Livestock for the landless
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CTA. 1993. Livestock for the landless. Spore 46. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49170
There are several kinds of animals that are utilized only locally or regionally but which could be of much wider economic and social importance. Some are hunted or collected in the wild and others are kept in backyards or even inside houses. They...
There are several kinds of animals that are utilized only locally or regionally but which could be of much wider economic and social importance. Some are hunted or collected in the wild and others are kept in backyards or even inside houses. They are not included in most calculations on food production, resource utilization or other aspects of socio-economic planning. Yet many of these species deserve more attention, particularly where agricultural land is scarce or is unavailable for the production of more conventional livestock. Population growth, fragmentation of land holdings, poverty and increasing urbanization are resulting in ever larger numbers of individuals in many ACP countries trying to produce food without access either to any or to adequate land. In some countries almost half the population is under 15 years of age; those entering the labour market within the next decade and a half are already born. Governments face the twin challenge of ensuring sufficient food and employment for their citizens. Yet there are opportunities for both these needs to be met, at least in part, simultaneously. It is possible for the landless and near-landless, both rural and urban, to grow crops and undertake livestock enterprises that can enhance production from limited land or even without any land beyond the backyard or even the flat roof of a house. Crop production using tyre gardens and pot and trough culture was discussed in Spore 44. There are also many options for those with little or no land to keep livestock for their own needs and possibly for the sale of livestock products. The vast majority and bulk of livestock products - meat, milk, hides and fibres - are derived from animals that require substantial areas of land. Cattle, sheep and goats are usually kept extensively, ranging over pastures and sometimes fallow fields after crops have been harvested. Grazing animals may also be kept in enclosures or on tethers with food supplied to them on a cut-and-carry system (zero grazing) and, in certain circumstances, people with little or no land can and do exploit these options (See Spore 33 'A future employment trend - the urban farmer' and 'Breeding goats for intensive management.'). But large ruminants require substantial quantities of forage, which is unlikely to be accessible to the most disadvantaged people, and water, which may be scarce. Large animals also produce quantities of urine and dung that smell, attract flies and thereby may cause nuisance and offense to neighbours. Pigs can also be penned and have the further advantage that they can be fed household wastes. However, strong walls or fencing are required to restrain pigs and their manure is even more odorous and attractive to flies. Also religious taboos limit their general utility and may even cause strife between neighbours where residents are of differing religions. Several,dwarf species of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs are native to the tropics and these are obviously better suited to where ]and, feed, water supplies, and dung disposal facilities are limited. However, there are other forms of livestock which offer many advantages where there is little or no land available to provide for their feed or housing, where water supplies are distant or scarce, and where people are living at high densities. Strong demand, weak supply In some countries even the relatively prosperous middle class may consume less meat in a year than westerners do in a month or even a week. Diets may be starch-based with a little relish and consequently are not only boring but lacking in essential amino acids most readily available in animal protein - meat. This craving for meat is met in part by occasional hunting and collecting small mammals, particularly various large herbivorous rodents, as well as birds and invertebrates. Increased hunting to meet this unsatisfied demand has caused a drastic fall in numbers of all preferred species. Another human activity that has caused species to decline is destruction of habitat, usually forest cover. In the case of giant African snails (Achatina and Archachatina spp) which are popular in Benin, C\F4te d'lvoire, Ghana and Nigeria, numbers have also been adversely affected by the increasingly widespread use of agricultural pesticides. Consumption of 'bushmeat' is difficult to document and few figures are available but it has been estimated that the consumption of snail meat in C\F4te d'lvoire is almost 8000 tonnes annually. Almost everywhere demand outstrips supply and consequently any increase in price puts even more pressure on remaining wild stocks. To conserve these valuable though under-estimated food sources for the future, decisions must be taken to regulate harvesting from the wild and to initiate widespread domestication and breeding. There are many ongoing attempts to raise many of these animal species under captive or domesticated conditions but more research and extension effort is required to make them and their potential as livestock for landless people better known. In additional there are several domesticated species among them the rabbit, guinea pig and pigeons or doves, which could be kept more widely by landless people. Already domesticated All domesticated rabbits have been bred from the European rabbit over the last 1500 years. It is kept throughout the