are put in place, organic agriculture could become a realistic alternative to traditional agriculture over the next 30 years, at least at the local level.

Directions for research

Strengths and weaknesses of past research

The green revolution has played a key role in the major improvements in food supply over the past 40 years. The yields of rice, wheat and maize in developing countries have risen by 100 to 200 percent since the late 1960s.

Yield gains were the primary focus of the green revolution. Breeding and selection led to the development of improved crop varieties, but greatly increased use of inputs, such as fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation water, were needed to get the best out of these varieties. The green revolution achieved its aims not just through research but through a package of methods and inputs pushed by national and international agencies, extension services and private-sector companies.

But this first green revolution had its shortcomings:

Needed: a doubly green revolution

Key questions for researchers:

  • Will the technology lead to higher productivity across all farms, soil types and regions, not just well-endowed ones?
  • How will the technology affect the seasonal and annual stability of production?
  • How will the technology affect the eco-system and the sustainability of farming?
  • Who will be the winners and losers from the technology - and how will it affect the poor?

A second, doubly green revolution is now needed. Its goals, as with the first, must include increased productivity. But it must also aim for sustainability - minimizing or reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture - and for equity - making sure that the benefits of research spread to the poor and to marginal areas.

Productivity must increase on all the lands where farmers seek a living, not just in the well-endowed areas. More varieties and packages for crops other than the three key cereals need to be developed. And the potential of resource-conserving approaches such as IPM needs to be fully realized.

Research for the new green revolution needs to be genuinely multidisciplinary. It must cover not only the biological sciences, including genetic engineering alongside conventional breeding and agronomy, but also the socio-economic context in which farming occurs. And it must focus not only on crops and animals but on the ecology of all life forms within the farming system. Areas of special importance in ecology include the interactions of plants, pests and predators, and competition between crops and weeds. Plant rooting systems and the availability of nutrients and soil organic matter also deserve more emphasis.

Above all, priority must be given to the needs of the poor in the marginal, rainfed areas bypassed by the first green revolution. Scientists must engage in an interactive dialogue with all the stakeholders in the re-search process, especially farmers but also policy makers, civic society and the general public.

Research towards this second green revolution is already under way in some locations. Its first fruits have shown that it can be successful, especially when farmers participate actively in the design and testing of new technology. However, the research effort needs to be greatly strengthened and the challenge of scaling up the results of research has yet to be adequately addressed.

Livestock: intensification and its risks

Meat and dairy products will provide an increasing share of the human diet, with poultry expanding fastest. Future demand can be met, but the negative environmental consequences of increased production must be addressed.

Livestock production currently accounts for some 40 percent of the gross value of world agricultural production, and its share is rising.

It is the world's largest user of agricultural land, directly as pasture and indirectly through the production of fodder crops and other feedstuffs. In 1999 some 3 460 million ha were under permanent pasture - more than twice the area under arable and permanent crops.

Livestock provide not only meat, but dairy products, eggs, wool, hides and other goods. They can be closely integrated into mixed farming systems as consumers of crop by-products and sources of organic fertilizer, while larger animals also provide power for ploughing and transport.

Livestock have a considerable impact on the environment. Growth of the livestock sector has been a major factor contributing to deforestation in some countries, particularly in Latin America. Overstocking land with grazing animals can cause soil erosion, desertification and the loss of plant biodiversity. Public health hazards are increasing with the intensification of urban and periurban livestock production. Wastes from industrial livestock facilities can pollute water supplies and livestock are major sources of greenhouse gases.

Diets shift from staples to meat

The past three decades have seen major shifts in human diets. The share of animal products has risen, while that of cereals and other staples has fallen. And within the meat sector there has been a dramatic rise in the share of poultry and, to a smaller extent, pig meat. These trends are likely to continue over the next 30 years, though in less dramatic form.

As incomes rise, people generally prefer to spend a higher share of their food budget on animal protein, so meat and dairy consumption tends to grow faster than that of food crops. As a result, the past three decades have seen buoyant growth in the consumption of livestock products, especially in newly industrializing countries.

