.... 25 Years of Improvement

Part IV. Livestock Research


Livestock and poultry production, including milk and eggs, is the second most important sector ($123 billion, 1987/89) of agriculture in developing countries, after grain production ($147 billion). The gross value of milk production alone ($45 billion) exceeds that of wheat ($31 billion), beef and buffalo meat ($24 billion) that of the developing world maize harvests ($20 billion).

Livestock and their products contribute about 19 percent to the total value of agriculture, forestry and fisheries production in developing countries, or about 25 percent to the value of agricultural production. This calculation only includes the output of priced commodities such as milk and meat; it ignores other benefits livestock is providing, such as capital formation, risk insurance, draft power, manure and weeding. Including the estimated value of these benefits would increase the livestock sector's contribution to the agriculture product of developing countries to well over 30 percent. This ratio is bound to increase with rising incomes, continuing urbanization, and correspondingly changing food consumption and agricultural production patterns.

In recent years, livestock production in developing regions has been viewed rather critically. Livestock overgrazing was seen as a major cause of desertification, exacerbating periodic droughts in Africa and their related extraordinary food aid requirements. Livestock production has been associated with the economic force behind expansion of grazing lands into closed forests in Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa, with negative consequences for climate, agriculture and biological diversity, though in fact the primary cause of deforestation has been land policies that favor granting of land rights to cleared rather than forested land.

This perspective has somewhat obscured public perception of the essential role of livestock for agricultural and economic development, as well as for nutrition. Livestock allows millions of small farmers to transit from subsistence to a market economy. In India and many other places, dairy development based on small farms provides fresh milk supplies to cities and offers cash income to the farmers. In Africa, cattle on the hoof is the traditional form of capital formation; hides and meat are cash commodities, and taxes are often based on numbers of livestock and paid in heads of cattle. Introducing animal traction in some parts of African agriculture has had a stimulating effect on crop production similar to mechanization.

For the millions of landless poor and small farmers whose numbers are rapidly increasing due to population growth and limited land availability, small-scale livestock and poultry production often offer the only way of ensuring viability of the household and economic survival. Small ruminants and poultry provide gainful work to women and children.

Global strategies for developing animal agriculture

Livestock play a vital role in economic development - particularly as societies evolve from subsistence agriculture into cash-based economies.

Globally, animal products - meat, milk, eggs and fiber - constitute about 40 percent of the total value of agricultural output. The proportional contribution is about 50 percent in developed regions and 25 percent in developing regions. In developing regions, livestock provide major additional contributions to agriculture through draft power and manure for fuel and fertilizer.

The growth markets for livestock products are in the developing regions. Improvements in livestock productivity are necessary to meet the substantial increase in demand for livestock products - especially in developing regions. However, it is neither appropriate nor sustainable to achieve these increases by mining the fragile natural resource base at the expense of future generations.

Increasingly, global strategies for livestock development must consider the environmental impact and the inter-regional economics of production and marketing. Improved livestock productivity supporting economic development and sustainable natural resource management are not incompatible goals. Inter-regional trade and market development must consider differences in comparative and competitive advantage, which often do not coincide. Subsidies, price controls, trade barriers and other factors can neutralize comparative advantage of developing countries for low-cost livestock production.

Animal agriculture can be a positive factor in long-term, sustainable agriculture by incorporating adequate economic returns to livestock farmers; through maintenance of natural resources and productivity; minimal adverse environmental effects; optimal production with minimal external inputs; and satisfaction of food, income and social needs.

Increasing livestock productivity on smallholder farms: Why?

Animal production empowers smallholders by providing:

All these benefits contribute to social security at the farm level and to sustainable economic development at the national level.

Livestock research within the CGIAR

During the past 20 years, CGIAR-supported livestock research by the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) and the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) primarily focused on sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, the information provided in this paper draws heavily on our experience in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1995, ILRI has assumed a global mandate responsibility for a CGIAR system-wide livestock research program.


Cattle are especially important in Latin America and the Caribbean, in large parts of subSaharan Africa, and in India for milk. Sheep and goats dominate in the Middle East and North Africa and parts of subSaharan Africa. The CGIAR originally concentrated on improving ruminant production through more appropriate management practices and better pastures. For this purpose, ILCA was established in Ethiopia; the CIAT in Colombia has a global mandate to identify and improve forage germplasm for the sub-humid and humid tropics and an eco-regional mandate to develop sustainable crop-livestock production systems for the tropical savannas, lowlands and hillsides of tropical America; and ICARDA is performing research to improve the productivity of small ruminants in the Middle East and North Africa. Control of major ruminant diseases was another thrust of CGIAR research. ILRAD was established in Kenya to perform research in particular on animal trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and tickborne diseases, especially theileriosis (East Coast fever). In 1994, a new center was established with campuses in Kenya and Ethiopia, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) which incorporates the former ILCA and ILRAD. ILRI has been given a global mandate for livestock research. As in the past, CGIAR research is focused on large and small ruminants, and excludes pigs and poultry for which there are, in the CGIAR's view, sufficient research capacities available, especially in the private sector.


