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F. Vallerand


In marginal or marginalised areas rural life and agricultural activity have largely decreased since the beginning of the century. This has occurred not only in mountainous areas but also in some other parts of countries where agriculture is highly modernized. The marginality of an area is not an absolute fact but it is the result of a socio-economic process. In fact, these areas do have real limitations (relief, soil, climate, geography, isolation) which lower production levels, efficiency of labour and ultimately the returns per land unit. Modernisation of agriculture is largely based on increased productivity per land unit and per labour unit. Such intensification progressively marginalises regions in decreasing order of agronomic limitations, and principally in mountain areas. However, marginalisation also corresponds to a certain choice in agricultural and rural policies. Governments have allocated very few funds for the development, even partial, of their problem areas:

-  there is little research, particularly agronomic, well-adapted to this type of agriculture,

-  there are no proposals for these areas of models of productive development,

-  they fail or refuse to take into account the other economic functions affecting these regions and their inhabitants.

-  there is little effort to train people living in these areas (producers, technicians, group leaders),

-  they fail to maintain existing production structures and offer few subsidies for their modernisation.

For many countries, massive rural exodus from these regions, was and still remains, a favourable economic choice. Overall, these regions have been grossly decapitalized and this phenomenon continues. In recent years, scientific and political moves have been made to consider the agricultural future of these areas. These monies are no longer negative (based on handicaps relative to other regions) but are positive with emphasis being placed on the use or exploitation of specific resources as a basis for real dynamic active development.

These factors must be borne in mind when considering prospects for developing small ruminant production in marginal areas.

Laboratoire de Recherches sur le development de l'elevage, 2, Place Paoli, B.P. 8, 20250 Corte, France


In marginal areas the traditional breeding systems was based on pastoral ism; herds following grass-growth by means of seasonal migration. Animal and vegetal production were socially separate activities, but their technical interdependence (feeding, manuring, fallow land) was highly organized.

The intensification process has many consequences for these systems:

  1. vegetal production has been gradually abandoned in difficult areas;
  2. areas suitable for mechanized exploitation (cereals, viticulture, fruit and vegetable crops) have been forced out of animal production:
  3. a breakdown of solidarity between mountain populations and those dwelling in surrounding plains.

Consequently, two main trends of evolution appear today in small ruminant production:

  1. “Passive extensification” in areas where animal production is tending to become the sole agricultural activity. The territory under management is becoming increasingly larger while the population is decreasing. This evolution is accompanied by a progressive loss of control over:

    -  land and ecological management

    -  reproduction within herds

    -  productvitity per animal, and

    -  quality of animal products (meat, cheese, skins).

  2. Establishment of breeding units in areas suited to mechanisation. This production system uses intensification techniques including fencing, forage crops, hay storage, purchase of commercial feed, mechanisation, cross-breeding, etc. The production per head increases but not always at the rate desired, given the level of investment. Generally speaking breeding of meat sheep tends to become more extensive, as is the case with milking goat units, which use free-range areas. The evolution of milking ewe units is more complex. Both tendencies described occur simultaneously in the same regions.

In marginal areas of most of the countries in question, the number of animals is decreasing (or has greatly diminished). However, small ruminant production remains one of the few possibilities for using this type of territory.



High-quality products: In many areas, breeders produce high-quality products, which draw in additional income, thus partially compensating for the productivity handicap. In addition, dairy producers may make and sell cheese. Thus an important part of the added-value remains in the mountain areas.

Local breeds : Numerous local breeds constitute the basis of these breeding systems. They are rarely described in the literature, they often demonstrate aptitude for a prolonged breeding season, high productivity in relation to level of nutrition, adaptability, high resistence to disease, milking ability and feeding behaviour on the range.

Feeding systems : Feeding is based on alternating periods of plenty and scarcity. Feeding of herds requires comparatively few cultivated vegetal products (cereals, hay, etc.). When the breeder intervenes, it is to supplement (maintain the production potential while awaiting more favourable periods) rather than to complement (obtain the maximum production).

Pastoral breeders: The breeders are capable of directing and rendering these pastoral breeding systems productive. Thier age-old practices are little recognized or studied, but they are proving to be rich and partially suitable for future development.

Utilisation: In the majority of cases, the resources specific to marginal areas are not recognized. They are considered as being out-dated or even anachronistic. Consequently, they are not exploited. Agricultural development models do not use these resources; on the contrary they degrade them by emphasising:

-  over-intensive feeding

-  over-mechanized forage cultivation

-  selection based solely on gross production

-  costly buildings

-  no differentiation of prices according to quality.

Consequently animal production is tending to become disorganized in these areas.

This is confirmed by the appearance of practices which are dangerous in the long term, since they are based on adaptation of breeders to deterioration of the ecological environment and the socio-economic context.


The economic exploitation of the resources in the future demands the perfecting of models for efficiency analysis of production systems. This efficiency must take into account not only the apparent productivity per hectare and per animal but also technical, energetic, economic, social and ecological parameters necessary to obtain this production. This exploitation requires a considerable methodological effort to propose technical improvements which are coherent with the basic logic of these breeding systems with adaptation of production levels to wide variations in the level of feeding resources.

In seeking innovations adapted to this type of breeding, we are gradually discovering that the network “research - extension service - industry-trade” has little to offer in terms of:

-  controlling non-refrigerated milk and producing cheese from it

-  considering the herd in terms of a decision unit of the breeder

-  rationalizing a widely varied feeding system

-  selecting animals which are both productive and hardy

-  improving mountain pastures without ploughing

-  mechanized milking of small herds

-  evaluating the economic efficiency of a mountain farm.

Partial technical solutions exist for each one of the problems but they often prove ineffective. In effect, it is the breeding system as a whole which must be improved in a progressive and heirarchical manner.


Thus, it does not appear judicious to discuss increasing the number of animals or the productivity per head. We are faced with a problem of overall development of these areas. Consequently, the focus must be placed on men rather than techniques. To reach this objective, the following simple guidelines are proposed.

Recognize that the development of animal production in marginal areas presents inherent and specific problems

The techniques for improvement which are generally used with success elsewhere have disastrous results in these areas. Their indiscriminate use only aggravates marginality. Consequently, we must propose heavy and widespread investment in methodology and research to achieve results.

Models for consideration and tools for action are beginning to appear. But as yet they are not sufficient in number to be able to speak of a development method of breeding systems in marginal areas.

The exploitation of contrasts and the complementary nature of different regions

Effective exploitation should form the basis of highly autonomous and efficient systems. This is the main lesson to be learned from ancient pastoral ism. Studies and experimentation on this theme are under way. Others are yet to be undertaken.


This is the heart of the process to be set in motion. This requires that the technical innovations brought in from outside reinforces the local social dynamics. The tools and techniques for improvement must be designed with this objective in mind; they must favour solidarity between breeders, be non-elitist, be capable of evolution and be within the reach of breeders having little technical training.

Technical assistants for breeders must be trained appropriately

Their work territory is vast, their role is multifaceted. In addition to very extensive technical training, this calls for excellent co-ordination of all extension services.

Diversity of agricultural activities and income sources must be fostered

Small stock production is not the only alternative. Even if this production assumes an important role (economic, territorial space, social, etc.) development models should integrate all possible production components.

Having considered these preliminary considerations, discussion should be centred around four levels of analysis. What innovations and improvements can be proposed for;

-  the region and it's different areas with various aptitudes?

-  the socio-economic unit of production-decision and its solidarities?

-  the herd and its territory?

-  the animal and its aptitudes?

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