Livestock are the world's largest user of agricultural land: in 1999 some 3 460 million ha were under permanent pasture - more than twice the area under arable and permanent crops.

Annual meat consumption per person in developing countries as a whole more than doubled between 1964-66 and 1997-99, from only 10.2 kg per year to 25.5 kg - a rise of 2.8 percent a year. The growth was much less (from 10 kg to 15.5 kg) if China and Brazil are excluded. The rise was particularly rapid for poultry, where consumption per person grew more than fivefold. Pig meat consumption also rose strongly, though most of this rise was concentrated in China.

The overall rise was unevenly spread: in China meat consumption has quadrupled over the past two decades, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa it has remained stagnant, at under 10 kg per person. Differences in meat consumption between countries can be substantial because of differences in meat availability or in dietary habits, including the role of fish in the provision of total animal protein. For example, meat consumption in Mongolia is as high as 79 kg per person, but overall diets are grossly insufficient and undernourishment is widespread. Meat consumption in the United States and Japan, two countries of comparable living standards, is 120 kg and 42 kg per person respectively, but their per capita consumption of fish and seafood is 20 kg and 66 kg.

Future growth may slow

Looking towards 2030, the trend towards increased consumption of livestock products will continue in the developing countries. However, future growth in consumption of both meat and milk may not be as rapid as in the recent past, given the reduced scope for further increases in major consuming countries.

In developed countries the scope for in-creased demand is limited. Population growth is slow and the consumption of livestock products is already very high. At the same time health and food safety concerns, focused on animal fats and the emergence of new diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), are holding back demand for meat. Total meat consumption in the industrial countries has risen by only 1.3 percent a year over the past ten years.

Annual meat consumption per person in developing countries more than doubled between 1964-66 and 1997-99, but there were substantial differences between countries.

In developing countries the demand for meat has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, at 5.6 percent a year. Over the next two decades this rate is projected to slow by half. Part of this slowdown will be due to slower population growth and part to the same factor that is at work in developed countries: the countries that have dominated past increases, such as China and Brazil, have now reached fairly high levels of consumption and so have less scope for further rises. In India, which will rival China as the most populous country in the world in the 2040s, the growth of meat consumption may be limited by cultural factors in addition to the continued prevalence of low incomes, since many of India's people are likely to remain vegetarians. However, India's consumption of dairy products is projected to continue to rise rapidly, building on the successes achieved over the past 30 years. In sub-Saharan Africa, slow economic growth will limit increases in both meat and dairy consumption.

The rise in poultry consumption looks set to continue, though a little more slowly than in the past, from a global average of 10.2 kg per person in 1997-99 to 17.2 kg by 2030. Much smaller increases in world per capita consumption are foreseen for both pig meat and beef.

World Average meat consumption per person, 1964-66 to 2030

Source: FAO data and projections

Bigger herds, fatter animals

Given the slower growth of demand, livestock production will also grow more slowly than in the past. Moreover, increased efficiency in the sector could mean that extra demand can be met by a smaller growth in the number of animals. In absolute terms, however, the number of animals will still need to rise considerably. The projections show an extra 360 million cattle and buffaloes, 560 million extra sheep and goats, and 190 million extra pigs by 2030 - rises of 24, 32 and 22 percent respectively.

However, it should prove possible to meet much of the extra demand by increasing productivity rather than animal numbers. There is ample scope for this in developing countries, particularly with regard to cattle productivity. In 1997-99 the yield of beef per animal in developing countries was 163 kg compared with 284 kg in industrialized countries, while average milk yields were 1.1 and 5.9 tonnes per year per cow respectively.

Selection and breeding, together with improved feeding regimes, could lead to faster fattening and larger animals. The average carcass weight for cattle, for example, has already risen from 174 kg in 1967-69 to 198 kg 30 years later; by 2030 it could reach 211 kg. The off-take rate should also rise, as animals will be ready for market earlier.

The shift to more intensive production will continue

A continued shift in production methods can be expected, away from extensive grazing systems and towards more intensive and industrial methods.

