Contents - Previous - Next
Livestock in crop land
Most farming in the world is carried out as mixed crop-livestock farming, covering about 2.5 billion hectares of land. Important not only for meat, milk and hides, livestock provide the draught power to cultivate more than one-quarter of the world's arable land. Throughout the world, animal numbers are growing but it is in the humid and sub-humid regions that growth is most rapid. Irrigated mixed farming systems, especially in the humid regions of Asia, have shown the greatest increase in productivity.
In many cases, a reduction of only 20 percent of the cattle stocking rate is enough to create the niche for most wildlife species to prosper.
Mixed farming offers the best opportunity for intensifying agricultural production without causing environmental harm. Crop residues feed the animals and the animals' manure fertilizes the soil. By keeping livestock, arable farmers are able to add value to low value or surplus food, they can use labour more efficiently and diversify risk. By adding manure to the herds, not only are nutrients recycled but the improved soil structure helps water to infiltrate rather than run off and this in turn reduces soil erosion. Less often recognized is the benefit to biodiversity of more varied land use. Fodder trees, grass strips and other landscape features provide a diversity of habitats for many kinds of wildlife including micro-fauna and flora.
HOTSPOT: UPSETTING THE BALANCE BETWEEN CROPS AND LIVESTOCK. The delicate balance between crops and livestock can be easily upset, leading to land degradation. In many highland areas of the tropics, high human population densities have been sustained by complex mixed farming systems. As each generation needs land, farm sizes become smaller and smaller until a point is reached when the system collapses. Livestock, often large ruminants, can no longer be maintained on the farm, thus depriving the farming household of draught power and the soil of recycled nutrients. Furthermore, as natural resources become ever more degraded, coupled with increasing poverty, human tensions develop.
Livestock may provide the only regular source of income, especially for the poor on marginal land.
What could be done:
The way forward here is to increase access to outside inputs, such as animal feed and fertilizer, to maintain the nutrient balance.
In other areas, policies may favour crop production and thereby discourage integration of crops and livestock:
Many countries, for example in the Near East, impose high import duties to protect domestic cereal production but this policy has encouraged farmers to grow crops on marginal land that had previously been used for livestock grazing.
Cheap, subsidized inorganic fertilizer and fuel have placed farm manure and animal traction at a disadvantage and cheap feed has favoured the development of industrial forms of livestock production, supplanting mixed farming as has happened in rapidly growing Southeast and East Asia. Mixed farming makes more efficient use of natural resources and any policies which discourage mixed farming should therefore be looked at carefully.
With the removal of subsidies on feed, fertilizer and mechanization, better use would be made of home-grown feed, animal draught and manure. Even in developed countries, where mixed farming is more intensive and therefore more likely to be suffering from a surplus than a shortage of nutrients, removal of subsidies on feed and fertilizer would help to alleviate damage to the environment.
But for the most part, mixed farming has been the means by which, in the past, agricultural productivity has been raised and continues to offer the best hope for the future. However, with meat production from the mixed system growing at little more than 2 percent per year globally over the last 15 years, and overall demand at more than 4 percent, it has not been able fully to meet demand and there has been an ever increasing gap which has been filled by industrial livestock production of pork and chicken, in particular.
Straw from cereals grown on-farm can be fed directly to animals or treated with urea to improve the nutritional quality.
In the developed countries mixed farming is, with some notable exceptions such as organic farming, much more intensive and this has led to problems associated with manure management and pollution.
Specialized, commercial enterprises, which are more intensive in nature but based in rural areas rather than concentrated in a pert-urban setting, would help stimulate rural development by providing employment in both the primary and secondary agro-processing industries. The challenge will be to achieve higher production through intensification rather than through concentration - a subtle difference but one which has a profound impact upon the environment. Integration should then be sought at the watershed rather than at on-farm level.
Annual growth of meat production from different forms of production.
Mixed farming probably offers the best opportunity for intensifying production without causing environmental harm.
Contents - Previous - Next