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Response: Technology and policy options

Most additional feed to fuel the future expansion of the world's livestock sector will have to be in the form of concentrates. The potential for increasing roughage production from natural grassland, improved pastures or fodder production is limited at a global level. The total pasture area is not growing on the contrary, high potential grassland areas are increasingly turned into arable land and urban areas. What is left is mostly marginal land without cropping potential, but also with low fodder production potential. Other human activities reduce the amount of grazing land available or limit access to it. While an increase in arable land could conceivably produce more crop residues, advances in crop technology are based on varieties with more grain and less straw, which again limits roughage production. Improved pasture and cultivated fodder are important in temperate and highland areas and in parts of the humid and sub-humid tropics, where impressive technological progress has been made (see Box 5.2). However, while these advances may have significant impact on feed availability for growing livestock production in certain areas or countries, they are not significant enough to contribute a substantial share globally.

Box 5.2 Alternatives to cereal feeding.

TYPICALLY, COUNTRIES in the humid and sub-humid tropics are meal deficit countries. Livestock production, in particular monogastric production, is thus faced with high, often prohibitive paces far feed concentrates. This has spurred the development of sugarcane-based feeding systems (Preston and Leng, 1994) in a number of tropical countries (Colombia, Cuba, Vietnam, Philippines). Sugarcane is one of the highest yielders of biomass per writ of time and area. Its juice can be used for monogastrics while the tops can be used in ruminant nutrition. As a perennial crop, sugarcane production has very low rates of erosion and can be produced with low external input. In the past, the association of sugar cane and livestock production has been problematic since sugarcane was traditionally produced on large plantations, geographically separated from livestock production. Recent developments on the diversified use of sugarcane may lead to more village based intensive monogastric production systems in the humid tropics.

Concentrate feed will therefore have to support the future rise in demand for animal products. However, concentrate feed production will not need to increase at the same rate as the demand for meat. This is already shown by past figures. While meat production has grown at 3.8 percent per year over the last ten years, feed concentrate use grew only at 2.5 percent per year because the remaining growth comes from a 1.3 percent per year improvement in feed efficiency. In effect, the rate of improvement in feed efficiency in China might well be one of the most important factors deciding future cereal prices (see Box 5.3).

The commercial nature of concentrate feed production, and the flexibility with which the sector can switch between a great variety of feeds, makes it highly susceptible to policy changes. For the same reason, research and development can generate technologies quickly if scientists receive appropriate and consistent market signals. Especially in this area there is a strong interaction between policy changes and the inducement of technology, as explained in Chapter 1. Some examples:

• The negative effects of crop production can be greatly reduced with appropriate cultivation (e.g. minimum tillage), IPM and targeted fertilizer inputs. Technologies are available for many different environments to conserve soil and water resources and to minimise the use and impact of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. The adoption of these technologies is largely dependent on market pricing (or even taxation) of fertilizers and pesticides and environmental regulations. Such regulations can cover protection of habitat reserves, forests wetlands and landscape features, control of use of pesticides and other inputs, enforcement of soil conservation measures, limitation of soil nutrient effluents in water courses, control of crop residue disposal methods and others;

• Proper land use planning is important for minimizing land degradation. Ideally, feed production should take place in areas of high cropping potential and low susceptibility to erosion and other forms of land degradation. Zoning, after categorizing land according to these two criteria and imposing restrictions on its use, would support better land use planning. A successful example is the land targeting practiced in Minnesota (Larson et al., 1988). A strong institutional base is needed for its successful implementation, such as is available in the developed and advancing developing countries, where most of the feed grains are produced. Countries should introduce such targeting and strengthen the required institutional framework;

• Because of the high fuel cost component of concentrate feed production, subsidies on concentrates often indirectly damage the environment as they encourage the use of natural resources but discourage their efficient use in crop production, and, subsequently, in livestock production. Market pricing of fuel would improve feed efficiency; and

• Many developing countries facilitate the importation of feed grains and other concentrates, either through favourable tariffs or straight subsidies. The objective is usually a social one: to provide a reliable supply of cheap animal products. In addition, domestic meat products are often protected against imports. This discourages the efficient use of concentrate feed and has negative spill-over effects on the environment in the feed producing country and livestock producing countries, as unnecessary volumes of waste are produced. A case in point is the Near East, e.g. Syria, Morocco, Tunisia where the combination of subsidized feed grain imports, and high domestic prices for mutton, has led to the emergence of grain-based sheep production with poor feed conversion. Apart from the detrimental effects this has in the feed producing countries, it leads to degradation of the rangelands in these arid countries as stock numbers are no longer adjusted to natural vegetative cycles (Chapter 2).

