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Chapter 6

Major constraints on production

There are a number of major constraints affecting the development of small farm systems. Many of these constraints are inter-related and exert variable limitations on the operational efficiency and, more importantly, the productivity of small farm systems. Since the formulation of development strategies aimed at reducing and/or overcoming these constraints are dependent on an understanding of the issues and the effects, individual constraints are discussed in detail.


The very size of small farms, coupled with a growing problem of land fragmentation, presents considerable problems for their development. The following issues highlight the consequences of this situation:

These circumstances necessitate both policy, institutional and technical interventions to avoid such deterioration which is contrary to the development challenges of poverty alleviation, increased food production and enhanced livelihood for poor people on small farms. In the absence of such interventions, there is also the distinct possibility that these small farms and small farmers will be relegated to economic isolation.


Strategies in the past have mainly been concerned with a vertical,‘top-down’ approach which has tended to focus either on crops or on animals as separate commodities, without considering the farm as a whole and the interrelationship of different components (crops, animals, soil and water). Within each of these, disciplinary biases and vested interests have exerted a great influence, often quite inappropriate to the needs of small farms. Thus, in lowland rice-based small farms, there has been concerted promotion of dairy production using Holstein-Friesian crossbreds based on the premise that this enables small farmers to generate quick income, as well as to improve the nutrition of farm households. Whether this type of animal production fits in well and is appropriate in terms of available resources such as suitable feeds, labour supply and management capacity, whether there are assured markets and indeed whether these systems are suited to the needs of the farms and aspirations of farmers is often in doubt. The real need on these small farms may well have been more draught animal power.

It is essential therefore that, in order to promote the development of such farms, their real needs and constraints are clearly identified. The systems approach enables thorough surveys, diagnosis and understanding of the problems and constraints, and permits the development of proposals and technology transfer packages that are appropriate to the needs of these farms, are socially acceptable and likely to have a high adoption rate. Such interventions need to be considered in the context of specific agro-ecosystems in order also to ensure that there will be progress and impact. It is important to stress that the mere development of component technologies per se does not constitute a systems approach.


The systems approach is especially relevant and important for the development of small farms in South-East Asia because of their mixed farming nature. It enables a holistic focus on the farm, given the complexity, meagre available resources, need for priorities and complementarity of effort. The following sequential aspects are relevant:


It is appropriate to highlight the experiences gained and lessons learnt in farming systems research. This is especially relevant as a good deal of the work done was undertaken in South-East Asia (mainly the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia), China and also South Asia (mainly Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan). Zandstra (1991) identifies six major changes:-

On the animal side, considerable progress has been made towards a better understanding of crop–animal systems: their nature, interactions and the effects on both the components involved, as well as the environment, the benefits and effects of using individual animal species in specific situations and their economic benefits. Given the fact that research on crop–animal systems only started about a decade ago, more attention needs to be given to this aspect in considering the totality of small farm systems.


In almost all instances, meeting the needs of small farmers has been frustrated by institutions that are restricted to, and generally only promote, commodity–focused research. In view of the importance of food grains and crops in general, these sectors have received considerable emphasis and the animal component is generally left out of the research programme because it was outside the remit or is the responsibility of some other faculties or divisions. Even where there is recognition of the limitations of such compartmentalisation within institutes or departments, seldom are efforts made to link different sectors so as to address farming systems in their totality.

Such difficulties are often compounded by administrative and professional obstacles and vertical or ‘top–down’ approaches. These have tended to perpetuate strong commodity–oriented programmes at the expense of developing joint crop–animal research efforts that are well conceived, challenging, and are potentially capable of promoting increased productivity and sustainable development of small farm systems. The systems approach and a production systems focus enables the realization of the latter objectives within a given time frame.

Two commendable examples of institutions which have adopted the systems approach are the Farming Systems Research Institute (FSRI) of Thailand's Department of Agriculture and the Farming Systems and Soil Research Institute (FSSRI) of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). In addition, graduate programs leading to Master of Science in Agricultural Sciences is offered at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok and the University of Chiang Mai in Thailand. A diploma in farming systems research is available at the University of Khon Kaen in Thailand. A farming systems course has also been introduced in the Diploma in Agriculture courses in UPLB.


