4 December 2003, Rome/Kabul -- It could take up to ten years for the animal herds in Afghanistan to regenerate naturally, according to FAO. Herds have been seriously reduced after four years of drought and many years of civil strife.

FAO published today the preliminary results of the first livestock census ever conducted in Afghanistan.

Data collected in more than 36 700 villages covered around 3 million families. Almost every Afghan village was visited. The project was carried out by FAO and involved around 900 Afghan interviewers. The US$780 000 project was funded by the Government of Italy.

Livestock production is a major source of income and food for Afghan farmers and their families. For some, such as the Kuchi nomads, animals are the only source of income.

Counting farm animals

The results show that there are 3.7 million cattle in Afghanistan, 8.8 million sheep, 7.3 million goats, 1.6 million donkeys, 180 000 camels, 140 000 horses and 12.2 million poultry.

"For the first time we really have a clear statistical picture of the livestock situation in Afghanistan," said Simon Mack, FAO Senior Officer, Livestock Development.

"Now we have the basic data on which future decisions regarding farming systems, public veterinary services, and livestock development polices can be based," he added.

Comparisons with earlier livestock surveys showed that the number of farm animals per family had plummeted, "Stock holding per family has decreased sharply over the past years," according to the census.

Livestock losses

The number of families without livestock has increased from 11.4 to 14.4 families per community due to the drought.

The number of cattle per family, for example, has fallen from 3.7 in 1995 to 1.22 in 2003, while the number of sheep decreased particularly sharply from 21.9 to 2.9 over the same period.

The Kuchi nomads and other semi-nomadic pastoralists in the provinces of Ghazni, Zabul, Kabul and Kandahar have been particularly hit by the drought, FAO said. About 60 percent of the Kuchi households have completely lost their livestock. The majority of households have yet to recover.

Oxen are used as a major source of farm power for ploughing, transport and threshing. Numbers of draught animals have also declined over the past years.

Restocking herds

"The major challenge now is to maximize the natural regeneration of herds," Mack said. "This can be done by ensuring that the animals are healthy and well fed, and that there are adequate breeding males or artificial insemination available."

"In addition, animals are also being imported from neighbouring countries. Without adequate veterinary control there is a risk of spreading infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and Peste des petits ruminants, which could adversely affect the recovery of the national herd. FAO strongly recommends increasing the capacity of the public veterinary services to manage these disease risks," he added.

The final results of the Afghan livestock census are expected early next year. They will contain detailed results from household and gender surveys.

"These data will tell us more, for example, about the role and responsibilities of women in animal husbandry, regional differences in production systems and species, as well as information on levels of production and productivity," Mack said.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105