Grazing on pasture still provides 30 percent of total beef production, but its market share is declining. In South and Central America, grazing is often pursued on land cleared from rainforests, where it fuels soil degradation and further deforestation. In semi-arid environments, overstocking during dry periods frequently brings risks of desertification, although it has been shown that pastures do recover quickly if stock are taken off and good rains return.

In recent years, livestock production from industrial enterprises has grown twice as fast as that from more traditional mixed farming systems and more than six times faster than from grazing systems.

Mixed farming, in which livestock provide manure and draught power in addition to milk and meat, still predominates for cattle. As populations and economies grow, these multi-purpose types of farming will tend to give way to more specialized enterprises.

Where land is scarce, more intensive systems of stall-feeding emerge. In these systems, fodder is cut and brought to the stabled animals, leading to less soil damage and faster fattening. This trend too can be expected to continue and accelerate.

More industrial and commercial forms of production will gradually increase in both number and scale. These intensive enterprises will make use of improved genetic material, sophisticated feeding systems, animal health prophylactics and highly skilled management. In recent years, industrial livestock production has grown at twice the rate of more traditional mixed farming systems and at more than six times the rate of production based on grazing. At the turn of the century industrial enterprises accounted for 74 percent of the world's total poultry production, 68 percent of its eggs and 40 percent of its pig meat.

The growing demand for livestock products offers an opportunity for the 675 million rural poor who depend on livestock to improve their livelihoods.

Current trends towards industrial and commercial production could pose a threat to the estimated 675 million rural poor whose livelihoods depend on livestock. Without special measures, the poor will find it harder to compete and may become marginalized, descending into still deeper poverty. Yet, if the policy environment is right, the future growth in demand for livestock products could provide an opportunity for poor families to generate additional income and employment. Because of its low capital costs, and its ability to make use of wastes and communally owned resources, livestock production allows poor families to accumulate assets and diversify risks, besides serving as a valuable source of products that improve both cash income and family nutrition. Policy measures that will help the poor enter and stay in the expanding market for livestock products include the provision of low-cost credit, technical support - especially in animal health and quality matters - and better access to markets through improved infrastructure and institutions.

Environment and health problems

Commercial and industrial systems bring their own environmental problems, which differ from those of extensive systems. The concentration of animals, particularly in urban areas, leads to problems of waste disposal and pollution. Higher animal densities and transport to more distant markets often involve the frustration of natural animal behaviour, bringing distress. Increased trade in livestock products and feedstuffs brings greater risk of disease transmission, both within and across national boundaries. This applies both to diseases limited to livestock, such as foot-and-mouth, and to those that may affect both livestock and humans, such as avian flu.

Increased trade in livestock products and feedstuffs brings greater risk of disease transmission, both within and across national boundaries.

Infectious animal diseases such as rinderpest or foot-and-mouth are still major threats in developing countries. Increased trade can spread them more widely, even to developed countries. Eradication programmes are shifting away from countrywide control strategies towards more focused and flexible approaches, with the aim of improving the cost-effectiveness of control.

In humid and subhumid Africa, trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) poses an enormous obstacle to human health and cattle production. Trypanocidal drugs, aerial spraying, adhesive insecticides, impregnated screens and traps and the use of sterile insects offer the promise of recovering infested areas for mixed farming. This will improve human health and nutrition, as well as live-stock and crop production.

Industrial livestock enterprises use antibiotics on a large scale. This practice has contributed to antibiotic resistance among bacteria, including those that cause human diseases. Resistance to antihelminthics is emerging among livestock parasites. Industrial enterprises also use growth hormones to speed fattening and increase the efficiency of con-version of feed into meat. Public concern has led to restrictions on use in the EU, although negative impacts on human health have not been proved.

Promises and risks of biotechnology

Biotechnology will have a profound effect on the future of livestock production. Some biotechnology applications are already in use, while others are still under research. Artificial insemination, already routine in developed countries, will spread in developing countries. It can greatly increase the efficiency of animal breeding.

