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Case studies: Economic valuation (Topic II)

The Role of AnGR in Poverty Alleviation:
the Case of the Box Keken Pig in Southeast Mexico

Simon Anderson in cooperation with Adam Drucker, Veronica Gomez, Nancy Ferraes and Olga Rubio
Imperial College, University of London, Wye, Ashford, TN25 5AH, Kent, UK
(E-mail: [email protected])


The findings presented here are based on the results of two action-research projects carried out with campesino communities in southeast Mexico by a team of researchers from the Veterinary Faculty of Yucatan University. The paper considers (a) the importance of backyard livestock keeping to peasant household livelihoods, (b) the evaluation of animal genetic resources (AnGR) for peasant agriculture, and (c) the constraints to and the mechanisms for community-based animal genetic resources conservation within the context of marginalized peasant agriculture.

The importance of backyard livestock keeping to peasant household livelihoods

The case of southeast Mexico

Peasant agriculture in southeast Mexico has suffered dramatic declines in productivity and decreased access to natural resources, credit and appropriate technology. This has led to a rise in poverty. Pig keeping by peasant families in Mexico, Central and South America is a traditional livelihood activity. Pigs are kept under low-input rearing conditions in home gardens, or around family dwellings. In the peasant household economy, pigs can be considered as natural resource assets. Pig rearing provides the household with a means of reproducing and/or accumulating natural resource assets. These assets can be consumed, purchased or sold at critical moments of financial need. It has been estimated that this system of pig rearing provides 30 percent of national pig meat production in Mexico (SAGAR, 1998; Rejon and Segura, 1997).

Since the 1960s the local pig breed in southeast Mexico, in Mayan called the Box Keken, has suffered dramatic declines in population size. Imported breeds, promoted by government agencies, have displaced the local breed, which has also suffered genetic erosion through indiscriminate cross-breeding. Low feed costs led temporarily to conditions that favoured the rearing of imported pigs that required higher-quality diets. The Box Keken now exist only in isolated inbred groups and as components of a disperse cross-bred population. Participatory appraisals have shown the importance of backyard livestock to peasant livelihoods as livelihood assets for consumption, production and as convertible assets (Anderson and Ferraes, 1998). The relative importance of these functions varies across well-being groups. Important differences have been found even in the functions of livestock keeping between the poorest and the poor families (Anderson et al., 2002). Some of these differences are illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1. Types of livestock by function for poorest and poor families in southeast Mexico












Type of livestock in order of importance




Growing pigs


Medium turkeys


Growing chickens

Growing pigs

Mature pigs

Growing pigs

Growing chickens

Growing pigs




Pigs (only when slaughtered for sale)


Source: Anderson et al., 2002

Livestock keeping as an entry point for poverty reduction

For the poor, non-income functions of livestock keeping may be more important than income functions. These people often keep more small stock and depend more heavily on it for income as well as for savings, insurance, cyclical buffering, accumulation, diversification, protein consumption and social relations. These may be particularly important for particular livelihood groups or categories of people as shown in Table 2 below.

From the evidence presented above we can draw up some tentative guidelines in terms of developing livestock keeping as an entry point for poverty reduction. These are:

focus on, and support of, household-level "asset functions" of livestock for poor/vulnerable groups keeping livestock;

target market niches;

address technical, institutional and wider policy issues in these areas;

beware of significant expanded production without either new local demand or new external markets;

recognize likely limited growth impact.

The attributes of livestock as natural resource assets for peasant households are: productivity, utility, security, costs, convertibility, complementarity with other livelihood activities, and ownership and/or control.

The evaluation of animal genetic resources (AnGR) for peasant agriculture

It has been demonstrated that the purpose of keeping livestock varies across species and between well-being groups (and even different household members). Animals differ in their genetic potential at individual and breed levels. Therefore, in the attempt to develop livestock keeping as an entry point in poverty reduction, we need to evaluate the capacity of different types of livestock (breeds) to fulfil what we can call livelihood functions. This can be done in two stages. First, taking an income perspective on poverty, the productive traits of livestock can be assessed. Second, taking a non-income perspective we can derive attributes of livestock that enable it to fulfil other functions. In order to do this we need to relate genetic characteristics or traits to livelihood functions. Table 3 presents a preliminary list of livelihood functions of livestock keeping related to genetic characteristics. Furthermore, it demonstrates the relative importance of adaptive traits of livestock for the non-income livelihood functions. Given that most poor peasant households are found in marginal areas where environmental stresses are common, the adaptive capacity and stress tolerance of their livestock is all the more important. A common example of the adaptive qualities of livestock kept by peasant households is the capacity the livestock have to utilize poor, usually fibrous, diets.

Table 2. The functions of livestock keeping by household well-being strata and types of people

Household category

Adult males

Adult females




Accumulation income


Low middle

Accumulation (growth/exit)

Insurance, diversification, protein


Very poor

Insurance, diversification

Buffer, protein








Source: Anderson and Dorward (unpublished)

Evaluation of the Box Keken

A biophysiological evaluation of the Box Keken pig as compared to imported breeds has shown genetic comparative advantage in favour of the Box Keken in terms of digestive capacity for high-fibre diets (possibly related to lower energy requirements for growth and reproduction), and resistance to ectoparasites. A survey of villages, covering backyard producers, consumers and butchers, showed that imported breeds present marked advantages in terms of live weight gain, total weight at sale, fertility and sale price, even under backyard conditions. However, pure Box Keken and cross-breeds required less feed and their reduced production costs were sufficient to outweigh the benefits of imported breeds.