Middle East and North Africa

Socioeconomic issues

Farmers have often been slow to adopt new technologies. However, some changes are taking place. There have been sharp increases in livestock numbers, causing grazing pressures on steppe land to exceed their sustainable capacity. Livestock farmers are responding by adopting more intensive systems. For example, barley grain is being increasingly fed to sheep, because grain is cheap and the meat and milk products are in high demand. The changes are also affecting the historic linkages between farmers in the arable areas and livestock owners in the steppes.

Nutritional management

To ensure the efficiency of flocks and herds, female animals must give birth regularly. Small ruminants are usually mated in the summer. At this time they graze stubbles or dried-out pastures which are deficient in protein and other nutrients. As females can be in poor condition at mating, it is common to see as few as 60-80 per cent of females giving birth each year. The milk yields of hand-fed animals and early growth of their offspring may be low because farmers pay insufficient attention to balancing the nutrients in rations based on straws and cereals grains.


Cereals straws are becoming more important components of the diets of livestock, and efforts are needed to ensure that, as grain yields improve, there is not an associated reduction in the quality of the straw.

Micro-nutrient deficiencies are now becoming more evident as the proportion of grazing in the diet decreases and the animals are increasingly hand-fed energy and protein.

New feed sources, such as forage legumes and fodder shrubs, can improve the nutritive value of the diet but may contain anti-nutritional substances affecting digestion or animal health.


Internal parasites significantly affect production in wet years and viral epidemics are frequent.

ICARDA is giving particular attention to seven topics:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Share of livestock in agricultural GDP: Livestock commodity outputs contribute about 25 percent (or $11.8 billion in 1979-81 dollars) to the agricultural GDP of sub-Saharan Africa, or about 8 percent of the total GDP. When the values of draft power and manure are included, livestock's share of agricultural GDP rises to 35 percent. The agricultural GDP share of livestock and its contribution to food supply and food security will increase with economic development and population growth. The relatively high income elasticity of livestock products indicates that an income increase of 1 percent will result in a demand of equal or higher magnitude of livestock products. Livestock contribute to household food security by simultaneously increasing food production and consumption through the acquisition of greater benefits from complementary crop and livestock enterprises. Retention of family labour on farms with livestock enterprises positively affects farm output.

Contribution to other sectors:

Gender implications: increased use of animal draft power frees men and women from tillage work; improved dairy processing technologies mean increased efficiency in product recovery, longer shelf life of products which increases their marketability, and more income for the farm family.

The main constraints to expanding dairying, meat production and draft power use in sub-Saharan Africa are:


Feed and feeding

Animal health

The most important animal diseases in the tropics are parasitic and viral diseases including:

Animal genetics

Socioeconomic constraints

Natural resource use and conservation

Constraints Specific to Meat Production

Constraints Specific to Dairying

Constraints Specific to Draft Power Use


Feed and feeding

ILRI has identified and evaluated a broad set of forages adaptable for use in smallholder farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Examples of research and technologies developed on the basis of that research include:

Animal health

Animal genetics


Marketing constraints and factors affecting livestock prices and prospects identified in West Africa and in the East African highlands

Investments depend on the permanency with which the land is used, the length of time that the household has resided in the area and whether its members belong to the dominant ethnic group in the area. Pastoralists are often constrained from investing in new feed resources by their lack of permanent property rights to land or water. However, permanent property rights are often inconsistent with the type of mobile production systems that pastoralists need to practice in the seasonally variable environment of the African savannas. Mobility requires more flexible property rights to a wider variety of resources. Intense competition for resources and pressure for institutional change develops when pastoralists wish to settle or when pastoralists' mobility is hampered. The greater the degree of crop-livestock interactions, the less the potential for conflict between farmers and livestock producers. Even in situations where rainfall is relatively high (e.g. in the humid zone), the availability and use of grazing resources is highly variable. Optimal use of resources in such contexts requires property institutions that are very flexible and responsive to a variety of "key resources."

Natural resource management


The principal ongoing research activities of ILRI are:

Feed and feeding

Animal health

Animal genetics


Natural resource management


Factors influencing future agricultural development: By 2025, sub-Saharan African population will reach 1.3 billion, an increase of 160 percent over the estimated 1990 population level (given a projected increase of 2.75 percent per annum). About 55 percent of the population in SSA will live in towns and cities in 2025. This rapid increase in population and the associated high degree of urbanization will increase the demand for food of animal origin.