Box 5.3 China will determine the future feed grain markets.

CHINA MAY decisively influence the world market as this country accounts for 40 percent of the total mew consumption of developing countries. Currently, the feed use of cereals is roughly 75 million tons or about 18 percent of total supply. With a grain deficit of 2 percent, China teeters on self-sufficiency. Although the data base on China is particular weak and sometimes contradictory, its opportunities to increase domestic crop production appear to be limited in view of already high yield levels and land claims of some of the best cropland by industrial development. Should meat consumption, and subsequently feed grain consumption, continue to grow at current rates of 6 to 8 percent, China could develop a grain deficit of about 50 million tons by the year 2010. This corresponds to about 25 percent of the current world trade in cereals, and would require a substantial crop area increase. On top of this comes a move from household production systems, using left avers, to grain based industrial production. The implications on world market prices and global food security would therefore be enormous. This scenario, however, may not develop if the potential for improving feed conversion in its industrial pig production systems is efficiently tapped. Assuming that half the production comes from industrial production, and that the productivity gap between China and OECD countries could be closed, more than 30 million tons of grain could be saved.

Efficiencies in feed utilization can be improved through optimal diet balancing and feeding regimes, and improving feed digestibility, because feeding systems may be manipulated in various ways to reduce the concentrate feed requirements. (Chapter 4).


Contrary to popular belief, intensive livestock production must grow, if millions of hectares of wildlife habitat are to be preserved. It is only through intensification of existing crop and livestock production systems that additional pressure on fragile and important environmental resources can be absorbed. The challenge is to support intensification in an environmentally balanced way by using technology that optimizes the use of natural resources by reflecting their social value.

As has been shown, policies can be directed at both ends: at the crop production level (which is outside the scope of this study) and at the feed utilization level. Price support to crop products has in many countries contributed to surplus production. Often this had the effect of subsidizing feed. In addition, a number of indirect and direct subsidies to agricultural production in the form of input subsidies, income support, tax exemption or deduction, or subsidized welfare schemes contribute to a cheaper supply of crop products. The alternative food or feed use of many commodities leads to mis-use of resources. For example, in many developing countries self-sufficiency and food security are still overriding national objectives. Staple foods are often subsidized to guarantee an accessible price for the poor.

In the Near East and, until recently, in the former centrally planned economies, this often led to inconsiderate use of valuable foods for feed and, in effect, to a waste of the natural resources employed in the production process.

Box 5.4 Cereal incentive policies and their effect on grain based livestock production.

OVER THE past 30 years, relatively low international grain prices have spurred an unparalleled growth in livestock production and use of grain as feed. In intensive production systems, feed typically accounts for 60 to 70 ,percent of the production costs. This pattern is now being upset by a sharp increase in world grain prices. In 1995, many countries have reacted to the surge in grain prices by reducing import farms and grains and other concentrates or by imposing restrictions on their exports. Grain area set aside programmes were cancelled or reduced by large exporters, such as the United States and the KU. Canada abolished the grain freight subsidy to benefit focal producers. China responded to feed grain shortages by allowing provincial governments to provide feed subsidies to farmers, who operate under a contract system with state agencies at guaranteed prices.

In 1995 the world experienced an increase in international prices of more than 20 percent for coarse grains. Similar increases were observed for the mayor food grains, wheat and rice. For several decades, the demand for cereals has been met at declining or stable real prices. With the global trend to market deregulation, it is expected that various types of market protection which have favoured grain production and livestock production will be removed. This wit! most likely lead to an increasing scarcity of feed grains and generally higher world market prices. Economic incentives for feed concentrate production and its use In intensive livestock production are being phased out in the EU and in North America. Additionally, there is the strongly growing demand for concentrate feed In Asia, particularly in China (Box 5.3) which will further drive up world market prices. To a certain extent the livestock industry will be capable of absorbing feed price increases and the remainder will be passed on to the consumer of livestock products. It can be expected that less efficient users of concentrate, like those, for example in WANA and CSA, will have to reduce feed concentrate use substantially.

