Animal power: Outdated or underestimated?
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CTA. 1988. Animal power: Outdated or underestimated?. Spore 18. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44966
People have used animals as beasts of burden and of cultivation since the early days of agriculture. Buffalo, cattle, horses, donkeys, mules, camels, elephants and even dogs have played crucial roles in food production and transportation in a...
People have used animals as beasts of burden and of cultivation since the early days of agriculture. Buffalo, cattle, horses, donkeys, mules, camels, elephants and even dogs have played crucial roles in food production and transportation in a variety of environments. Increasingly, they have been replaced by motors but, with the costs rising for machines, spare parts, and fuel, the potential of animal power must be re-examined Draught animals are still in use in most ACP countries even though in reduced numbers. Could numbers be increased and could draught animals be introduced into areas where they were previously unknown, now that factors that prevented their use in the past have changed? Until recently, for example, Africa had a low population density that enabled slash and burn agriculture which was not suited to animal drawn implements which would constantly snag on tree roots. Also, in many parts of Africa the tsetse fly and trypanosomiasis precluded the use of draught animals. However now that the tsetse fly has been cleared from parts of its previous range, cattle, horses, donkeys and mules can play a major role in relieving farmers of the drudgery of hand cultivation and even seeding and weeding. For instance, in West Africa, where more than 90% of food is still produced by small farmers, production is still from small plots of land using such simple tools as the axe, machete and hoe. Using these traditional implements, and a great deal of human energy, a farmer can cultivate up to two hectares of savanna land or half this amount in forest areas. The use of draught animals can dramatically increase the area under cultivation. In some savanna sites in West Africa, where the oxplough has been successfully introduced over the last 30 years, a team of two oxen can cultivate up to 15 ha although 6 ha is the usual average. Importance of tradition Significantly, the greatest level of success with draught animals occurs where the people have a tradition of both animal husbandry and cultivation, such as among the Fulani in the Gomba district of Nigeria. Pastoralists take readily to using animal power because of their understanding of both nutrition and disease and because they are used to handling animals, which is a small step to harnessing, training and controlling them in work. In Burkina Faso, oxen were introduced in an area where 95% of farmers had only hand tools. The use of the animals resulted in increased food production, reduced waste and improved soil fertility. In addition, farmers' incomes were raised, jobs were provided for local craftsmen (making harnesses, ploughs and harrows) and the quality of life for many people in these rural communities was improved. Traditionally, men have been responsible for most of the land clearance and cultivation and women have been the seeders and weeders. So, it is important that where draught power is introduced for cultivation its impact on women's workload in seeding and weeding is anticipated. Now that ox-drawn seeders and weeding tools are available, it is essential that they too are introduced or the greater amount of cultivated land will overwhelm the available female labour force, and potential increases in productivity will be lost through late planting and uncontrolled weed competition. This may require some adjustment of attitudes to male and female roles since it is usual for men and boys to work draught animals and women to hand labour, and both sexes need to see the advantages of redistribution of responsibilities and workload Where there is no tradition of animal husbandry, for instance in previously forested areas, the successful introduction of draught animals can take longer and succeeds only if it is complemented by introducing farming families to animal nutrition, forage production, and animal health and handling. Any natural reluctance towards, and even fear of, livestock must be overcome by building up the knowledge and confidence which lead to competence. Alternative to mechanization Despite the apparent advantages and attraction of mechanized equipment, under the conditions found in most ACP countries draught animals often prove to be a better option. A World Bank report which examined tractor-hire projects in sub-Saharan Africa found that animals were better suited to Africa's unique conditions. Its relatively thin soil is easily damaged by tractors and all tree stumps in cleared areas have to be removed for tractors to operate satisfactorily -thus increasing the risk of soil erosion -- whereas animals can work even if a few stumps remain. The Bank report also concluded that mechanization in Africa merelysaves labour and, in a finding that could have considerable repercussions in developing countries in general, the report states that changing from hoes to tractor ploughs 'hardly affects yields at all'. Consequently, the introduction of mechanized equipment simply causes a loss of jobs. 