Population pressure on a fixed land base will drive agriculture towards intensification. In areas with low technology, scarcity of inputs and poorly developed markets, the most efficient and sustainable means of increasing offtake from a fixed land base will be mixed crop-livestock systems.

Demand: Demand for animal foods is projected to increase throughout the least developed countries. Prospects for meeting this demand are, however, dim unless serious investment efforts are made in livestock research and livestock-related development strategies. The Winrock report (1992) asserts that if livestock production in SSA fails to expand faster than it did in the past (2.0 percent a year for meat and 3.2 percent for milk between 1962 and 1987), the continent will face massive deficits in meat and milk supplies by 2025.

The World Bank has estimated that SSA economies must expand by 4 to 5 percent annually to achieve food security and register modest improvements in living standards. The Winrock report also accepts that a 4 percent annual increase in meat and milk production will be necessary in SSA between now and 2025.

Milk production trends: In 2025, sub-Saharan Africa must produce 43 million tons of milk, compared with 10 million tons in 1989.

Of this, 36 million tons should be produced by cows and 7 million tons by sheep and goats.

Share of production is expected to increase in the highlands (from 42.7 percent in 1988 to 59.1 percent in 2025) and decrease in the arid/semi-arid zones (from 40.2 percent in 1988 to 25.2 percent in 2025). Production in the subhumid zone will decrease slightly from 17.1 percent in 1988 to 15.7 percent in 2025.

Meat production trends: Total meat production must increase from 4.5 million tons in 1989 to 19 million tons in 2025 for sub-Saharan Africa to achieve self-reliance in meat.

Ruminants are expected to produce 60 percent or 11 million tons of the total.

Between 1988 and 2025, beef production will decline from 51.3 percent to 29.1 percent while production of other meat will increase: sheep and goat from 21 percent to 29 percent; poultry meat from 20 percent to 30 percent; and pork meat from 7.7 percent to 11.7 percent.

In 2025, arid/semi-arid zones will produce substantially less (about 32 percent of the total beef and veal output, compared with about 51 percent in 1988). Subhumid zone will produce 18 percent more than in 1988 and highland's share at about 25 percent will remain almost the same as in 1988.

Overcoming constraints

The challenges identified above cannot be met by using traditional, low-input systems. Given the limited capacity for bringing additional land under cultivation, agriculture in SSA must intensify.

To achieve the projected 4 percent annual increases in animal production:

Forage and feeds supply must increase from 880 Mcal x 109 in 1986-88 to 1,600 Mcal x 109 in 2025. Crude protein supply must be increased to 63 million tons, compared with 42 million tons in 1986-88. This implies increased production of established species and identification of new species through germplasm selection, as well as increased feed production from sown forages and crop residues to augment forage supply from natural pastures.

Control of major parasitic and viral diseases must be improved. Effective decision support systems must be developed for the use of national disease control and breeding programs.

The genetic potential of indigenous animal resources should be expressed through characterization, efficient utilization and conservation in production systems.

The use of inputs and technology for both crop and livestock production must be increased.

Policies must be introduced that give incentives to rural producers; excessive macro-economic and sector regulations must be removed.

Land use systems, property rights and input supply and services must improve. Better functioning institutions and privatization of services will be required.

Price trends: During the 1970s and early 1980s, low international prices and overvalued exchange rates significantly stimulated beef and, particularly, dairy imports. Dairy imports increased by more than 10 percent per annum over the decade in about a third of sub-Saharan African countries.

Direct price interventions reduced instability in real domestic producer prices relative to what would have prevailed under no intervention. For instance, it was estimated for five SSA countries that the coefficient of variation in real border-equivalent beef prices (at 46 percent) was as high during 1970-86 as the coefficient of variation in real domestic producer prices (given an average of 21 percent).

In general, since the mid-1980s there has been a gradual shift away from direct pricing policies that tax producers. However, in some countries, consumers still appear to gain much more than producers, with negative consequences for foreign exchange earnings and government revenues.

Market liberalization (in evidence in many African countries) is expected to provide appropriate financial incentives to producers, processors and traders. Devaluation of African currencies is also boosting domestic production by making imports too expensive.

General trends: At the national or regional levels, the relatively high price and income elasticities of livestock products in SSA indicate that prices are not likely to fall significantly, if market supplies for livestock are increased through research and development efforts. That SSA needs to meet its current needs through imports suggests that increased domestic production can be injected in the market without increasing overall supplies, which would tend to depress price. The situation of prices at the world market is likely to be different. Prices would tend to fall because of excess supply due to production subsidy policies that prevail in the USA and the European Union.



