The growing demand for livestock: will policy and institutional changes benefit poor people?

The growing demand for livestock: will policy and institutional changes benefit poor people?

The growing demand for livestock: will policy and institutional changes benefit poor people?

As global demand for meat and milk increases, many policies focus on promoting international trade in livestock and livestock products. How does this affect the community-based livestock services that poor people use, and who will benefit from the expanding global markets?

In all developingcountries, people live side-by-side with livestock. Animals are reared innearly all ecosystems, from arid high-mountain zones to low-lying deserts. Peoplebenefit from livestock in many ways:

  • Livestock are used for food, income and draught power. Their skinsare used for housing, clothing and household utensils and their dung isused for fuel and manure.
  • Livestock often provide a substantial proportion of householdwealth; livestock are the key asset in many drylandenvironments.
  • For poor families with just a few chickens or goats,livestock-derived foods (such as eggs and milk) are an important source ofnutrition, especially for children and mothers.

The 2008 WorldDevelopment Report on Agriculture surveyed 14 countries and noted that mostrural households, and 40 percent of the poorest households, own livestock. TheWorld Bank estimates that livestock are the main livelihood asset for up to 200million pastoralists and agropastoralists in arid and semi-arid environmentsworldwide. Furthermore, 35 to 90 million of these people are extremely poor.

Policy andinstitutional changes in the livestock sector, and the growing demand for meat,milk and other livestock products, will affect poor livestock producers in manyways. This issue of id21 insights examines some of the implications and suggestshow the livestock sector can focus on ‘pro-poor’ development.

The last twenty yearshave seen some important successes and promising trends in livestockdevelopment. For example, many developing country governments increasingly acceptprivate veterinary ‘para-professionals’ (people withsome level of college-based veterinary training) as appropriate for deliveringbasic animal healthcare services. Community-based workers are also officiallysanctioned in some countries, meaning more people can access some level ofanimal healthcare.

Efforts to clarifyinternational standards for livestock trade, for example sanitary standards,and make them more ‘user-friendly’ are also progressing. This may enable developingregions to export more livestock and livestock products (to developed countriesand other developing regions), without risking human or animal health.

Despite thesesuccesses, several challenges remain. Jeannette Gurung and Kanchan Lama arguethat women must play a greater role in livestock management and own animals,rather than just provide labour to look after them. Many current debates focuson how marketing and trade issues affect the livestock sector at many levels. DavidLeonard and Cheikh Ly discuss how to improve the provision of veterinaryservices at the community level. Alastair Bradstock looks at how non-governmentalorganisations can support communities dependent on livestock. Both articlesnote the important policy and legislation changes that enable the wider use ofpara-professionals, working under the supervision of professional veterinarians.

From a tradeperspective, improving animal health standards is important for two reasons.First, the high number of livestock deaths in marginal areas could be reducedby basic, private veterinary services, such as delivering vaccines and drugs. Researchshows that many livestock keepers recognise the benefits and will pay for theseservices. In areas where trade is limited by market supply problems (meaningtoo few animals for sale), more animals means more trade. This may be particularlyimportant for poorer livestock keepers, as additional animals can be traded inlocal markets and do not need to be exported.

Second, internationaltrade is based on trust between trading partners. Trust is enhanced when anexporting country can demonstrate a strong national livestock diseasesurveillance system. Para-professionals can play a key role in such systems.However, as Leonard and Ly point out, governments in developing countries havebeen slow to contract private professionals to carry out these tasks. Thisremains a major challenge.

There are currently academicdebates about whether pastoralism is still a viable livelihood option in theHorn of Africa. Ian Scoones suggests greater commercialisation of herds as oneway to strengthen pastoralist livelihoods. This seems logical, as there is agrowing demand for milk and meat in the expanding urban centres of countrieswith pastoralist populations, as well as other countries.

However, policymakersoften regard pastoralist areas as problematic, where many animals have seriousdiseases. This perception means that current international standards prevent tradewith pastoral areas. These standards are based on the assumption that eradicatingdiseases from a given area or country is the only way to guarantee livestockproducts as safe for trade. But is this assumption correct?

Ahmadu Babagana and Tim Leyland make several objections to the view thatdisease eradication is necessary to ensure the safe trade of livestock orlivestock products. The authors argue that international standards should placegreater emphasis on the risk analysis of specific livestock products and commodities,complementing disease eradication.

These commodity-basedstandards require livestock products to be processed in a way that greatlyreduces the risk of these products containing disease agents. This process isalready starting in some regions; in 2006, six private abattoirs in Somaliaexported 600,000 chilled livestock carcasses to the Gulf States. The World Organisationfor Animal Health (l'Organisation Mondiale de la SantéAnimale, or OIE) also now acknowledgesthe need to revise international standards and provide better guidance oncommodity-based trade.

In terms of pro-poordevelopment, the livestock sector faces similar challenges to otheragricultural sectors. Markets are expanding, and some international standardsare becoming more achievable, but how can poorer producers gain access to thesemarkets?

Recent models predictdramatic increases in meat and milk consumption and prices, suggesting that ahuge market is waiting to be supplied. Mark Rosegrant and Philip Thornton outlinesome opportunities and threats facing poorer livestock producers. They warnthat livestock production systems are likely to exclude poorer producers andhigher cereal prices will impact negatively upon all poor people. Althoughthere is growing recognition of the need to promote poor livestock producers ininternational trade, there are few examples to date of how to make this happen.

In his article examininga recent commercial destocking project in southern Ethiopia, Adrian Cullis explainshow investments by private export traders during drought periods led tosubstantial benefits for pastoralists. However, the export markets were fragileand later collapsed due to weak government veterinary services. This exampleoffers a glimpse of what might be possible in the long term if governments can encourageappropriate involvement from the private sector.

In areas affected byrepeated droughts, donors and United Nations agencies are beginning tounderstand the benefits of more livelihoods-based livestock programming. Thisincludes a shift towards long-term development approaches in which drought ispredicted and planned for, rather than being regarded as an unexpected ‘shock’.This move towards livelihoods-based analysis and programming is particularlyimportant in dryland areas and as a response to climate change.

Currently, somepolicymakers recognise the need to promote the participation of poorer livestockproducers in international trade. However, there are few examples of how tomake this happen. The key is to improve government policies, including anincreased commitment to poor livestock producers. The articles in this issue ofid21 insights suggest some of required policy changes within the livestocksector that will help the poorest people benefit from the predicted expansionin the sector.

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