Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

The ethics of animal production and sustainability

Over the last 50 years, the ethical values around animal production have steadily changed, mainly through widespread adoption of industrial and intensive practices. Industrialisation and pro-productionism have taken precedence over agrarian values and farming methods emphasising material prosperity. This has displaced the ethos of independent, community farmers and pastoralists as stewards of the land and farm animals.  Food safety, quality control, animal welfare and traceability practices are overarching norms and have become sites of political and economic contest, as producers and multinational agribusinesses seek to maximise product quality and economic profitability.


Utilising indigenous breeds: Improving the reproductive potential of smallholder dairy herds (article)

There is need to improve the reproductive potential of dairy cattle owned by small-holder farmers as well as enhance earning potential. According to Paterson, the challenge for improving small-holder dairy production under communal systems is clear; introduce dairy genetics and supply the quantity and quality of feed to improve reproductive and yield potential. The norm for smallholder livestock herders in Africa is that the stocking density on the grassland reaches a level 300% higher than that of commercial farmers. At this high stocking rate, a balance is reached at which the number of calves born equals the mortality rate plus an off-take of 7%. The conception rate is about 30% and only 1-2% is marketed for cash. In contrast, the annual conception rate for commercial farmers is 90% and the off-take is 30% or higher, all of which is marketed. Using artificial insemination (AI) under a communal and free grazing system is expensive. In Ethiopia, a large trial is in progress using synchronisation of oestrus to bring many of the smallholder cows together to be inseminated by a team led by a veterinarian, making it economically feasible to inseminate 200 cows on one day. The choice of breeds is also critical. The indigenous cattle, e.g. the East African Zebu, are not milking breeds (such as Holstein and Jersey). They are small, weigh on average 300 kg at maturity and produce 6 litres of milk per day; 4 litres for the calf, and the rest for home consumption or sale. This small cow with low milk production and maintenance requirements, is a result of natural selection, which ensures its survival, especially under adverse conditions. The Holstein produces more milk but requires a maize based diet while, the Jersey produces less milk and on grassland. Patterson believes that the Jersey is the ideal breed to crossbreed with indigenous cattle in Africa as the purebred dairy cattle are unlikely to survive under communal systems. Given the high demand for milk, meeting this demand will require the use of locally adapted dairy cattle breeds and a well thought-out feeding strategy. Also necessary is a dedicated scientific community, effective extension support systems, an enabling policy environment and smallholder farmers who have the required entrepreneurial spirit.Read the article below and find the synthesis report here.


Improving Livestock Water Productivity: Lessons from the Nile River Basin

In this new lead article, Don Peden, highlights key research findings from a project in the Nile River Basin and explains how the results can improve understanding of livestock water productivity (LWP), and build policy that takes into account this new knowledge. The results are drawn primarily from the CGIAR Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture and Challenge Program on Water and Food. LWP takes an interdisciplinary agro-ecosystems approach to achieve more effective, sustainable and productive use of agricultural water for animal production. It calls for better feed sourcing and management, adoption of best-bet animal production technology, and improved water conservation. LWP is a scale-dependent concept: the elements of the hydrological cycle are studied within a specific spatiotemporal window. It represents the ratio of the total value of goods and services derived from domestic animals to the amount of water depleted as a cost of livestock-keeping.According to Peden, there are basic LWP-enhancing strategies. These include, feed sourcing and management strategies that require the use of feeds with a low water cost of production such as using crop residues which need no additional water. Another is the use of water-conserving strategies which shift evaporation to transpiration, for example by reducing overgazing and improving pasture management. Strategically allocating spatial and temporal distributions of livestock, drinking water and feed resources which also allow for sustainability in animal production, should also be considered.  Achieving LWP requires a better understanding of the local situation, and access to and an appropriate mix of technology, training and education, community participation, investment, marketing opportunities and coherent governance.


Utilising indigenous breeds: Improving the reproductive potential of smallholder dairy herds (synthesis)

This study provides data and analysis on the two most important factors influencing reproductive rate in cattle – nutrition and breed type – in the context of smallholder dairy herds in Africa. Paterson’s report is an assessment of the options available to small farmers. It provides an overview of pertinent and published research, and also specific insight into the efforts scientists from ILRI and national research centres are making in South Africa, Swaziland, Ethiopia and Kenya. The focus is on enhancing the earning potential of the smallholder dairy farmers. Regarding animal nutrition, profits rise with the use of indigenous products and losses come from using imported feed. It is therefore important to maximise the use of existing arable land, crop residue, leguminous forage, low quality roughages and protein supplements. To provide milk off-season – which sells at a higher price – farmers must develop a viable all year round feeding strategy and plan for quality crop residues when and where possible. Low productivity from tropical feedstuffs may well ask for the supplementation of high bypass proteins to balance the protein-to- energy ratio in these feeds, an exacting but necessary option for smallholders who’d like to sell milk all year.Dairy genetics is also crucial to the success of the smaller dairy businesses. The evolution of cows on the continent resulted in a relatively small animal adapted to hot climate and nutritional stress. The local African breeds require an infusion of dairy genetics to improve their milking potential: this has been successfully achieved through artificial insemination (AI) in many countries, and recently AI was combined with synchronisation of oestrus (sexual receptivity) in Ethiopia. Introducing genes associated with milk productivity could produce animals unadapted to the environmental constraints. Nevertheless the introduction of desirable milk genetics through the smaller New Zealand Jersey breed (which produces milk off grass) appears to be a better choice than the Holstein (which produces excessive quantities of milk off concentrate). A key recommendation for further consideration is the use of semen from Jersey crosses rather than from the Holsteins standing at the AI stations. However, there is still a need for specific studies on genotype x nutrition x disease interactions when developing new cattle breeds for the continent. There is high demand for milk and meeting this demand will require the use locally adapted dairy cattle breeds and a well thought-out feeding strategy. Also necessary is a dedicated scientific community, effective extension support systems, an enabling policy environment and smallholder farmers who have the required entrepreneurial spirit.  Read the synthesis report below and find the article here.