Constraints to and mechanisms for community-based AnGR conservation within the context of marginalized peasant agriculture - experiences from southeast Mexico

In southeast Mexico poor people have responded to the decline in peasant agriculture with innovations in staple grain production, diversification of crop production, agroforestry initiatives, and short- and medium-term migration. Livestock keeping is seen as central to agriculture-based responses in terms of nutrient recycling and the diversification of income sources as well as the livelihood functions mentioned previously (savings, insurance, cyclical buffering, accumulation, diversification, protein consumption and social relations). Pig keeping is important for these livelihood functions, and appraisals have revealed peasant peoples’ preferences for the Box Keken breed under various criteria including maintenance costs, adaptive traits and meat quality.

Table 3. List of livelihood functions of livestock keeping related to genetic characteristics

Livelihood functions

Livestock functions (primary)

Genetic characteristics

Production (sales)

Growth and reproduction

Growth rate, carcass quality, fertility rate

Production (crops)

Traction power, dung output

Body size, robustness


Reproduction, survivability

Fertility, disease resistance, stress tolerance


Milk/egg/meat production, survivability

Growth rate, disease resistance, stress tolerance



Disease resistance, stress tolerance



Disease resistance, stress tolerance

Cyclical buffering


Disease resistance, stress tolerance

Social relations


Coat colour, shape of horns, body size etc.

The main limiting factor to pig keeping by poor peasant families is their production of maize grain. Maize is both the people’s staple food and the main feed for pigs. Improvements in maize production by the incorporation of green manure legumes have provided the basis for establishing small Box Keken-breeding nucleus groups. By increasing the production of maize grain, legume grain and legume forage, greater feed resources are available for pig rearing. In the Mayan community of Xohuayan, a small Box Keken nucleus group has been managed successfully for four years and has provided piglets for ten families. Access to the piglets, reared in the collectively managed nucleus, has decreased the vulnerability of these poor families to economic factors because they have had more pigs to sell in times of financial need.

The work in Xohuayan demonstrated the importance of establishing an outcrossed nucleus. The prolificacy of sows from the community (average litter size six or seven) was much lower than their outcrossed daughters (average litter size nine or ten). Outcrossing was achieved by bringing male pigs from other villages.

A programme of monitoring the husbandry of criollo pigs has begun with campesino families in five villages. These families are interested in participating in an in situ conservation and breeding project. Contacts have been made with local non-governmental organizations working in rural development projects and, through these, campesino groups have been identified who have prioritized criollo pig rearing as one of the activities they wish to develop in the future.

Pure-bred Box Keken populations have been established at two research centres in Yucatan with the aim of studying the comparative genetic advantage of the breed and providing good-quality breeding stock for campesino families interested in sustainable utilization of the breed.

Lessons from Xohuayan

The successful pilot in situ conservation project with peasant families in Xohuayan has demonstrated the importance of:

access to sufficient feed and forage resources to enable poor families, who often face food shortages at some point during the year, to rear pigs all year round. In the case of Xohuayan, the pig-rearing initiative followed successful innovations in staple-crop production. Extra biomass produced (legume grain and forage) was used to feed the pigs;

social organization among participating families to share the costs and benefits of the in situ conservation work equitably. In Xohuayan a cooperative of ten families was formed. The tasks and costs of pig rearing were shared between families on a rotational basis, as were the benefits in terms of extra piglets reared and cull sows sold;

Figure 1. Constraints on community-based conservation of AnGR

a rotational fund for small loans with repayments in animals or money. The building materials required for a small rearing unit and the initial breeding stock of three sows and a boar were provided to the Xohuayan cooperative. This loan was repaid in criollo pig progeny over a two-year period.

The main constraints at a local level to community-based AnGR conservation with poor rural communities may be overcome by developing:

an appropriate low-input rearing system based on local resources;

a simple breeding scheme that minimizes inbreeding and maintains genetic diversity;

an effective marketing system for criollo pigs and pig products that will guarantee the commercial viability and hence the sustainable utilization of the conserved population.

However, other more macro-level constraints exist, as shown in Figure 1. The very processes that cause the marginalization of peasant households and communities impede community-based conservation of animal genetic resources. Marginalized households do not have the opportunity to articulate demands in terms of their access to genetic resources. The market has failed to capture the value of AnGR conservation activities and hence poor peasants do not benefit from keeping breeds that require conservation. The positive connection between poverty reduction and the conservation of genetic resources has not been demonstrated sufficiently for its incorporation in pro-poor policy agendas.


Anderson, S. & Ferraes, N. 1998. Participatory appraisals in Yucatan 1991-1995: the use of natural resources in campesino livelihood strategies. FMVZ-UADY. (mimeo)

Anderson, S., Clark, S., Keane, B., Mogel Pliego, J. & Trejo Diaz, W. 2002. Parcela-Solar: an experience in combining campesino and conventional experimentation. Final technical report to the livestock production programme. UK, DFID.

Drucker, A.G., Gomez, V., Ferraes, N., Rubio, O. & Anderson, S. 1999. Comparative economic analysis of criollo, crossbreed and imported pigs in backyard production systems of Yucatan, Mexico. Wye College, University of London. (mimeo)

Rejon, M. & Segura, J. 1997. Factores socioeconómicos asociados a la producción animal de traspatio en la zona henequenera del estado de Yucatan. Avances en Investigación Pecuaria, 6(2).

SAGAR. 1998. Situación actual y perspectiva de la producción de carne de porcino en México, 1990-1998. Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganadería y Desarrollo Rural, Mexico.

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