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FAO in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Small Ruminants Safeguard Iran’s Environment

Goat Husbandry as a part of a joint FAO/GEF project entitled “The Rehabilitation of Forest Landscapes and Degraded Land (RFLDL) in order to improve alternative livelihoods that are environmental friendly in Rigan township, Kerman Province"

By Serge R. Nakouzi*

Commemoration of the National Goat Day on 27 January has provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of the role that goats play as a small ruminant species, here in the Islamic Republic of Iran as in other countries globally, not only in terms of a nation’s food security, but also in enhancing the socio-economic dimensions of the agricultural and rural sectors, securing livestock biodiversity as well as safeguarding natural resources.

If we were to glance back into history, the goat was the first animal to be domesticated by mankind. Throughout our evolution, goats have contributed towards the subsistence of people and communities. With the current global goat population standing at 921 million, the pivotal contribution made by goats continues to be firmly evident, notably in developing countries where over 90 percent of this population is found. It is often the small-scale farmers that keep small ruminants for both subsistence and economic reasons. Small ruminants not only contribute to improving household livelihoods but they also have the capacity to do much more, such as providing food, heat, income, socio-cultural wealth and clothing to peri-urban as well as increasingly urban households.

Requiring less space to graze than larger animals and with a lighter adverse impact on soils, the cost-benefits of these smaller ruminants compared to their larger species are quite distinctive. Easier to work with and cheaper to purchase and maintain, goats are also being increasingly appreciated as a result of their high adaptability to a wide array of environmental conditions. The emerging challenges of climate change and increasing pressure on natural resources are rendering this trait particularly valuable and noteworthy.

FAO’s assessment work on livestock’s contribution to climate change shows that the livestock supply chains are a definitive factor in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Goats play a fundamental role in sustaining livestock production and its contribution to livelihoods as well as the local and national economy, whilst concurrently providing a means to adapt to environmental challenges throughout our region. With about 90 percent of small ruminant breeds in the region being bred and kept in drylands, it is increasingly recognized that they provide a valuable yet untapped resource for adaptation to climate change in the future. For example, the Adani dairy goat is one of the most important breeds in southern Iran, and despite the high average temperatures, humidity and lack of good pasture, the breed has adapted well to the severe environmental conditions. At the same time, the breed has been regarded as a valued source for the export market. Likewise, Yazd province is one of the driest areas in the central part of Iran with less than 100 mm of rain annually, and yet the local goat breeds – Nadooshani and Robati – have adapted extremely well to the environmental and climatic conditions whilst retaining their dual purpose: producing high-value milk and cashmere wool.

As noted, another key consideration is the economic benefits of goats.  Such benefits have been heightened over the recent past due to the high value of goat meat and milk across a number of Asian countries. As denoted by FAO in its 2014 Statistical Yearbook, the Near East and North Africa region accounts for the smallest share of global livestock and meat production compared to any other geographic region. Nevertheless, within the region, Iran stands out as the leading country with the largest meat production, quantified at more than 800 thousand tonnes annually. With sheep and goats constituting the most common livestock in the country, Iran stands as the region’s third largest producer of these small ruminants.

FAO has actively strived to facilitate the sustainable development of the livestock sector to reinforce its contribution to food security, whilst reducing its environmental footprint and use of natural resources. However, as the natural resources that sustain agriculture and livestock, such as land and water, are becoming more scarce and are increasingly threatened by degradation and climate change, much more work needs to be done.

The Organization’s commitment to practice improvements and sector sustainability has led FAO to engage actively in the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, a global multi-stakeholder partnership dedicated to improving livestock practices for a more efficient use of natural resources while addressing poverty reduction and promoting public health protection. FAO is equally engaged in the Livestock Environment Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, a cross-sectoral effort to develop common metrics to define and measure environmental performance of livestock supply chains.

The livestock sector in Iran has been quite sound to date and contributes substantively to the agriculture sector. In order to enhance sheep and goat productivity in Iran, FAO seeks to assist the Government in strengthening its research and development (R&D) capabilities and to provide capacity-building assistance as well as policy advice, technology transfer and technical support.  With the appropriate level of integration, we could ensure sustained livestock productivity and stability in the various ecosystems. 

*The FAO Representative to the Islamic Republic of Iran and to Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO)