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The new communications media in livestock development

The lack of appropriate information
Livestock on the information highway
The electronic alternative
Electronic publications in livestock production 1989-1993
The electronic library
Electronic conferences
Connecting with remote sites in developing countries
Future developments

A.W. Speedy

The author's address is: Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3RB, UK.

Through the new communications media, science can provide a wide portfolio of information from which farmers may choose options suitable for local conditions. A range of activities covering cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, fish and other animals maybe available, with different levels of intensity as well as different, locally available feed resources. The information system is the basis of this approach, with the role of the scientist as information provider, that of the extensionist as interpreter and the farmer as user. As both the provision and supply of information extends to a greater number of countries the application of more diverse options is likely to result in more sustainable systems that make better use of local resources and are better adapted to the environment (Figure 1).

In the past, livestock development has sought to improve production efficiency by introducing new strategies of breeding, reproduction or nutrition, based on institutional research applied to projects in the field. With such an approach, success or failure is determined by the uptake of chosen technologies by the target group The results depend on the appropriateness of the technology to the local environment and on the capacity of the market to absorb increases in milk, meat or other products. Success depends on the particular research activity fitting within the development constraints, whether it is genetic improvement, reproductive technology - artificial insemination (AI) or embryo transfer (ET) - or particular feeding systems. Such an approach is technology-driven rather than demand-driven and fails to take account of the more fundamental objective of rural development which is to improve the relative status of poor countries, disadvantaged areas and poor farmers.

With the spread of information technology, development will not be tied to single commodities determined by individual scientists or institutions. A world of choice will be opened, with people able to participate in the information market. It is a concept that will inevitably change both perception and action at both ends of the development process.

The lack of appropriate information

The lack of information is a major constraint in developing countries. Western universities and research institutes have extensive libraries of scientific journals, books and other publications and the user can now conduct computer searches to identify appropriate references and article abstracts on CD-ROMs or on-line. Many national institutions and certainly the International Agricultural Research Centres have access to CD-ROMs from FAO-AGRIS and Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI), among others. However, having identified the relevant literature, they often do not have access to the full articles but only to the abstracts, and even then there are important problems:

· Most of the scientific literature comes from the North and is not relevant to developing countries in the South. Scientists from developing countries have difficulty in publishing their work in conventional scientific journals, partly because of the particular standards applied and also because of the costs imposed on the author and the difficulty of communication.

· The information is centralized and does not reach the majority of workers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the field.

· The information needs interpretation and adaptation. Working manuals would be more useful than scientific literature for the extension worker and ultimately for the farmer.

Livestock on the information highway

The sheer multitude of publications is daunting. Within animal science alone, there are thousands of articles written every year and published in scientific journals. reviews and newsletters. The relative number of publications in each subject is illustrated by counting the number of references found in the Science Citation Index. The list in Box 1 refers to the publication year 1993.

Among the large number of publications, it is clear that there is much greater emphasis on conventional Western systems and technologies and less on subjects of importance to small farmers in developing countries -there are 1 723 publications on cattle while only two refer to animal traction and draught power. Similarly, compared with pigs and poultry, there are relatively few publications on camels and ducks, which are important in Africa and Southeast Asia, respectively. Note also that among feedstuffs there is great emphasis on pasture and temperate grasses with less on tropical grasses and the lesser-known species, and far less on the legume trees, especially those other than the ubiquitous Leucaena.

The reasons for this bias are that most journals are produced in developed countries, they are expensive and it is difficult for researchers in developing countries to get their work accepted for publication.

There is clearly a need for vehicles enabling greater production of information relevant to livestock development in the tropics and other less-developed areas and for the publication of work relating to systems that benefit small farmers using locally available resources rather than high-input Western technologies.

BOX 1 - Number of publications by selected subject

Cattle, dairy and beef

1 723

Pigs and swine

2 025


1 139

Chicken and poultry









4 386

Grass, grazing, pasture

1 690

Lolium spp.


Pennisetum spp.


Panicum spp.


Brachiaria spp.


Legume tree(s)






Genetics (all aspects)

7 130

Embryo transfer


Artificial insemination


Dual-purpose cattle


Animal traction/draught power


Source: Science Citation Index, 1993.

