Diversified uses of livestock

Domestic animals have, for more than 10 thousand years, contributed to human needs for food and agricultural products. These products include meat, dairy products, eggs, fibre and leather, draft power and transport, and manure to fertilize crops and for fuel. These animals have always played a large cultural role for livestock keepers. Livestock also play an important economic role as capital and for social security.

The value of livestock has also been clearly demonstrated for soil nutrient management, especially in soils in rapidly intensifying crop-livestock systems (Tarawali et al., 2004) and in those already intensified (Olson, 1998; Olson et al., 2004). Integration of livestock into crop systems enhances smallholder farm productivity and profitability (Peden et al., 2005).

The multiple uses of livestock also include their cultural roles in many societies. Consequently, the use of animal resources varies considerably in different parts of the world, as the social, environmental and other conditions for animal production differ enormously.

Currently, an estimated 30-40% of the world’s total agricultural output is produced by its variety of livestock (FAO, 2005a). In some parts of the world, including some parts of Africa where intensive mixed livestock-crop systems are practised, as much as 70-80% of the farm income is from livestock. In such systems, much of the crops produced are fed to livestock and converted to high quality food for human consumption.

Adaptation to environment a necessity

In most parts of the developing world, difficult environmental conditions and a lack of availability of capital, technology, infrastructure and human resources have not allowed intensification of agriculture, including development of genetic resources. Instead, harsh climate, little feed of low nutritional value, irregular feed availability, diseases, and lack of education and infrastructure, have kept the agricultural output per animal at a low and rather unchanged level for a long time. However, livestock breeds in the tropical parts of the world have during thousands of years become adapted to cope with harsh environments, including disease challenges (ICAR, 2000), and to produce under conditions in which breeds developed in more favourable environments will not even survive [CS 1.1 by Mpofu & Rege]; [CS 1.37 by Kharel et al.]. Such differences among animal populations have a genetic background and are the result of the interaction between genetic constitution and environment. This has evolved over time from natural and human selection of animals for performance in different environments (see section 1.1 in Module 2). That is why there is such a variety of indigenous breeds. However, when appropriately utilized in pure or cross-breeding programmes, indigenous breeds can contribute to increased productivity in smallholder production systems [CS 1.34 by Panandam and Raymond]; [CS1.40 by Chako].

Increased productivity to avoid degradation of natural resources

The challenge now is to find ways to exploit the potential for improved and sustainable livestock production that the variability among and within the indigenous breeds may offer different environments and production systems in various parts of the tropics and sub-tropics. Otherwise, it will not be possible to produce what is needed for the people of the developing world to survive. To date, demand for increased livestock production has largely been met by increasing the number of indigenous animals without improving yield or efficiency per animal or area used. Such trends will not hold in future as industrialization is predicted to continue at a higher pace, especially for pig and poultry production, using mainly genetically improved breeds and composites. Non-structured cross-breeding of indigenous breeds with imported high yielding breeds has been practised too often in the tropics, sometimes with disastrous results (Okeyo, 1997; Payne and Hodges, 1997; Ahuya et al., 2005; Kosgey et al., 2006). This development cannot continue.

Land degradation and the increasing amount of resources required to just maintain the animal populations must be replaced by more efficient systems demanding higher outputs per animal or area of land used to meet the future demands of livestock products (Taneja, 2005). For sustainability, these systems must emphasize effective resource input/output ratios and more integration of livestock and crop production rather than industrialized mono-cultural production systems that seriously challenge the wise use and care of our natural resources.

Consumer concern and consumer perceptions in light of the increasing global push for product standardization and wider impacts of production systems on environments are of increasing concern. Whereas such trends provide potential scope for environmentally friendly produced livestock products, the effects of over-exploitation (deforestation and overgrazing) of common and open access resources, especially by the rural poor, may undermine the potential gains. Besides, to fully benefit from better prices offered by niche markets for more naturally produced products, better levels of producer organization, in terms of product quality assurance, standardization and general marketing, will be required of producers to enable such potentials to be exploited.

It is rightly argued that animal production systems, especially with ruminants, contribute to undesired methane emissions. However, it is also well established that these greenhouse emissions can be substantially reduced by increasing productivity and lowering the number of animals kept for a given total amount of produce (Kirchgeâner et al., 1995; McCrabb et al., 2003). Hence, increased productivity per animal concentrating production on fewer but more valuable animals is a way forward in reducing the negative environmental impacts of livestock production. This intensification must, however, also be designed to effectively manage all other risks to environmental degradation of land and water, e.g. efficient ways of using manure and wastes from other farm products. For example, in large commercial tree plantation systems such as those in Malaysia, increased resource utilization and profitability may arise from integration of livestock in rubber and palm oil plantations. Such integration also has the potential for reducing the country’s annual demands for imported beef and milk to meet the domestic deficits.

More productive breeds of a number of livestock species have been genetically developed to fit different markets and environments for both developed and developing countries [CS 1.4 by Mpofu]; [CS1.40 by Chako]. Such genetic changes, in combination with better and continuously available feeds and management, have in a few decades led to the doubling of food production in a number of breeds and species. Such increases in agricultural produce require high technology and large inputs of feed, labour, energy and capital, and good disease control and management practices. However, in high input and resourceful industrialized systems, limited considerations regarding total efficiency in nutrient cycling and pollution have been made. Without such considerations, these production systems will not be sustainable. Conversely, in low and medium input pasture production systems small ruminants, camels and beef cattle provide the most efficient way of utilizing such environments to produce valuable livestock products (milk, meat and leather). To date, the potentials of many of the indigenous livestock populations and breeds remain largely unexploited. Through well organized conventional selection programmes much more could be achieved [see breed information on Kenya Boran, Tuli, Butana and Kenana cattle breeds in Africa; Khari and Boer goats in Africa and Asia and the Murray and Nili Ravi buffaloes from India and Pakistan]. Exploitation of local and foreign niche markets that favour the smaller and more adapted indigenous breeds exist in the Middle East and in many Asian countries. Strategic use of such breeds as dam-lines/breeds in terminal cross-breeding programmes presents great potential and prospects.

Most local breeds are kept under smallholder systems, though pastoralists may also keep large herds. The role of the smallholder farmers may also be important in the future, but most likely the production will need to be intensified. Smallholder animal production may need to be combined with crop production, and be relocated to peri-urban and urban areas. This will require increasing focus on environmental and product quality issues and on market access and competitiveness. The interaction between genotypes and environments would continue to be a key element in choice and development of future breeding stocks while some environmental changes, such as improved feeding (including concentrates) and management practices, will also have to take place [CS 1.39 by Okeyo and Baker].