Given the growth of the ruminant populations on small farms and projected future trends, there will be a concurrent increased demand for forages (Remenyi and McWilliam, 1986) to feed them, in addition to pressure on other feed resources like crop residues. The following issues are involved:


The small scale of animal enterprises is a major impediment to the development of sound breeding programmes that are practical and feasible. The small numbers prevent successful implementation of programmes aimed at promoting higher animal productivity.

The only exception to this is dairy development which is sufficiently organised to enable widespread crossbreeding through the use of artificial insemination involving mainly Holstein–Friesian semen. Thus, crossbreeding has produced considerable progress in milk production. However, the problem remains of how to maintain stable populations of the crossbreds produced.

With respect to the other ruminant species like buffaloes, goats and sheep, these animals are bred randomly and often also crossed with exotic breeds in schemes that are generally short–lived and not sustained. Thus with buffaloes, attempts have been made to cross the swamp buffalo (2n = 48 chromosomes), which is valued mainly for draught and meat, with the river buffalo (2n = 50 chromosomes), valued for milk and meat, to produce a triple–purpose animal (draught, milk and meat) but with variable success. In small farm situations, the triple–purpose value of the swamp x river buffalo crossbred is distinctly advantageous. However, inadequate progress has been made in the definition of practical breeding programmes that can sustain stable crossbreds that the small farmer can manage.

Likewise, with goats and sheep, various exotic breeds have been used to cross with the many indigenous animals in South-East Asia. These include the use of a number of European breeds, again with variable success. In general, the use of milch breeds like the Saanen and Alpine goat breeds has not been successful, whereas the use of the dual–purpose Anglo–Nubian breed has been more successful and this is reflected in the existence of such crossbreds in almost all countries.

Sheep breeding is of increasing importance in several countries in the region such as Malaysia and Indonesia, using the Polled Dorset Horn from Australia, the Finish Landrace from New Zealand, and also hair sheep like the Barbados Blackbelly from the Caribbean. It is too early to assess the results of this crossbreeding in practical terms and it will be some years before effective breeding programmes can be defined. Turner (1978) has stressed the importance of undertaking crossbreeding work in the same environment and the need for comparisons under conditions where the crosses will be eventually be used.

One consequence of random, uncontrolled and haphazard breeding in all species is the effect such approaches have on the indigenous genetic populations. It can cause severe erosion and wastage of local breeds and, in the long term, there is the possibility of the loss of valuable genetic material. One example of this is the Katjang goat breed in Indonesia and Malaysia, which is also dispersed throughout many other parts of South-East Asia. The breed is very well known for its hardiness and high fertility but, with excessive crossbreeding and lack of a concerted breeding policy in both Indonesia and Malaysia, numbers of pure bred animals have decreased significantly and it is not known how many still exist. Uncontrolled crossbreeding is also exacerbated by inadequate extension services which have not been effective in preventing such genetic loss.

It is imperative that, if the genetic diversity is to be preserved, there should be more organised breeding policies focused on individual species and specific, individual breeds. Such programmes will also need to consider the need for genetic conservation of the more important breeds in development programmes that can ensure productivity from all the animals on small farms.

The need to match animal genotypes with the environment on small farms needs to consider three approaches:


Animal diseases present a major constraint to animal production in South-East Asia and the extent of the wastage due to disease is very high. This is exacerbated by inadequate funding of veterinary programmes and shorage of veterinary staff, diagnostic and field services, as well as quarantine facilities.

The focus of most governments is to control the incidence of the economically important diseases. These include the following:

In addition to these, considerable losses also occur through parasitic diseases such as those caused by liver fluke and roundworm (Toxocara vitullorum) (RAPA/FAO, 1989). A discussion on the severity of each of these diseases and measures to reduce their effects is beyond the scope of this publication, and attention is drawn to several publications and reports on the subject.