The electronic alternative

The problems of conventional publishing were highlighted by the demise of Tropical Animal Production, published in the Dominican Republic in 1984. This specialist journal failed because of high costs of production and distribution. Discussions in 1989 between the author and Dr T.R. Preston, the editor of Tropical Animal Production, led to the development of the first electronic publication in this field in 1989.

The advantages of publishing on diskette are:

· rapid transfer of manuscripts and editing process;
· low cost of production;
· low cost of transfer (weight of 25 g versus up to 300 g for conventional journal);
· ease of reproduction within developing countries.

The journal can be produced on one diskette with software to read and print the articles. Early trials showed that the system was well accepted in developing countries where there was access to computers (through development programmes but no books or libraries. The electronic journal had the support of the European Community Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the International Foundation for Science (IFS).

Subsequent IFS support led to the development of the electronic library, which enables access to electronic journals and books via computer networks through Internet (a system of communication between computers all over the world) and by telephone modem (a way of transferring messages and computer files between computers over standard international telephone links) (Figure 1).

Electronic publications in livestock production 1989-1993

Livestock Research for Rural Development was probably the first fully electronic scientific journal (Preston and Speedy, 1989) (Figure 2). It began in 1989 and has now reached its sixth volume with 170 papers published. The journal is produced and edited in Colombia and distributed only on diskette to over 1 000 readers in more than 90 countries. It is now also available by electronic mail and by file transfer using File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Gopher and World Wide Web (WWW). It fills a particular need for papers published by researchers in developing countries on subjects relating to sustainable systems of livestock production.

Tropical feeds is a successful FAO publication offering descriptions and an analysis of over 600 plants, by-products and miscellaneous feedstuffs available in the tropics. First published in 1974 and updated in 1981 (Göhl, 1981), it was converted to diskette form in 1991 and has since been regularly updated with new information and references. It is available in English, French and Spanish (Figure 3).

Plans are currently under discussion to convert a wider selection of publications from the FAO Animal Production Division into electronic books that will be available on diskette, on-line and eventually as a CD-ROM. Thus, FAO has taken a leading role as an information provider in livestock production using the new technology for faster and cheaper distribution (Figure 4).

The electronic library

The book famine is a serious problem for education and development in many countries, and it would be impossible to correct this problem by establishing conventional libraries. The electronic library, however, could provide all the requirements for science and extension at a fraction of the cost.

The electronic library is a new strategy for delivering information where the complete text of documents is available on-line. The library can be accessed from any location, however remote, through a network of personal and portable computers (Landoni, Catenazzi and Gibb, 1993). It has infinite space and there is no limit to the number of books that the library can contain. Many of the operations that are normally performed in conventional libraries do not exist in electronic libraries, such as binding and preservation, shelf maintenance, etc. The books may be copied many times and be used by many different people at the same time. Several experiments currently under way in the United States are concerned with the electronic delivery of scientific information to the user (Landoni, Catenazzi and Gibb, 1993).

As more electronic publications become available, a more comprehensive library of information will begin to develop and will be available on-line and by remote file transfer. An electronic library on sustainable systems of agriculture, forestry and natural resources has recently been started at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Physically, the library is a fast desktop computer (IBM-compatible 486DX 66 MHz) with 2 gigabytes (GB) of disk storage and connections by both network and dial-up modem. It will also have a CD-ROM drive connected in the future. It uses the multitasking IBM OS/2 operating system and runs TCP/IP for OS/2. Applications include FTP, Gopher, WWW and Unix-to-Unix Copy Protocol (UUCP). It can be reached on Internet at the address The system was provided by the IFS, Stockholm, Sweden, with the cooperation of the Oxford Forestry Institute and is intended to provide not only Internet access but also access from remote sites in developing countries. The aim is to connect various projects and institutions, but particularly to provide communication and information to IFS grantees, of which there have been some 2 000 in over 90 countries.

The library will contain all the available electronic journals in this field and also the relevant news groups and conferences. The intention is to begin the task of collecting available publications that can be put on diskette or scanned to provide a growing library of articles, information and graphics. Initially, the focus will be on livestock feed resources, with particular attention given to fodder trees and the extensive collection of the Oxford Forestry Institute.

There are various ways of connecting with the library; the connection to more remote sites will be covered below. Users on Internet have the following options.

