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Drought-induced livestock losses

The pastoral sector
The national economy

The pastoral sector

4. Figure 1 summarizes the major effects of drought on pastoral areas, the importance of each item depending on the intensity of the drought and patterns of livestock production and marketing. The immediate effect of drought on pastoral production is a decline in fodder availability. Where herd numbers are already close to the maximum carrying capacity, this fodder shortfall will affect levels of animal nutrition, causing a fall in milk supplies, calving rates and animal liveweight. Deaths among stock will start to rise as the period of drought lengthens and fodder scarcity intensifies. Pastoral households will need to buy more grain as milk supplies fall, leading to higher sales of stock. Stock sales will increase further as herders seek to salvage some value from animals before they die. Herders' purchasing power will diminish as livestock prices start to fall and grain prices rise, forcing herders to sell ever increasing numbers of stock. Initially the least productive animals can be sold (young male or elderly female animals) with little effect on herd productivity. However, as drought conditions continue, many herders will be forced into sales of breeding stock, a strategy which indicates a situation of acute stress, since females represent herd capital, on which the future growth of the herd depends. As a result of continuing sales, an increasing number of people will be unable to feed themselves from their herd and must look to other sources of support, such as farming, migration elsewhere to earn money, sales of assets such as gold, etc. In the extreme case, the pastoralist household looses its entire livestock capital and becomes destitute.

Figure 1. Effects of drought on pastoral areas

5. Following the drought, those households with some surviving stock will find their income and wealth substantially diminished for a number of years while their herd numbers slowly rebuild. Although sheep and goat holdings reproduce fairly rapidly, larger stock such as cattle and camels take much longer to reestablish their former numbers. Thus, for example, small stock numbers win take between eighteen months and 3 years to reconstitute following losses of 30-40%, whereas a cattle herd will need from 10 to 12 years to recover after a similar level of loss.

The national economy

6. Recent droughts in Africa have greatly reduced the national herds of several countries. The Niger cattle herd is estimated to have fallen by 62% over the period 1982-84, from a population of 3.5m head in 1982, while that of Botswana fell by 20% over 1981-84, following 3 years of drought (FAO, 1984). This reduction in national herd numbers has implications for the country's ability to satisfy future demand for domestic and foreign markets in the short to medium term, as herd numbers will take time to re-build. The government will also suffer a loss to its income from the tax it normally raises on livestock-related activities.

7. Figure 2 shows the relative price movements of livestock and grain typically found over the years spanning a drought and the subsequent period of recovery. Falling stock prices during the drought are caused by rapid increases in offtake as herders sell off many of their animals. Livestock markets are usually unable to cope with the large increase in animals supplied in years of drought, due to lack of transport and storage facilities, so that prices fall even further. In the post-drought period, price levels for all stock are likely to rise as domestic and foreign demand is faced by a low rate of offtake from herds depleted in the former period. Prices will be especially high for those species and classes of stock in particular demand, such as sheep and goats, valued for their rapid rates of reproduction, and for female stock of all species. As can be seen from the diagram, grain prices rise during the drought year but fall in the subsequent period as harvests recover, following the return to normal rainfall. Where the farm sector has experienced heavy losses among work oxen, the speed of recovery in the post-drought period will be slowed down and grain supplies will take some years before returning to former levels.

Figure 2: Relative price movements of Livestock and grain over drought period.

8. The increase in domestic meat prices following a period of drought may be substantial. For example, urban meat prices in Mali doubled over the first half of 1975, following losses of stock estimated at 30-35% over the previous two years. This large rise in price occurred despite efforts by the government to set a controlled price for meat and a short term ban on the export of livestock. Data from Niger (Sutter, 1982) shows a tripling of prices for an average export bull from 20,000 FCFA in 1974 to more than 60,000 FCFA in 1977. Meat prices in Ndjamena, Chad showed a parallel trend, quadrupling over the five years from 1970-75, (Tyc, 1976) compared with an increase in the general price level of 20-30% per year over the same period (ILCA, 1979).

9. The external trade balance is also likely to suffer from a drought-induced shortfall in livestock production. A fall in the size of the national herd reduced the number of animals available for satisfying export markets as well as domestic demand. In addition, disease problems may be aggravated by drought, because of the ensuing large scale movements of stock between areas. These disease problems will lead to the closure of certain markets with stringent health requirements. The way in which the stock shortfall is distributed between domestic and export markets will depend on a variety of factors which include income and price elasticities of demand in the two markets, changes in income levels, inflation rates, the degree of substitutability between animals destined primarily for the domestic as opposed to external markets and government interventions (such as a ban on exports) aimed at shifting stock in one or the other direction. If a strong level of urban demand exists, this may absorb most of the available offtake from herds in the immediate post-drought period so that livestock exports fall by an amount far greater than the percentage drought losses of stock.

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