The cloning of mammalian cells could also boost productivity and output, particularly for dairy cattle in developed countries. However, the problems with this technology must be solved: currently only 2 to 5 percent of attempts to clone animals actually succeed, and cloned animals often develop serious health problems.

Rapid advances in understanding the genetic make-up of animals will provide additional potential for productivity growth. Genes that are important for economic performance, such as those for disease resistance or for adaptation to adverse environmental conditions, can be identified and transferred into more productive backgrounds, either through marker-assisted selection or through GM. These applications could prove especially useful in developing countries.

GM animals have so far been used mainly for biomedical research or the production of human proteins. GM cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens are now being produced experimentally, with the intention of eventual use for human consumption. Despite signs of consumer resistance to GM foods for direct human consumption, products from livestock fed with GM maize, soybean and cottonseed cake are already on the market.

The main risks of genetic modification arise from potential side-effects on the environment or on human health. These risks are particularly pronounced if there is insufficient testing before widespread release. There is also the risk of narrowing the genetic base and concentrating its control in the hands of large multinational corporations. Almost 5 000 breeds and strains of farm animals have been identified. Some 600 of these face extinction and many more may be at risk if the genetic resource base is not conserved.

Cereals used as feed: threat or safety valve?

Globally, some 660 million tonnes of cereals are used as livestock feed each year. This represents just over a third of total world cereal use.

This use of cereals is often perceived as a threat to food security, since it appears to remove from the market supplies of essential foods that would otherwise be available to poor countries and families, thereby raising food prices. However, it is important to realize that if these cereals were not used as feed, they would probably not be produced at all, so would not be available as food in any case.

The use of cereals as feed may actually help food security. The commercial livestock sector is responsive to the price of cereals: whenever shortages raise prices, livestock producers tend to switch to other feeds, releasing more cereals for food use. As a result, the food use of cereals may contract less than it would have done otherwise. In short, the use of cereals as feed serves as a buffer, protecting food intakes from supply variations.

In recent years the use of cereals as feeds has declined in relative terms. One reason is the growing use of cereal substitutes in livestock feed rations. Another is the collapse of the livestock sector in the transition countries, which led to reduced demand for feed in these countries. A third factor is the shift of meat production to poultry, which are much more efficient converters of feed than other livestock species.

Over the next three decades growth in the use of cereals as feeds is projected to be higher than in the recent past, accounting for half the additional use of cereals. This is partly because the transition countries will resume their agricultural growth and partly because the shift into poultry is expected to be slower.


India's white revolution

Launched in 1970, India's Operation Flood has had an impact comparable to the green revolution on rural incomes and food prices. It has turned India's dairy sector around.

Milk consumption per person had been falling, from 39 kg in 1961 to only 32 kg in 1970. Since then it has risen rapidly, reaching 65 kg per person by 1999. Prices of milk to consumers have fallen, while the incomes of Indian dairy farmers have quadrupled.

Operation Flood was created and led by national institutions and supported by the World Bank and the EU. It began with the selling of food aid, the profits from which were used to strengthen dairy cooperatives and smallholder management. Local cows were crossed with specialized dairy breeds to produce a robust yet productive animal adapted to local conditions. Artificial insemination, veterinary services and other inputs were provided, leading to improved milk yields, longer lactation periods and shorter calving intervals. Operation Flood also focused on improving smallholders' access to markets, opening new marketing channels for remote rural producers and thereby reducing both the need for middlemen and the seasonal variations in milk prices that had previously discouraged producers. Milk collection and chilling centres were established, minimizing waste due to spoilage.

Operation Flood has greatly helped India's rural poor. Three-fifths of the operation's 9 million producers are marginal or small-scale farmers or landless people. The impact on women has been particularly marked. Six thousand village-level Women's Dairy Cooperative Societies have been formed. As women have shifted into dairy production, they have freed up employment opportunities, especially on construction sites where they traditionally worked as unskilled labourers. Money earned from the dairy industry has been used to keep children in school. Older female siblings, relieved of the need to stay at home to care for younger children, now have the option of continuing their education.


Milk consumption in India, 1961 to 1999

Source: FAO data

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