Science and Technology for Livestock Value Chain Development: A Focus on Artificial Insemination

Population growth, urbanization, and income growth in developing countries are fuelling a global increase in demand for food of animal origin. The resulting demand comes from changes in diets of billions of people and provides income growth opportunities for many of the rural poor. Over the last 20 years, meat consumption in developing countries has increased three times as fast as in developed countries. In order to benefit from the demand, farmers in developing countries should adapt to the new environment, which demands dissemination of technologies and changes of production systems to eliminate low productivity. This article by P. H. Bayemi provides a detailed overview of artificial insemination practices in Cameroon.


Development of Endiisa Decision Support Tool for improved feeding of dairy cattle in Uganda

(First prize, ‘Women in Science’ competition)Efforts to improve livestock feeding in Uganda have had great strides in identifying nutritious feed resources for cattle. These include pasture grasses and legumes, leguminous shrubs and multipurpose trees, crop residues and agro-industrial by-products. Despite knowledge and the use of appropriate feed resources, milk production of dairy farms has remained low (2 to 5 L per cow per day). The poor performance indicates a gap in dissemination of knowledge to farmers. One major gap identified was that farmers did not know the quantities of feed that would adequately meet the nutritional requirements of their animals. This study demonstrates the use of decision-support tools (DST) in meeting such challenges. It provides information on low status of dairy cattle feeding. In conclusion, the DST that was developed and tested led to improved cattle feeding and increased milk production by 24%. The tool is available on the website of the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO-Uganda), and is recommended for use by farmers, researchers, trainers and policy-makers.Article taken from the 2011 CTA/FARA publication ‘Agricultural Innovations for Sustainable Development’ Volume 3, Issue 2.


Improving drought response in pastoral areas of Kenya

The impact of recurrent drought-related crises in the Horn of Africa is rapidly escalating, with more and more people being affected each time a drought occurs. The current ability of pastoralists to respond to drought is limited not only due to the increasing frequency of drought, but also due to increasing population, a dwindling resource base, conflict, changes in access to land and water, as well as the impact of other shocks such as flooding and disease outbreaks. This briefing paper explores the responses to the 2005–2006 drought in Kenya’s ASALs, focusing particularly on the extent to which livelihoods interventions were implemented among pastoral populations. It is based on research that analyses the contextual factors (for example practices, capacities, structures, policies and rationale) that influenced the actions taken in the 2005–2006 drought response, and identifies the mechanisms, systems, functions and institutions that need to be strengthened to allow for more timely and appropriate livelihood responses in future.Authors: C. Longley & M. Wekesa, ODI, October 2009


Women’s empowerment in pastoral societies

This report focuses on pastoralist women from pastoral communities across the world producing a global good practice study on pastoralist women’s empowerment. When reading about women in pastoral societies it is common to find reference to their marginalised roles, their hardship, their oppression and their lack of power as opposed to men’s domination, men’s ownership, men’s power and associated patriarchal relations. However, pastoral women are extremely strong and powerful people. Despite the many challenges women face, they do find ways to ensure that the household’s basic needs are met; they do find ways to access resources and within the pastoral system do have ‘rights’ to ownership and use of many of them; and they do find ways to get their voices heard.View PDF.


Draft ACP Livestock Policy Brief (open for comments - not for citation)

The role of Science, Technology and Innovation in addressing the challenges to food security and economic empowerment.This policy brief outlines the major constraints to livestock development in African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) Group of States and identifies strategies for addressing them. This draft policy brief will be presented to the Advisory Committee on S&T for ACP Agricultural and Rural Development, at its meeting in Wageningen, November 2007.


Advances in Science, Technology and Innovation: Relevance for the ACP Meat Industry

The meat industry in ACP countries ranges from small-scale producers of live animals to large-scale commercial enterprises on the one hand, and simple slaughter poles to sophisticated abattoirs with refrigeration and chilling facilities at the other end of the continuum. The spectrum for meat processing is also similar, ranging from rudimentary operations to sophisticated modern processing plants. At the level of marketing, sales of fresh meat predominate with limited availability of locally processed meats in several ACP countries. Meat mainly comes from ruminant animals (cattle, sheep and goats), and the quality is inextricably linked to the efficiency of the animal production system. However, locally produced pig and poultry meats are on the increase mainly due to growth in smallholder production (Sonaiya, 2007). Improvement in the ACP meat industry requires consideration of the whole chain from conception to consumption (identification and selection of breeds, production, slaughter, processing including new product development, marketing and consumption).