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Sustainable animal production


Farming is a complex, multicomponent, interactive process that is dependent on land, animal, human and water resources as well as capital investment. Throughout the developing world it is practiced in many different ways and environments and with differing degrees of intensity and biological efficiency. Animals play an integral role in many of these farming systems. Unlike the specialized and intensified livestock systems in the developed world, animal production in developing countries utilizes the full range of animal outputs, many of which are returned as essential inputs to the farm production system. Manure, for example, is an important - and often the only - source of plant nutrients and, unlike chemical fertilizers, provides the organic matter necessary for maintaining soil structure, which is an important factor in erosion control.

Animal traction is another major farm input, especially in Asia, and there are an estimated 300 million draught animals of various species in the developing world. Land preparation immediately comes to mind when considering animal traction but the important contribution of animals in transporting both goods and humans should not be underestimated. Livestock also provide income on a regular basis, such as from the sale of milk, and serve as a strategic source of cash that may be drawn on as required, since animal ownership is also a rational means of storing and accumulating wealth. This function has important implications in that it finances other essential farm inputs, such as seeds and agrochemicals, while providing cash during the critical periods of the year and thereby alleviating the poverty trap as well as increasing household food security.

Food production in many developing countries is insufficient for current requirements and the situation will be further exacerbated by rapidly expanding human populations. Countries in this position cannot allow food production to stagnate. Nor can they afford, in the longer term, to produce food at the expense of the environment or their natural resource base. There is clearly a need for more sustainable increases in agricultural output in order to balance the adverse effects of intensive production and the exploitation of the resource base while, at the same time, optimizing food production. Livestock serves as a means for recycling nutrients and as a source of energy and value-added production. Their complementary role within the farming system is unique and needs to be fully exploited.

However, there is a growing consensus among politicians, planners and scientists that livestock production in the developing countries is not expanding at a sufficient pace to meet the needs of the increasing world population. Growth in the output of animal products from these countries has largely been the result of increased animal populations rather than increased productivity. While the higher outputs are welcome, they do not necessarily equate with sustainable productive growth. On the contrary, in many cases they may lead to the lowering of productivity and degradation of the natural resource base. Despite the many development projects implemented over the years by national, bilateral and multilateral agencies - often with substantial capital investment - the sobering reality is that there has been little change in either the efficiency or sustainability of animal production in the developing world.

Given the increasing concern regarding conservation of the natural resource base and protection of the global environment, FAO has attached the highest priority to the sustainable development of both plant and animal agriculture. One of the initiatives undertaken by the Organization was to convene an expert consultation in December 1990 to examine the issues relating to sustainable animal agriculture in developing countries. It became evident from this consultation that strategies to achieve sustainable livestock production would need to address matters such as the conservation of the resource base, the minimizing of waste and the maximizing of nutrient-recycling as well as production per unit of resource.

Technologies clearly need to be designed, taking full account of the multifaceted role of livestock in agriculture. For such technologies to be acceptable to the producer, they must be appropriate, affordable and give tangible benefits. There are already promising technologies available which optimize local feed resources, particularly crop residues, agro-industrial byproducts and productive, multipurpose crops such as sugar cane and cassava. The optimal use of the many different types of legume and their incorporation into existing farming practices will be a crucial factor in achieving sustainable agriculture. Two important animal products, manure and draught power, are grossly underutilized at present and specific programmes will be required to maximize their use.

If sustainable livestock development is to be attained, it will be necessary to assist national governments in preparing appropriate strategies and the necessary policy framework. FAO's Animal Health and Production Division has taken the initiative, incorporating strategies for sustainable livestock development in its 1992-1993 programme. Furthermore, as a result of the expert consultation a number of case-studies have been instigated, covering the various agro-ecological zones and major production systems as a basis for determining possible criteria and parameters pertaining to sustainable animal agriculture.

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