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Livestock play important roles in farming systems in developing countries, helping provide food and income, draught power, fertilizer and soil conditioner, household energy and a means of disposing of otherwise unwanted crop residues. It is a major industry: 12 percent of the world's population depends solely on livestock for its livelihood.

Livestock for Food

LIVESTOCK make an important contribution to the food supplies of developing countries. Furthermore, production of Livestock products is increasing fast. Over the past 20 years, cereal production in developing countries has increased by 78 percent and fish production by 113 percent while meat production has risen by 127 percent and egg production by 331 percent. The fastest increases in meat production have been for poultry and pigs.

Even so, many people in developing countries cannot afford animal products, as a result of which per caput consumption of meat is only 17.7 kg/year. compared to 81.6 kg/year in developed countries. About 60 percent of dietary protein is from animal products in developed countries, compared to only 22 percent in developing countries. There is, therefore, substantial room for expansion of livestock production.

Further expansion of livestock production could raise problems in developing countries (see overleaf), but it is also true that animal products offer several advantages over crops. For example:

Meat production in developing countries

Livestock as source of power

Income and the Economy

LIVESTOCK play an important role in the economy, both at the farm and national levels. For the farmer, they provide


At the national level, increased production of l livestock products will reduce the need for high-cost imports. With the reduction of milk subsidies in developed countries and the establishment of more realistic exchange rates, it is an appropriate time for an expansion of local dairy industries.

Dairy imports and exports, developing countries, 1960-90


Does Livestock Development Harm the Environment?

Livestock development is often questioned on environmental grounds Common criticisms include:

Livestock for Sustainable Agriculture

MIXED FARMING systems that include livestock have many advantages over 'crops-only' agriculture. Mixed systems produce a bigger range of products, reduce risks and can be more productive than systems that rely exclusively on either crops or animals.

One key advantage of mixed systems is that livestock can be fed on crop residues and other products that would otherwise pose a major waste disposal problem. For example, livestock can be fed straw, damaged fruit and grains, household wastes, catering wastes in urban areas, canning and juicing residues, and fish processing wastes.

Integration of livestock and crops allows nutrients to be recycled more efficiently on the farm. Manure is itself a valuable fertilizer, containing 8 kg of nitrogen, 4 kg of phosphorus and 16 kg of potassium to the tonne. Adding manure to the soil not only fertilizes it but also improves its structure and water retention.

Where livestock are used to graze the vegetation under plantations of coconut, oil palm and rubber, as in Malaysia, the cost of weed control can be dramatically reduced, sometimes by as much as 40 percent. In Colombia sheep are sometimes used to control weeds in sugarcane.

Draught animal power is widely used for cultivation, transport, water lifting and powering food processing equipment. Using draught animal power reduces the need for foreign exchange to buy expensive tractors and fuel. It is estimated that 52 percent of the cultivated area in developing countries, excluding China, is farmed exclusively with draught animals. Animal traction increases the area under cultivation, bringing heavy but potentially very productive soils into production.

Finally, cow dung is a highly valued fuel used for cooking and heating in many countries. While dung that is burnt is lost as a fertilizer, its use for fuel reduces the demand for wood and fossil fuel, and the dung ash can itself be used as a fertilizer. Alternatively manure can be used to generate methane or biogas - about 25 kg of fresh cow dung makes one cubic metre of biogas which can be used to provide energy for light, heat or motive power.

Boosting Livestock Production

LIVESTOCK is a neglected sub-sector; "funding for livestock projects has declined dramatically since 1974. One reason is that intensive livestock production in developed countries is seen as 'grain-hungry' end polluting. However, livestock production in developing countries need not result in either effect; in fact, some livestock projects have been highly successful - witness the Beef Fattening Project in China that used cereal straw treated with urea to feed beef cattle and Operation Flood that helped establish a modern dairy industry in India.

If the world's livestock potential is to be properly realized, it is important that:

For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243
Animal Production and Health Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3371
Internet, or

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