Vetches (Vicia spp.), chicklings (Lathyrus spp.), and annual medics (Medicago spp.) are key forage and pasture legumes in the Middle East and North Africa. They contribute to improving the feed supply to small ruminants as green fed or as grain and straw. They also help to interrupt the pathogen cycle in cereal crop monoculture which is now becoming widespread in MENA. ICARDA has selected a wide range of annual pasture and forage legumes suited to various cropping environments of MENA. Similarly, it has developed screening techniques available to breeders of the region to eliminate anti-nutritional factors. Chickling, also known as grass pea, is an important component of human diets in the Indian subcontinent and Ethiopia. The neuro-toxin content of traditional varieties causes unpleasant human suffering. ICARDA has now developed toxin-free lines ready for international distribution.


Constraints to production

The main constraint to ruminant livestock production in tropical America is the lack of high quality feed throughout the year and the long-term sustainability of livestock-based production systems. Improved grasses and legumes have been shown to overcome low feed quality. Further, it has been demonstrated that they have a major role in contributing to more sustainable crop-livestock and tree plantation systems. Superior forage species/accessions must exhibit good adaptation to biotic and abiotic constraints, ease and low cost of establishment in the field, ease of management and acceptability by farmers. Forage species that have widespread adaptation to soil, climatic, and biotic stresses are desirable because conditions for production of high quality seed are more restricted than for food crops and because diffusion of forage technology is simplified.

Constraints in adoption of improved forage germplasm

Specific biotic stress constraints include:

Specific abiotic stress constraints include:

Constraints in land-use management include:

Achievements in forage related research at CIAT

CIAT holds a tropical forage germplasm collection of 21,000 accessions from 150 genera and 700 species; about 3,000 samples of this germplasm are distributed annually. From intensive screening of these wild species, about 20 genera and 40 species have shown potential forages and for soil improvement. Eight grass and twelve legume accessions identified by CIAT have been released in 15 countries of Latin America and Asia.

Some specific achievements include:

Current activities

Prospects and research challenges

Meat and milk products are major agricultural products in tropical America, and demand is increasing by 2 percent per annum. Animal production is largely based on grazed pastures. There is an increasing demand for new forage components to improve the efficiency of animal production and to incorporate pasture phases in cropping systems to enhance the sustainability of these systems. In the savannas, there is a need to increase the efficiency of production as a higher proportion of land is used for cropping and as capital and labor costs increase. Improved forage systems have been shown to stabilize farm productivity, eliminating the need to clear more forest in the humid tropics and allow re-afforestation in the hillsides. The challenge is to develop and improve the technologies so they are more widely accepted by farmers.

Identification of multipurpose forage species is becoming more important, in particular, forage legumes that in addition to providing forage can be used as soil cover crops under plantations, for green manure and erosion control. Leguminous shrubs also can play an role in agroforestry situations to stabilize highly erodible areas, improve water retention, for use in fencing and to provide household fuel.

The improvement of forage technology includes the identification of new accessions of species and improvement of present cultivars that are more persistent, have wider adaption and higher quality than the existing accessions and cultivars. This involves studies on host-plant resistance of disease and insects, soil adaptation and feed quality, focused on those genera and species (as mentioned above) that have demonstrated potential. A knowledge of the mechanisms of tolerance (or for feed value-the anti-quality factors) allows efficient screening procedures to be developed for identification of superior germplasm. In some cases there will be a need to expand the germplasm base by collection. Because of the potential of wild grass and legume species to contribute to improved resource management, there is a need to ensure that the rich diversity of these species is understood and conserved through ex situ and in situ means. There is scope for close collaboration of activities between the Centers which hold genetic resources with forage and soil improvement potential. This will be achieved to some extent through the establishment of a forage genetic resource centers network.

The key to achieving breakthroughs in improved performance and utilization of forage species is the availability of skilled professionals. As resources tend to be limited for forage research, there will need to be increased collaboration between scientists within the CGIAR system, and with those from developed and developing NARS.

Adoption will depend on the identification of farmer needs and their solution with participation of the farmers and other sectors of the livestock industry. There is presently a lack of social scientists with a background in the livestock sector who can interact with biological scientists in forage research. Adoption also requires adequate supplies of low cost seed. Resources need to be sourced to develop low cost seed production and distribution systems. This may well be in association with the commercial private sector and farmer cooperatives.