Electronic mail

Electronic mail (email) is intended as a means of communication between computers. There are many networks in the world but generally these connect to each other over a nebulous informal system known as Internet. Most academics in Europe, the United States, Australia and elsewhere are connected to BitNet by means of various regional and national academic networks. There are also commercial networks such as CgNet, which connects the International Agricultural Research Centres and a number of United Nations organizations. There is also a non-profit-making group called the Association of Progressive Communications (APC), which includes EcoNet, PeaceNet, GreenNet, Alternex, Pegasus and Web, that is dedicated to serving persons interested in the environment, peace and human rights (Luber, 1993). People subscribe to certain networks but are still able to send mail to users on other networks. Hence, most people can exchange messages as well as send and receive them to and from the electronic library. Further details are given in Lane (1990).

A stylistic representation of the Internet and UUCP sites - Représentation stylisée des sites Internet et UUCP - Representación gráfica de los lugares de Internet y el UUCP

Livestock Research for Rural Development: the first electric journal - Recherche sur l'élevage en vue du développement rural le premier journal électronique - Livestock Research for Rural Development, primera revista electrónica

Tropical feeds, published by FAO on diskette, 1991-1994 - Les aliments du bétail sous les tropiques, publié par la FAO sur disquette (1991-1994) - Piensos tropicales, publicación de la FAO en disquete, 1991-94

Prototype electronic book for the FAO Animal Production and Health Division - Prototype de livre électronique pour la Division de la production et de la santé animales de la FAO - Prototipo de libro electrónico para la Dirección de Producción y Sanidad Animal de la FAO

Through email, users can send a request for a particular file (FTP request) and the file will be sent as a message to them. This is the least efficient option, but it allows people who only have an email facility to receive information as files. One disadvantage is that email can only handle text (ASCII) files, but this is overcome by encoding binary files (which may have been previously compressed) using standard software called Uuencode.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

This is a program used for file transfers between computers with full Internet access. Anonymous FTP means that anyone may transfer files from (and sometimes to) a remote system with the user identification "anonymous" and an arbitrary password, which, by convention, is usually the users' full email address. There is a standard set of commands, and a typical session might appear as in Box 2.

More sophisticated systems actually allow the remote file system to be viewed under Microsoft Windows as if it were on the user's own machine. Files can then be dragged and dropped to commence transfer. The system allows both ASCII and binary file transfer.


Gopher is a user-interface program that makes FTP and other types of file transfer easier by operating from menus. A local menu allows the user to select further menus (which may be located on remote machines). Eventually, the files appear on the menu and can be transferred to the user's machine. A network-wide index called Veronica allows users to search through hundreds of Gophers to look for keywords such as "livestock" or "tropical" and list the locations or files available on that subject.

Gopher is named after the burrowing rodent that pops down a hole in Internet and resurfaces in many different places.

World Wide Web (WWW)

This is another program for Internet file transfer from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It uses more sophisticated document presentation and has "hypertext" features that allow keywords to be selected using a mouse or the keyboard to jump to further information, sometimes at other remote sites. The format is suitable for both formatted text and graphics transfer. The system is very suitable for on-line journals and books containing graphs and pictures.

Usenet news

Usenet news is the system whereby articles are distributed by UUCP. There are already thousands of newsgroups on a wide variety of subjects. Each node can elect to receive chosen newsgroups on subjects of special interest from an adjoining system by a newsfeed. As a result the newsgroup is available on the local node. It should be noted that a "newsgroup" can be any ASCII file, therefore, journal articles can be installed as "news", with the added facility that any comments or related contributions can be sent as "responses" to the item.

As UUCP news is simple and text-based and the transfer of binary files by UUCP is easy, formatted documents can be passed from the electronic library to the national node and made available for transfer within a country.

Electronic conferences

A further extension of information technology into livestock science is the advent of the electronic conference, which enables participation in a "meeting" through computer links as well as the publication of the conference proceedings in electronic format.

One of the first such conferences in this area was the Livestock Conference organized by Jim Yazman for Winrock International in 1993. This conference was run on the Inforum system and had participants in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, India and many other developing countries, as well as in the United States and Europe. It continued for several months with keynote papers being commissioned and contributions made by a wide range of participants. All the delegates were using electronic mail to access the "conference" in the United States.

