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1.1 Background

This paper is part of a multi-donor study entitled “Interactions between Livestock Production Systems and the Environment - Global Perspectives and Prospects”, partially executed and coordinated by FAO. In addition to FAO, the group of donors includes, the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) of Germany, le Ministère de la Cooperation of France, the Directorate of International Cooperation, (DANIDA) of Denmark, International Cooperation of the Netherlands and the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) of the United Kingdom. As a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), The study addresses the issues of livestock-environmental interaction and attempts to asses more objectively the role of livestock in environmentally sustainable agriculture.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janiero in 1992 raised the sensitivity of policy makers and scientists in both developed and developing countries to environmentally sustainable agricultural development. An important component of UNCED was to articulate the need for an objective assessment of the key factors affecting sustainability, and to provide a better understanding of the measures to enhance the positive influences and mitigate possible negative effects of some agricultural and development practices. The role of livestock and livestock development is an important component of this discussion. For example, livestock and their utilization interface with several key chapters of Agenda 21 of UNCED. These include:

Exponentially expanding human populations raises the demand for all agricultural products and increases the stress on the resource base used for their production. Rapidly growing demand for livestock products worldwide is brought about by human population pressure, growing income and urbanization. Land use and human population pressures are leading to intensification and expansion in many livestock production systems. In addition, expansion of cropping into drier areas is forcing pastoral livestock production systems to relocate into still more arid lands. As a result of these changes new pressures on the environment are developing or could emerge and, therefore, should be of concern.

The scale and nature of the interaction between livestock production and the environment has been the subject of much conjecture, all of which has lacked a technical basis for making informed policy decisions and devising technical intervention programmes. However, it is increasingly clear that livestock-environment linkages should be seen in the context of human, economic and political aspects as well as natural resource utilization.

Characteristics of animal agriculture systems have been developed in response to agro-ecological opportunities and demand for livestock commodities. In many cases, a fully sustainable equilibrium has been established. Furthermore, in many of these environmentally balanced systems, the livestock element is interwoven with crop production, as in the rice/buffalo or cereal/cattle systems of Asia. Animal manure is often the essential element in maintaining soil fertility. In other cases, such as the semi-nomadic pastoral systems of many of the world's natural grassland regions, environmentally stable balances of human society, animal population and vegetative biomass have existed for centuries.

Livestock make an important contribution to most economies. Livestock produce food, provide security, enhance crop production, generate cash incomes for rural and urban populations, provide fuel and transport, and produce value added goods which can have multiplier effects and create a need for services. Furthermore, livestock diversify production and income, provide year-round employment, and spread risk. Livestock also form a major capital reserve of farming households. Because of livestock's contribution to societies, human and economic pressures can direct livestock production in ways detrimental to the environment.

Within the context of the livestock-environment study, the following problem areas or “impact domains” are the major focus:

The abovementioned impact domains cross-cut animal production systems evaluated by the study. Thus, the building blocks of the analysis are the livestock production systems. A manageable number of livestock systems has to cover a significant portion of global livestock systems to form the focal point of the study.

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