Livestock and family farms: Boosting nutrition, incomes and resilience

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Livestock and family farms: Boosting nutrition, incomes and resilience

ROME, 15 May 2014 – "It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of livestock on family farms," says Antonio Rota, IFAD's Senior Technical Adviser for Livestock and Farming Systems.

Around the world, there are more than 500 million family farms. A huge range of livestock play key roles in the livelihood strategies of these mostly poor households. Sheep, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits, poultry, fish, bees, guinea pigs – it would be impossible to list them all.

15 May is the International Day of Families and 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming. It's a good time to take a look at the many roles livestock play on family farms.

"Small and large livestock can make a huge difference to women and men's incomes, strengthening household food and nutrition security and building resilience. And with the right support to farmers, livestock can offer a way out of poverty," says Rota.

"That's why IFAD works to enable small farmers to make the most of their livestock, protecting animal health, boosting productivity and sustainability, and linking farmers to profitable markets."

Livestock play multiple key roles on family farms: parents and children with their dairy cows in Karausi Province, Burundi. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio


Livestock produce a wide range of nutritious, protein-rich foodstuffs - such as eggs, meat, milk and cheese - thus diversifying families' diets. Manure provides fertilizer for crops and fuel for cooking, smoking processes and biogas digesters. Many animals can be used for weed control and are a vital source of traction power, maximizing the amount of land that can be cultivated and transporting goods to market. In all of these different ways, livestock contribute to the health of the family and of the family farming business.

In addition, poor rural families with no access to financial services can use livestock as a form of asset management, investing when they have extra money and selling when they need to draw down their assets. Crucially, this strengthens the families' resilience in the face of shocks, enabling them to plan for the future and to move out of poverty.

Livestock and poverty reduction
It is estimated that there are about 1 billion smallholder livestock producers in developing countries. Even landless rural people can keep some kinds of small livestock such as poultry, goats or pigs. Resource-poor women often manage small animals - for example, guinea pigs - which have traditionally been reared in large numbers in Latin America and are now even becoming popular in China.


Women often keep small livestock: breeding rabbits in El Manzano, El Salvador. ©IFAD/Pablo Corral Vega

Despite the obvious multiple benefits of livestock, IFAD's sister Rome-based agency the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 85 per cent of livestock keepers around the world are poor. On the other hand, the livestock sector is one of the fastest growing agricultural subsectors in developing countries, accounting for about 30 per cent of agricultural GDP and going far beyond direct food production.

"This makes the livestock sector highly strategic when we are working to reduce poverty and strengthen food security," says Rota.

In order to take advantage of growing demand, smallholder livestock farmers need to become more productive, efficient and environmentally sustainable. They also need support to meet the requirements of market demand coming largely from urban areas. This includes food quality, food safety and consistency of supply.

IFAD has been working with smallholder livestock producers since it began operations in 1978. The Fund is now looking at ways to scale up successful livestock interventions to reach larger numbers of smallholders with the benefits of improved production systems at farm level.

In Afghanistan, for example, IFAD is working in partnership with FAO to expand the reach of an integrated dairy scheme model that has already made major contributions to increasing incomes for dairy farmers. The model has been implemented in Afghanistan for almost a decade through FAO-led programmes, providing tailor-made solutions to the challenges that limit dairy development in the country. Participating farmers have seen milk production rise from 3.5 litres per cow per day to 12 litres, meaning that more surplus milk is available for sale and incomes are higher. Crucially, women farmers are the main beneficiaries, receiving over 90 per cent of the income earned from the milk produced and enjoying 100 per cent decision-making power in how the money earned is spent.

In order to take full advantage of the strong demand for meat, milk and other dairy products in Afghanistan, the integrated dairy scheme model has been incorporated in both ongoing IFAD-supported interventions in the country – the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Programme and the recently started Community Livestock and Agriculture Project. This latest initiative focuses on boosting the commercial viability of the country's dairy sector, while ensuring an inclusive approach that enables small farmers to connect to the dairy value chain.

Going for goats
IFAD's experience in many countries has shown that investment in goat development can be particularly effective as a tool for poverty reduction. Resource-poor households often own goats; they are hardy, adaptable creatures that can thrive in extreme environments such as deserts and mountains, where other animals don't survive. They produce meat, milk, hides and quality fibres such as cashmere and mohair, and many of these products can be processed at household level to add value. In many countries, six to eight goats can be bartered for one dairy cow.

Goat development can be effective at reducing poverty: a Tajik woman spins wool in Sogd province, Tajikistan. ©IFAD/Antonio Rota

An IFAD-supported initiative in Tajikistan has been working with women and men household members to increase their incomes from goats. With support from a grant-funded programme managed by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the men improved the goat breeding stock and the women were trained to produce higher quality fibres, including angora and cashgora. The grant was implemented in the remote rural regions of Asht and Gorno-Badakhshan.

Using the new technologies introduced by the programme, women who are proficient mohair spinners raised their daily income from about $1.50 for local yarn to over $9 for Magic Mohair. The programme has also linked the women's groups with buyers in Europe and the United States. For the men who breed and tend the goats, the introduction of imported genetics and community breeding systems improved the quality and yield of the mohair, enabling them to sell at higher prices.

This pilot-tested business model is now being scaled up through an IFAD-funded grant to the Aga Khan Foundation, which will consolidate and disseminate the successful approach. The new grant will increase the number of producers' and women's groups involved and identify more Fairtrade companies to process fibre into competitive products for export. It will replicate the model in other countries, including Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. There will also be a focus on improving women's groups' access to financial services so they can invest in their businesses, and work at policy level to improve relevant legislation and mainstream livestock-sector development into district development plans. In addition, there are plans to replicate the pilot-tested business model under IFAD loan-funded operations in Tajikistan, the Plurinational State of Bolivia and Lesotho.



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