'As long as wages are low, draught animals are more costeffective than tractors,' was the conclusion of the report. The running and replacement cost of mechanized equipment is proving increasingly unaffordable for small and even medium-sized farmers in ACP countries and breakdowns or fuel shortages at critical times of the year can jeopardize a harvest. In contrast, draught animals can be bred locally and feed can also be produced on the farm. Draught animals also produce significant quantities of dung, which is valuable for maintaining soil fertility, and the animals can be consumed at the end of their working life. In some situations, animals actually increase in value as they mature and put on weight. For example, in Togo, a two-year old bull calf weighing 200 kg and costing about 40,000 CFA, five years later would be worth 80,000 CFA (based on 1985 prices). However, keeping draught animals is not without cost, and for subsistence farmers who cultivate one or two hectares there are economic risks. In many seasonally arid regions, draught animals are needed for cultivation for only a few weeks of the year and trained oxen may spend ten months each year doing little or no work. Using cows for draught as well as for milk and calf production offers a way of reducing the cost disadvantage of oxen. In a number of countries in Asia, cows are commonly used for draught where feed for livestock is scarce. The use of cows for draught has also been reported in Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia Oxen have the advantage of greater size and strength to provide a greater work output than cows, but a two draught cow system can produce approximately the same work output as an ox plus two non-draught cow system and yet uses 28% less energy input. This represents a considerable annual saving of fodder. If cows are well fed, the effects of work may be negligible. Obviously, cows cannot be used for draught for about two months when they calve but the timing of matings can ensure that parturition and peak work demand do not coincide. It is noteworthy that the small N'Dama cattle of Sierra Leone have proved useful draught animals despite their size Draught animals for forestry The elephant has long been associated with timber extraction in the forests of southeast Asia but oxen, horses and mules have also been used widely and successfully in many countries. Teak in Java is hauled from felling site to trucking point by teams of two oxen. In Zimbabwe, mules and oxen have been used for many years; and in Malawi trials have shown that trained pairs of oxen are an alternative to tractor skidding. By 1985, there were 230 skidding oxen engaged in logging operations at five major government-owned plantations in Malawi and a study was carried out to establish the relative benefits of ox and tractor skidding. In forest thinnings, the cost of skidding logs using an agricultural tractor proved to be 3.5 times greater for downhill skidding than oxen; and on flat terrain tractors were 7.6 times more costly than oxen. Of these costs, expenditure on imported goods was 59-99 times greater for tractors than for oxen skidding. The same trend was apparent for clearfelling as for thinnings and the overall financial advantage of using oxen rather than tractors was found to be twice as great in three-row thinning as in clearfelling and to be greater on flat than on steep terrain. Although it is often considered more prestigious to work with tractors, this study revealed that a worker using oxen is likely to be more selfreliant The future If draught animals are to be used more widely they must be used more effectively. However, despite their widespread use less is known about the draught capabilities and feed requirements of the various species used than about livestock kept for meat and milk. Several research centres are now making up this 'lost ground' including the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine (CTVM) in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Central American School of Animal Husbandrv in Costa Rica. ILCA is appropriately based in Ethiopia, a country having the largest draught animal population in Africa -- perhaps 50% of the continent's draught animals. Research has included nutrition studies and has led to the development of improved harnesses and new designs of cultivating implements and soil scrapers for small dam construction. CTVM staff have served in a wide range of countries throughout the tropics and their studies have provided useful information on metabolic rates and energy demand under varying work conditions and the benefits of using new harness designs which are less restricting than traditional designs and transfer draught power more efficiently. At the Central American School of Animal Husbandry in Costa Rice, a two-year study recently concluded that oxen use less energy and may be more efficient work animals than previously accepted. FAO figures show that oxen use 2.5 times their basic energy requirements when they are being worked but the new study suggests a figure 33% less than this. The Costa Rica study also found that the type of work done by an ox has little effect on its energy expenditure. Light work, such as pulling a cart, used up the same amount of energy as ploughing. This also contradicts past research The quality of fodder as well as food consumption have a critical effect; oxen on poor diets could not increase their consumption of food to match the energy expended when working. Only by increasing the quality of food eaten could animals maintain bodyweights and keep up the workload. Where food quality is poor, therefore, it is better to have two oxen (or cows) doing what work they can rather than use one animal which is soon exhausted. This is an important finding which could have a significant impact in the tropics. The failure of the single-ox cultivation programme in Ethiopia may be partly a result of this factor. Overall, the potential of draught animals in Africa is considerable and this may also be the case in the Caribbean and Pacific. Now that research is providing new information, extension services may develop soundly-based programmes for the introduction or further development of draught animal power in areas where the demands for greater productivity cannot be met by hand labour and where mechanization is neither available nor economic. REFERENCES Lawrence. P. and A Smith. 1988. 'A better beast of burden'. New Scientisl 21 July Pugali. P. L Y. Bigot and H . P. Binswanger, 1987. Agricultural mechanization and the evolution of farming systems. World Bank Gibbon, D., 1987. 'Equipping small farmers', Appropriate TechnologyVol 14 (1) 'Draught Animal News' No. 8, Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Edinburgh