Domestic animal diversity

Environmental challenges
Driving forces
Response: Technology and policy options

Environmental challenges

Thoroughly modified and adjusted to meet society's needs, livestock genetic resources are a basic environmental input to animal production systems. The utilization of the genetic reservoir largely determines the type and level of animal production system employed. These resources also determine how animals, through man's manipulation, utilize the environment, because livestock utilization of natural plant communities is influenced by breed differences. Knowledge of animal genetic resources is essential for efficiently allocating land, labour and capital. It is therefore essential to monitor this vital resource. For example, it is projected that by 2015 the U.S. Holstein population will have an effective population size of 66 animals (Hanson, 1995). In other words, the genetic relationship between animals will be so high it will be as if there are only 66 animals which are not related. Such a reduction in genetic diversity places this breed and others at risk, if disease or environmental changes (e.g., global warming) develop with which the remaining genotypes cannot cope.

Globally there are approximately 4,000 breeds or landraces of domesticated animals used by man. This number is about equal to the total number of mammalian species currently in existence. Given the number of breeds it is logical to ask how much of the world's animal genetic resources can we afford to lose or how much should we concern ourselves with saving? Currently there is no obvious answer to this question. Some might contend that we need to conserve all genetic resources in existence. Besides cost, this neglects the fact that some portion of the domestic animal population is not genetically different. To make a decision concerning the number of species to conserve requires a more complete assessment of genetic resources than is currently available. Therefore one of the greatest challenges will be to develop an institutional framework to maintain the minimum number of genotypes for optimal future genetic improvement.


FAO's Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources records the status of 3,882 livestock breeds (Table 5.3). Of those breeds with adequate data for assessment, 19 percent were classified as endangered. In developed countries, where there are 1,892 breeds of the main eleven categories, 21 percent of the breeds are at risk (Table 5.4). Market forces are causing much of the diversity problems in the OECD countries. For example, dairy production is dominated by the Holstein breed. Holstein cattle in Europe and in North America account for 60 percent and 90 percent of the dairy cattle population, respectively. Such extreme specialization narrows the genetic base and in a recent study, U.S. Holsteins have a predicted inbreeding increase of 0.725 percent per year from 1990 to 2015, corresponding to the effective population size of 66 animals mentioned before.

In developing countries, where two-thirds of the world's livestock population is located, documentation of breed types is far from complete. Approximately 1,300 breeds have been described with population data and 2,000 have been partially categorized (Table 5.4). The data from both developed and developing countries show that erosion of biodiversity at the breed level is not simply a concern for the distant future, but of immediate concern.

Animal uses, genetic variance and abundance of genetic diversity change across production systems. As different production systems evolve varying pressures are being placed upon the existing breeds.

Grazing systems. Among the world's regions, these systems are relatively of greatest importance in Latin America. Of particular importance from the point of view of biodiversity are the populations of Andean Camelidae (alpaca, llama, vicuņa and guanaco). In the humid and subhumid tropical grassland systems of Latin America, cattle predominate. The genetic resources have three origins: the original Criollo types, which are Bos taurus cattle with 500 years of adaptation to tropical conditions; Bos indicus breeds derived from Indian importations during the last century; and European and North American breeds, imported in recent times.

Table 5.3: Breeds of domestic animals at risk by species.


On file

With population data

At risk

Projected at risk





























































† At risk based on breeds with population data having <1,000 breeding females or <20 males and for which there is Rio conservation programme in place.

Source: Hammond and Leitch, in press.

For arid and semi-arid grassland systems, the most important areas are sub-Sahara Africa for cattle and small ruminants, and the West Asia/North Africa region for sheep. Because the African systems are the latest to start intensification and development, these populations are likely to come under more rapid genetic pressure than those elsewhere. Because of the diversity of systems, and the shortage of objective information on the livestock resource, the documentation of African ruminant livestock populations must be considered a major challenge.

Table 5.4: Breeds of domestic animals at risk by region.


Breeds on file

Breeds with population data

At risk

Projected at risk






Asia & Pacific





Europe & NIS





Latin America





Near East





North America










† At risk based on breeds with population data having <1,000 breeding females or <20 males and for which there is no conservation programme in place.

Source: Hammond and Leitch, in press.

Mixed farming systems. These are the dominant forms of livestock use in tropical countries. The largest challenge is likely to be in Asia. Among the major concerns are:

• the rapid genetic erosion of China's breed resources in pigs, which include over 100 separate breeds, many with distinct characteristics;

• how to guide and manage the transformation of dairy cattle populations in countries like India, where crossbreeding of local breeds with introduced strains is proceeding on a massive scale;

• how to conserve non-cattle bovid species (Yak, Gaur, Mithun, Banteng) and the region's unique buffalo resources;

• genetic planning appropriate to the expanding the use of small ruminants, rabbits and other species in mixed farming systems.

