Dairy development can strengthen Caribbean agriculture
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Saul, Hugh. 1991. Dairy development can strengthen Caribbean agriculture . Spore 33. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45513
Hugh Saul, a native of Guyana, qualified as a manager. In recent years he has managed agricultural research and development projects in the Caribbean for several international and regional organizations. He is currently the Deputy Executive Director...
Hugh Saul, a native of Guyana, qualified as a manager. In recent years he has managed agricultural research and development projects in the Caribbean for several international and regional organizations. He is currently the Deputy Executive Director (Development) of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Livestock development contributes to national agricultural output, so saving foreign exchange on imports, and can be a powerful stimulus to change among small and subsistence farmers. Small-scale dairying has been shown to be a harbinger of new disciplines and management practices that can be applied with great benefit in other agricultural enterprises. Agriculture in the Caribbean, in common with most ACP countries, is based mainly on crops rather than livestock. In the recent past, export crops have been predominant in terms of national priority and farmer prestige. Except in a few countries, livestock have been relegated to marginal lands and they have been farmed mostly in traditional ways to produce meat, hides and a little milk. Only in rare instances have they received supplementary feeding and other improved management techniques, such as pest and disease control on a sustained basis. Nor has livestock performance been recorded so as to permit more selective breeding and more advantageous feeding. Yet, in the Caribbean certainly, and possibly in many countries in Africa and the Pacific, the potential for improving livestock output is substantial and, with the improvement of livestock, comes the potential for the improvement of under-developed agriculture in general. As a result of the Caribbean region's specialization in export crops such as sugar, bananas, cotton, cocoa, coconut and spices, food self-sufficiency has suffered and costs of imported foods have risen. Livestock products, and feeds for livestock, now account for 53% of the total food import bill. These imports include meat, and the full range of dairy products: liquid milk, butter and cheese. Grains and soya beans are also imported at considerable cost to feed the relatively modest livestock sector that does exist. Only recently have we begun to realise that the Caribbean is quite capable of growing excellent pasture grasses and legumes and in addition has available a range of suitable animal feed from byproducts of our traditional export crops and their associated industries. Also, the Caribbean has long had its own breeds of cattle and sheep adapted to the region and with a proven track record as milk and meat producers: the Jamaica Hope and Jamaica Red cattle, the Barbados Blackbelly sheep and the Buffalypso, a beef strain of water buffalo developed in Trinidad. Resource-poor farmers wisely avoid overdependence on any single farm enterprise and so initially livestock are required for more than one purpose: and in the case of cattle, for meat and milk. But it is milk production which may have the most interesting potential. Dairying is a challenge in that it requires high standards of management to breed and feed animals in order to achieve regular and sustained production of a sufficient quantity and quality of milk. Dairying also demands development of a collection, processing and distribution infrastructure if it is to go beyond the level- of localized self-sufficiency. But if these twin challenges (on and off the farm) are met, the benefits permeate other sectors of agricultural production, processing and distribution. Experience in Western Europe and in North America showed that the development of milk production for urban centres provided the financial, technical and management catalyst to farming in general. The most immediate benefit of milk production is the regular income it provides virtually all-year-round. To produce milk of saleable quality, disciplines of regular milking and hygiene must be practiced. Records must be kept to itemize milk sold and to identify high-yielding animals that need supplementary feeding and whose female calves should be retained for breeding. To be productive, pastures need year-round management including timely grazing, cutting for conservation and fertilizing. Since milk should be produced throughout the year, cows must be mated so that calving and lactations are spread. The farmer who is introduced to these disciplines will surely also apply them to his or her other farm enterprises. CARDI has identified three main problems that must be addressed if the Caribbean States are to achieve their potential in livestock production: the improvement of management of all classes of livestock, including control of parasites; the upgrading of livestock, particularly sheep and goats, by crossing with improved breeds; and the development of our pasture grasses, legumes and forage tree species to substitute for imported feedstuffs. A new generation of young people is entering agriculture in the Caribbean. They are open to new ideas and will respond to farming systems that offer the stimulus of more technical inputs in place of the drudgery of past agricultural practices. Where governments have provided the right incentives by managing imports and encouraging infrastructure, the signs are that our farmers are interested in developing livestock, particularly dairying, as part of their farm production and that, as a result, the entire farm output will benefit. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA.