So what’s the future role of small-scale livestock-keepers in food production?

Mama and Adam looking into the future

Pastoralist leaders Neelkanth “Mama” Kurbar  from LIFE Network India and Adam Ole Mwarabu from the LIFE Network in Tanzania look down into the Rift Valley at the side-lines of the Third Multi-stakeholder Platform of the GAA (Global Agenda of Action towards sustainable livestock sector development) recently held in Nairobi.

The future of livestock keeping will have to revolve around finding a balance between economy and ecology. Economically it might make sense to crowd huge numbers of animals in small spaces and automate their feeding and management but this runs counter to all ecological principles: it requires huge amounts of fossil fuels (to grow and transport feed, to climatize stables), it results in accumulations of manure that become difficult or impossible to dispose of (turning dung from a much sought after asset into a liability and threat to the environment), it raises disease pressure (so that routine use of antibiotics becomes essential), and it is problematic from the animal welfare angle. It’s also not good for livelihoods – studies from various countries where the Livestock Revolution has taken hold testify that it results in depopulated rural areas.

Ecologically, decentralised models of livestock keeping as epitomized by pastoralists are much more preferable. They are based on the optimal utilization of locally available biomass and independent of fossil fuels, manure recycling is integrated into the system, disease pressure is small, and animal welfare is almost solved optimally. So why not support these, if we are concerned about the sustainability of the livestock sector?
“But young people don’t want to do this work and prefer to live in the cities” is the argument that is always raised when one suggests that small-scale livestock keeping may be an answer to the sustainability question. There is certainly some truth in it. Many young people are attracted by the urban life, and – by all means – they should be given a chance to go for it. But there are also many youths who find a life taking care of animals preferable to slogging away at menial jobs and a life in slums. So why not encourage these young people, by giving them respect and support, instead of branding them as backward? By directing subsidies towards these ecological livestock production systems instead of the industrialised ones? By building another livestock development paradigm that takes into account the ecological externalities, instead of always comparing the milk yields of the Indian cow with the Israeli cow and automatically concluding that the second one is so much superior?

According to a remarkable presentation by ILRI’s director Jimmy Smith during the third Multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action towards sustainable livestock sector development (GAA), 80% of livestock derived food is still contributed by small producers. If we focus on raising the performance of these systems – for instance through adequate animal health care – and providing incentives for the young generation, then we can solve the livestock sector sustainability question. And we will help address another burning issue – the high unemployment rates that bedevil not only developing countries, but also Europe and the USA – as well.

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About ikrweb

I'm a researcher, writer and activist passionately believing in animal cultures rather than animal industries. Since about 20 years I have been making my home among the Raika, the traditional camel and sheep herders of Rajasthan in India, and observed how their life has been changing... how economic development, forest policies, population growth and other factors are impacting their traditional way of life. With the help of my colleagues from Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (www.lpps.org) and League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development (www.pastoralpeoples.org) I have been trying to support them in their struggle for cultural and economic survival. On this blog I would like to chronicle some of these efforts.
This entry was posted in animal welfare, FAO, food security, livestock keepers, Sustainability, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to So what’s the future role of small-scale livestock-keepers in food production?

  1. DR.A.K.KAR says:

    Small Livestock farmers are most neglected section of our society. They should be given due respect in the society for their contribution. Productivity of indigenous animals can be improved by better nutrition, selective breeding & disease control. Indian animals though low productive are gifted with several virtues. They can thrive well under adverse agro climatic condition & are highly disease registrant. Care must be taken to protect these qualities while breeding them to enhance production . Partial mechanization of small livestock farms can decrease physical labour & will attract young people to adopt it as a source for livelihood. Lack or organized marketing is a major problem for small rural livestock farmers. Support in marketing & value addition of livestock products will definitely enhance income generation. Ecologically sustainable methods should be used to enhance efficiency of animal production without affecting the way of life of rural livestock farmers.

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