The genetic future of livestock populations in mixed farming systems is closely linked to crop integration. As human pressures increase, livestock's role for draft, feed utilization (most of which is crop waste) and the relatively high value of dung for fuel and manure, will be affected. If for example, subsidized mechanization is encouraged by governments this will lessen the number of draught animals kept and therefore reduce the genetic base.

Box 5.5 Key indicators of the state of animal genetic resources.

A NUMBER of indicators have been indicators for determining the status of genetic diversity animal populations. These include population size and inter-population gene flow. Risk assessment and monitoring for a breed should take into account the following factors and recommended threshold levels:

• a decreasing population, with a 100/0 per year decrease in females;
• breeding herds are decreasing and the herd number drops below 10;
• if effective population size drops below 50 animals; and
• proportion of matings to animals from outside the population exceeds 10%.

Additional information concerning breeding structure, which refers to the composition of the breezes population, include the following factors:

• replacement rates for males and females;
• ratio of breeding males to females,
• age structure of the population;
• extent of natural vs. artificial insemination; and
• pattern of acquisition of breeding material, i.e. from hatcheries or breeding companies.

For well documented populations, annual statistical reports normally include most of these factors.

Source: Simon and Buchenauer, 1993.

Industrial systems. The external inputs used in industrial systems allow them to relieve environmental constraints, so that an animal's full genetic potential can be expressed. Therefore, especially with monogastrics, there is a significant reduction in the genotypes used. In essence, resistance to environmental challenges become less of a concern. However, prudent management of genetic resources for use in such systems still requires attention to be focused upon existing and potential genetic stocks.

Driving forces

Animal genetic resources are under the same types of human population pressures as other natural resources. Pressures take the form of changing farming systems, market value attached to animal performance, and alteration in the physical environment. In general, these types of pressures affect animal genetic resources by decreasing the number of breeds and thereby losing between and within breed genetic diversity. Table 5.5 lists ways in which animal genetic resources are lost.

The pressure on domestic animal resources in developed and developing country alike goes in parallel with farming system intensification. Breed choice and selection within breeds occurs as part of this intensification process, spurred by economic pressure for ever increasing animal and feed productivity. Genetic change is both a result and a prerequisite for intensification. Genetic change has made possible livestock system intensification while the improvement of feeding systems (supply), management and health care has made possible the support of high producing genotypes. This type of feedback or interaction has been the driving force of the intensive highly productive livestock systems, which are found in OECD countries today. Almost inevitably, genetic resources are being lost as agriculture undergoes transition. For example, switching from draught to mechanical power causes a massive decrease in genetic variation as those types of animals used for draught are displaced.

The successes achieved through selecting animals for high production in the developed world has largely been a disincentive for producers and scientists in the developing countries to attempt similar efforts with their own indigenous genetic resources.

In many development activities the importation of breeds developed for use in high-input farming systems was favoured over long term development of indigenous genetic resources. Although imported breeds may have been productive in their relatively benign environment of origin, their productivity dramatically decreases when they are placed in more rigorous environments found in developing countries. As a result of this genetic environmental interaction the development strategy has been to alter the environment to accommodate these imported breeds.

Table 5.5: Causes for breed extinction or risk of loss.



Development policy

Lack of incentives to develop and use breeds, giving preference to those few developed for use in high-input, high-output relatively benign environments Commercial interests in: donor communities promoted the use of a few temperate climate breeds and over expectations concerning "modern" breeds in developing countries.


Undue emphasis placed on a specific product or trait leading to the rapid dissemination of one breed of animal to exclusion and loss of others.

Modern technologies

• Introduction of new machinery replaces animal draught and transport resulting in permanent change of farming system.

• Indiscriminate crossbreeding can quickly :lead to the loss of original breeds.

• Failure of the cryopreservation equipment and inadequate: supply of liquid nitrogen to store; samples of semen, ova or embryos.

• Artificial insemination and embryo transfer leading to rapid replacement of indigenous breeds.


Wars and other forms of socio-political instability. Natural disaster such as floods, drought or famine.

Source: Hammond and Leitch, in press.

Disaster and social insecurity can be very detrimental to the diversity of animal genetic resources. As a result of drought and political instability in Somalia, cattle and small ruminant populations decreased by 70 and 60 percent, respectively. Such reductions in herd size can significantly reduce genetic diversity. Not only does the decrease in animal numbers affect the food security and economic well being of the livestock owners and national economy but such decreases can create evolutionary bottlenecks.

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