Problems of common property rights include several aspects, both social and economic. The central issue is resource management under extensive grazing and in forest areas. Encroachment of cropland on forest areas, for example, is disadvantageous to those who rely upon such areas for grazing and fuel. Improved fodder production schemes which attract only the larger farmers are other examples. Other issues include terms of land titles, inheritance, consolidation, misuse of labour and capital, access to credit, resources and knowledge, and pollution. Women are more disadvantaged in access to credit, resources and knowledge than men.

These aspects are complex and need to be addressed in order to ensure that there is appropriate local level management and community decisions that provide for efficient and non-problematical use of common property resource management.

Equally, there needs to be a better understanding of socio–economic and cultural factors affecting the use of common property resources.


Much of what can be done to increase production at the small farm level is dependent to a very large extent on the extension and support services that are available to small farmers. Firm institutional support is therefore necessary in order to focus not only on the biological variables but also on the supportive elements that are necessary to ensure viability. Extension services tend to be very generalized and very few countries have an extension service that is tailored specifically to meet the demands of small farmers, is sensitive to their requirements and dedicated to the provision of packages of appropriate technology that can have an impact on productivity. Present evidence indicates that animals in general are accorded a low priority in most development programmes.

There is a need for innovative programmes that make greater resources (germplasm, seeds, fertiliser, credit, research and technology) and extension–oriented support services (marketing, training, field programmes and demonstration centres) available to small farmers. Extension of credit facilities, for example, provides a much needed stimulus for a shift from subsistence to economic and sustainable production. Such provisions, deficient in the past, can be substantially increased to stimulate interest in animals within small farm systems. Given the resources and available technology, it is essential to work towards a realistic level of productivity that fits in with prevailing small farm conditions.


Inadequate marketing outlets, coupled with the lack of guaranteed prices, is a major deterrent for small farmers and producers. It has often been said that the low productivity of small farms was due to poor management of the resources. While this is so, the main cause however, is the lack of an assured market. Small farmers do have the wisdom and capacity to increase their level of production substantially, if definite marketing outlets are provided.

Successful dairy development in India, for example, is principally attributed to the creation of the cooperative structure and to a price that makes smallholder milk production remunerative. The continuing problem, however, is the fact that the development of small farms does not appear to get the necessary support or assured marketing which is basic to the stimulation of increased production by small farmers (Chantalakhana, 1980).


Education, training and extension are fundamental prerequisites for improving the skills and knowledge of the rural population, as well as changing their attitude to new technology. Throughout the developing world, illiteracy presents a major impediment to progress. However, even the most illiterate farmer is responsive to new technology, provided its economic benefits are clearly demonstrated in the prevailing farm situation. Thus training, especially the type that has a practical orientation towards the reality of small farm systems and involves task–oriented teaching and demonstration units, has considerable merit.

Demonstration units can be realistic if they are sited on small farms and involve the farmers themselves, implying consideration for how these farmers feel and then setting objectives that establish confidence by achieving marked production increases without dramatic changes in the system. Associated with this task is the need to establish larger small farmer schemes which involve the participation of several hundred farmers. In this context, it is important to view the education of livestock producers and their advisers who advocate technological change as in integral part of a concerted overall strategy for developing agriculture in general and the livestock industry in particular (Mahadevan, 1984). Additionally, there is also a need for more specific attention at college and university levels to the training of animals scientists and other resource personnel based on a systems approach. This aspect has been largely overlooked in the past.


An increasingly alarming problem which concerns many countries in South-East Asia is urbanization. Urbanization involves a shift of people from small farms to cities and urban–fringe areas. The causes of urbanization are many and are linked to poverty, low income, increased hardship and vulnerability. Since this is an increasing trend, a reduction in rural poverty, measured by the percentage of population below the poverty threshold and social indicators, should not be taken as a reduction of overall poverty and could be a reflection of increased urban poverty.

One consequence of this trend is that many small farms are being abandoned because of a combination of inadequate labour supply, aging small farmers and the younger generation pursuing non-agricultural vocations in the cities. The situation is also exacerbated by the rising cost of inputs and inadequate markets for small farmers. This is evident in some parts of Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Good opportunities exist for accelerating appropriate technological interventions and growth, as well as improving the social and economic infrastructure of the rural areas to alleviate the situation.

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