BOX 2 - Standard set of commands for File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

ftp> User: Anonymous
ftp> Password:
ftp> You are connected to the Electronic Library for Sustainable
Systems of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources
ftp> cd pub/livestock
ftp> Command successful
ftp> binary
ftp> Transfer set to I binary
ftp> get LRRD61.ZIP
ftp> quit

The obvious advantages of the electronic conference are the abolition of travel costs, wider participation and all the aforementioned advantages of electronically published conference proceedings. For organizations such as FAO, there is a serious argument for electronic conferences to replace the Expert Consultations currently held throughout the world.

Connecting with remote sites in developing countries

The increasingly sophisticated world of Internet makes the transfer of electronic publications easy if the user is in Europe, the United States or other more developed regions However, the problem remains of providing access to the electronic library from Africa and the less well-connected parts of Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and parts of Latin America, all areas without access to the network. The Association of Progressive Communications (APC) has done much to connect countries, especially those in Africa and Latin America. GreenNet, for example, uses telephone dial-up by Fidonet to transfer mail and news to several African countries.

The electronic library described above also has dial-up facilities and has already established connections with several countries. The system used is UUCP, which can perform both mail and file transfers, including the Usenet newsgroups between machines over standard telephone lines. In the past this was inefficient because of bad telephone lines, but with the steady improvement in telecommunications in many countries and particularly with the advent of error correcting and data compressing modems, it has become a viable and economic system.

The first network was created in Colombia at the NGO Centro pare la Investigación en Sistemas Sostenibles de Producción Agropecuaria (CIPAV) located in Cali. A simple public-domain software package Waffle was installed on a laptop computer in the office connected to a modem on the telephone line. Members of the group conducting research and development work on sustainable livestock systems were able to connect from various local sites by modem to use email and have access to "conferences", including the full set of Livestock Research for Rural Development.

An interesting example of South-South cooperation was demonstrated by the establishment of a network in Viet Nam and Cambodia by Hector Osorio from CIPAV, in association with the FAO trust fund project Better Use of Locally Available Feed Resources in Sustainable Livestock-Based Agriculture in the Southeast Asia Region. This is now functional and also connected to the electronic library at Oxford.

The interesting feature of UUCP is that all mail and file requests are prepared off-line and the programme is set to connect to the "host" at a predetermined time. Messages and files are then passed both ways using data compression to achieve maximum speed and minimum telephone charges. The fastest speed possible is over 1 500 characters per second. Given that ASCII text may be compressed up to three times, this means that speeds of 90 pages per minute are possible. In practice, with international telephone connections and error correction operating, speeds of 500 characters per second have been achieved, but this is still 30 pages per minute. Also, the telephone calls are being made from the United Kingdom to the remote site, which is done at low cost and with itemized charges in seconds of actual call. The connection to Viet Nam, therefore, currently costs only US$0.50 per minute.

The system is installed locally on ordinary personal computers with modems and the total cost of the system is below US$ 1 500. As each local node can be the centre for another small network and messages may be passed to end-users from the central node, this is a very cheap way of providing electronic mail and information interchange as well as of bringing remote sites into the system.

Future developments

Current information is mainly in text format but the development of improved formatting of documents is constantly progressing. Soon, fully arranged pages with pictures will be the normal mode of transfer. In addition, electronic documents have even greater possibilities, including the inclusion of video images and sound.

Computers are becoming increasingly available and cheaper, as are the telephone modems and systems to connect them to the rapidly expanding network. Telephone systems are also becoming much more reliable and better technology is being used for international connections. Although the so-called book famine is a major constraint on effective development, it is possible to overcome this through electronic publishing and access to the computer network.


Göhl, B. 1981. Tropical feeds Rome, Italy, FAO.

Landoni, M., Catenazzi, N. & Gibb, F. 1993. Hyperbooks and visual books in an electronic library. Electron. Libr., 11(3): 175-186.

Lane, G. 1990 Communication for progress: a guide to international e-mail Antenna, Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR), EDRC and Interdoc.

Luber, B. 1993. The world at your keyboard. Oxford, UK, Jon Carpenter Publishing. 150 pp.

Preston, T.R. & Speedy, A.W. 1989. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Livestock Res. Rural Dev., 1: 1-8.

Science Citation Index. 1993. Uxbridge, UK, Institute for Scientific Information Inc.

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