Making the most of feed resources

Sahelian Sheep in Bandiagara, MaliILRI works with partners to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia intensify their farm production and lift themselves out of poverty.

Small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farming is the backbone of agricultural economies throughout the developing world. Remarkably, these smallholder farming systems provide 70% of the world’s meat and 90% of the world’s milk.

The smallholder farmers themselves are entering an era of new opportunities and challenges, with change occurring at unprecedented rates due largely to the developing world’s rising human population, urbanization and household incomes. These trends are greatly increasing demand in developing countries for milk, meat and eggs. Hundreds of millions of crop-livestock farmers could make use of this on-going Livestock Revolution to raise their living standards by intensifying their farm production to produce more animals or animal foods for the growing livestock markets.

What stops many of them from doing so is extreme poverty. Subsistence farmers in developing countries lack basic resources and capacities, including those needed to adapt to the new opportunities presented by the Livestock Revolution. One of the first constraints they face in increasing their livestock production is lack of feed for their animals. Most of these farmers subsist on tiny plots of land, which are often degraded or located in marginal areas, while any common lands around their farms on which they might graze their ruminant animals are shrinking. What’s needed are new ways for these farmers to exploit their natural resources more efficiently so that those resources can support higher levels of livestock production without being further degraded.

Smallholder farmers also need new options that will help level the playing field so that they can compete with bigger players in livestock markets. They need ways to access appropriate markets for livestock feeds and products. They need new options that will encourage and allow them to respond to changing circumstances resulting from globalization, such as increasing fluctuations in the price of livestock, livestock products and livestock feeds and potential reductions in feed supplies due to more land being put to production of biofuels. They need information and support to adapt to the local impacts of climate change, such as drying or wetter climates, more erratic rainfall, and increased flooding. And they need cost-effective ways to reduce the amount of methane gas their ruminant animals produce, which account for a significant amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.

Discover more about this topic: