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Better feed for animals: more food for people - Comment

In spite of the huge progress achieved worldwide in food crop production, about 800 million people still suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, the world population is predicted to increase from 5.4 billion to about 10 billion within a few decades, largely in developing countries. To feed this additional population, more land will need to be devoted to crops, consequently reducing the land available for pasture and fodder. On the other hand, however, more crop residues and agro-industrial by-products will be made available for feeding animals. These trends will strongly influence available feed resources and will determine the type of feeding systems to be adopted.

Resource-poor farmers are the target group of the FAO Feed Resources Group programme. Their present situation is characterized by the following features:

· lack of land. and the land they do possess is often of low quality and environmentally fragile;
· limited amount of capital, very few institutions are prepared to provide loans;
· insufficient training, although much traditional knowledge does exist.

The role of animals in this context goes far beyond food production to include such multipurpose uses as the supply of draught power, skins, fibre, fertilizer and fuel, as well as capital accumulation. The additional small amount of money made from each of these products makes these animals highly productive.

The growing foreign exchange difficulties of man) developing countries have also caused them to rely on their own resources, therefore, there is a great need for sustainable/alternative feeding systems to be promoted.


· Develop integrated feeding systems. The small farmer usually practises mixed farming. Various food crops are grown and different types of animals are raised: large and/or small ruminants, small herbivores (rabbits. guinea pigs. rodents), monogastrics (pigs or poultry) and possibly also fish. taking into account the complementarity of the crops and of the different animal species.

· Match livestock production systems with locally available, or potential, feed resources. The direct transfer of technology from developed countries has failed widely in animal production as it has in other sectors. There is a definite need to develop a collection of appropriate technologies that make the best use of locally available, or potential, resources. Many resources are not fully exploited and deserve to be further investigated as part of animal diets.

· Increase the income and improve the welfare of small farmers. Increasing animal productivity is of little significance if the efforts made by the farmers are not rewarded by an increase in their income and an improvement of their welfare. The integrated approach with the sustainable production of different outputs is an essential tool for improving the economic use of resources at the small-farm level and is usually more appropriate than the specialized approach.

· Protect the environment. The high pressure on land resulting from the increase in populations makes it imperative that the environment is protected. Practical measures that have a positive effect are the avoidance of overgrazing and subsequent land degradation, the reduction of atmospheric pollution by feeding cereal straws to ruminants rather than burning them, the use of various agro-industrial by-products and wastes that may otherwise create pollution as feed and the increased use of fodder trees, which play an important role with regard to soil erosion and as a source of renewable energy.


· Maximum use of the available biomass in the basal diet. Many developing countries, particularly those located in the humid tropics, have the advantage of producing high yields of biomass. Ruminant animals are able to use fibrous materials that would otherwise be wasted (rangelands, crop residues, tree leaves). In this way they do not compete with humans or with monogastric animals. This biomass is generally cheap and represents the most economical source of feed for ruminants, and it is also the type of feed resource to which the poor farmer may have easy access.

· Appropriate supplementation to optimize the basal diet. Most of the feed resources commonly available in the tropics are of an unbalanced nature. They require appropriate supplementation to provide, first, enough nitrogen for the development of the rumen microflora (urea is the most common source of soluble nitrogen) and, second, true protein, which can partially escape degradation in the rumen in order to feed the host animal and ensure sufficient production. Among the sources of non-degradable protein are toasted oilcakes, but also various leaves of fodder trees. A limited amount of good-quality green fodder may have a significant effect on feed utilization and, therefore, production.

· The case of monogastric animals. Many developing countries are self-sufficient in monogastric meat, at present, but very few are self-reliant since they have to import most of the inputs. Very little research effort has been made in developing countries to find alternative feeds to maize and soya. It is noteworthy that the only international research institute that works exclusively on livestock production has never included monogastric animals in its programmes. Annual imports of feeds alone in developing countries represent several billions of dollars. There is a need, therefore, to develop alternative feeding systems based on sugar cane, roots and tubers, palm oil, etc., and supplemented with soybean, aquatic plants and fodder tree leaves.


Main problems encountered are the lack of information on the appropriate technologies available and the difficulties of exchanging information between developing countries. Modern means of communication are being used to solve these problems.

In 1991, a computerized version of the book Tropical feeds was produced. It is regularly updated and used as a database. Similarly, Legume and other fodder trees, no. 102 in the Animal Production and Health Series, is already available on diskette. Other issues in the series will follow in the same way.

An important communication tool that is also expanding rapidly throughout developing countries is electronic mail. The Feed Resources Group has already established a panel of experts to discuss various subjects and is preparing an information network between scientists working on the five continents, as well as organizing an electronic conference on tropical feeds and feeding systems to be held from February to June 1995.

R. Sansoucy
The author is Senior Officer (Feed Resources), Animal Production Service, Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, Rome, Italy.

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