In Southeast Asia, the demand is increasing for livestock products as living standards increase and for development of sustainable agricultural systems, particularly in the uplands. Improved forage species have a potential role in supplementing crop residues for animal feeding, in fallow improvement and erosion control. There are welltrained professionals in the region and close collaboration can be achieved through networking. The key to success will be an expanded range of forage germplasm, and as in Latin America, the development of forage component technology with farmer participation.

In Africa, livestock production systems are in a state of flux with a distinct move to more sedentary agriculture and integration of livestock and crops. The immediate need is for legumes for soil improvement and forages for commercial peri-urban dairying. Attention needs to be given to judicious use of native or naturalized species with some introduction for specific needs.


Africa is rich in biodiversity of both plant and animal species. Accounting for 22 percent of the Earth's landmass, the continent holds 48 percent of world's natural pastures, 13 percent of cattle and 25 percent of sheep and goats. Over 95 percent of Africa's ruminant population is indigenous and supports the majority of small-holder rural farmers for whom these genetic resources are critical as a source of food, income and secure form of investment.

Tropical and semiarid Africa has been estimated to contain 30,000 plant species. The greatest species diversity is in tropical West Africa. Africa's natural arid or semiarid rangelands are centres of origin and diversity of several forage genera widely used for livestock production. They are also important habitats of wildlife.

Genetic erosion of indigenous germplasm of both forage and livestock species is increasing in the region due to increasing human population and the related extra demands for food, land development and urbanization, as well as climate change. Destruction of rangelands has led to considerable erosion of indigenous plant and animal biodiversity from this habitat, contributing to desertification in arid and semiarid zones. In addition, controlled breeding and development of livestock breeds with a narrow genetic base to meet the demands of modern production systems have eroded the genetic diversity in livestock.

If genetic erosion continues at the current rate, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of the world's plant species could be lost by 2020. In the closed tropical forests of Africa, 6 to 14 percent of species are in danger of disappearing. Losses in animal genetic diversity are probably occurring at a similar rate.

Lack of accurate information about indigenous genetic resources is a major constraint to their conservation and utilization. The valuable indigenous African genetic resources need to be identified, characterized, utilized and preserved.

Conservation and enhanced utilization of animal genetic resources


Need for rapid increases in animal production has led to the misconception that replacement or "upgrading" of indigenous AGR with specialized exotic types will provide a "quick solution" to meet demands for increased milk and meat supply.


ILRI AGR activities have resulted in:

The Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information Database for Africa (DAGRID) contains data on 89, 52 and 53 indigenous cattle, sheep and goat breeds or strains. The database will be expanded to cover MENA, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Analyses of data from national breed evaluation programs

The analyses have been done by NARS scientists at ILRI. Results from such analyses contribute to the characterization of the breeds involved. In addition, NARS scientists obtain valuable expertise in designing breed evaluation programs and analyzing data from such programs.

Current ILRI activities

Characterization of domestic AGR using DNA technology. The first phase of the project aims at defining distinct cattle breeds in subSaharan Africa and their microevolutionary relationships and development and testing of methodologies for phenotypic characterization of AGR at farm level, including procedures for estimating rate of erosion of domestic animal diversity.

Completion of inventory of domestic AGR of mandate regions, and detailed characterization of selected AGR for resistance or tolerance to specific biotic and abiotic stresses-heat, ticks and utilization of lowquality forages.


The constraints identified above are particularly important in Africa. In Latin America, MENA and Asia, some work is already under way, primarily by NARS. Thus, the objectives of conservation and enhanced utilization are likely to be achieved in these regions well before they are in Africa where availability of human resources to carry out such activities are limited.

Future sustainable utilization of livestock genetic resources in developing countries will rely on the adaptive traits and genetic resistance of these resources. ILRI will therefore focus on strategic research aimed at identifying and manipulating genes that confer disease resistance or physiological adaptations. This research has potential global application.

Conservation and use of forage genetic resources


The major constraints to the conservation and use of Africa forage genetic resources are:



The major challenge for the future will be to characterize and use the available biodiversity to help identify adapted and more productive forages and crop residues that will alleviate the feed constraint on livestock production in developing regions. Emphasis will be given to strengthening national seed production and identifying forages for incorporation into sustainable smallholder farming systems. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force on 29 December 1993, will help national programmes to collect and conserve their biological resources and utilize them for the benefit of their countries. This should help decrease the rate of genetic erosion of forages in natural grasslands and preserve plant biodiversity for future generations.

ILRI, CIAT and ICARDA consider the genetic resources in their genebanks (which were acquired with the consent of national programmes before the Biodiversity Convention had entered into force) to be freely available and held in trust for the world community. The Centers have placed these forage genetic resources under the auspices of FAO.

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