world for food and for its fur or skin. In some places there is even a market for rabbit paws and tails as good luck charms. There are many breeds, which vary in size, colour, quality of skin, disease susceptibility, heat tolerance, food conversion and reproduction performance. GeneralIy the smaller breeds, and those with long ears, thrive better in hot climates. The ears help to dissipate excess body heat. Rabbits are herbivorous and can utilize a wide range of vegetable food, including kitchen garden trimmings and plants collected from the roadside which are coarse and high in fibre. They also eat their own faeces, which increases digestive efficiency. Under ideal conditions rabbits can grow almost as fast as broiler chickens and do so on much less expensive feedstuffs. Their potential to produce meat can be demonstrated by comparing 300 rabbits with a steer or bullock. Both have the same body weight and both require approximately one tonne of hay to grow 109kg of meat. However, whereas the steer will take 120 days to achieve this, the 300 rabbits wild do so in only 30 days. Several ACP countries in Africa have had rabbit raising programmes, among them Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia. Ghana has been particularly successful through the National Rabbit Project, under which programme farmers have been provided with breeding stock and practical information on rearing rabbits. However, to qualify, those wishing to benefit from the NRP are required to take an intensive three-day course in rabbit husbandry. Since rabbits originated in Europe, they are best suited to temperate conditions. However, some tropical strains have been developed, including the Baladi, the main breed kept in Sudan and the Near East. Caribbean countries could consider the Criollo, developed in Mexico. Even non-adapted breeds can thrive in tropical conditions if they are housed in hutches that are well ventilated and sited to take advantage of shade and cooling breezes. However, they must be protected from rain and hutches must not be allowed to become wet and dirty or disease and mortality will be high. Guinea pigs or cavies originated in South America but are now increasingly popular for meat production elsewhere, including West Africa. They also have a long history of domestication and several types or strains with variations in size, colour and hair length are available. Guinea pigs tolerate high temperatures better than rabbits and now that 'supers guinea pig strains are being bred, which grow both larger and faster than the original stock, they could be utilized more widely in other parts of Africa and in the Caribbean and Pacific. Husbandry presents few problems since guinea pigs, like rabbits, will live in close confinement in relatively small enclosures and respond well to handling. Their diet is similar to the rabbit's and it has been estimated that 20 females and 2 males can produce enough meat throughout the year for a family of six. In southern Nigeria as many as 10% of households usually keep guinea pigs with colonies of up to 30 animals per household. Their feeding efficiency is better than that of most farm animals, taking 3.5-6.0kg of forage to produce 1 kg of meat. Even so, recent studies have shown that guinea pigs have not always achieved their full potential because of what is termed 'negative selection'. There is a tendency for families to choose the largest animals for killing and, in free-breeding colonies,this removes the largest males, leaving smaller animals to breed. Extension could educate households of the need to select their breeding animals and those for consumption more systematically. Pigeons and doves are a form of poultry which have considerable potential. Because they are free-flying, they can scavenge a very high proportion of their diet and they can be housed very economically in modest-sized dovecotes which provide both night roosts and a place to breed. Dove-cotes can be placed on flat roofs or on the gable-end of houses and pigeons and doves have been kept successfully in the centre of cities and on small coral islands, both situations where space is at a premium. Some adult birds can be lost to dogs and cats and human predation while away from their dovecote but most are wary and quick to fly in the presence of other animals and humans that are strangers. Pigeons tend to pair for life and a pair can produce 10-14 young each year. It is the young 'squabs` or pre-fledged birds that are killed for meat. Potential for domestication The various herbivorous rodents which are already popular as 'bush meat' could be domesticated relatively easily. This would provide a source of meat and income and would relieve pressure on depleted, in some cases almost extinct, wild stocks. Agricultural extension services in Benin, Cameroon, C\F4te d'lvoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo have been encouraging farmers to rear grass cutters, also known as cane rats (Thryonomys). In many cases breeding stock has been provided and information given on breeding and feeding. Many people believe that this animal could become the African equivalent of the guinea pig and could play an important role in reducing Africa's chronic protein shortage. The giant or pouched rat (Cricetomys) also has potential over much of Africa. It is gentle and easy to handle and grows to 1.5kg. Research at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria has been developing techniques for managing them in captivity. Species occur which are adapted to dry Sahelian conditions and to the humid rain forest zone of central Africa. In the Caribbean, the lutias (Capromys) and (Geocapromys) are rodents native to Cuba and Jamaica respectively; and in the Pacific the edible rats of New Guinea (Mallomys) and the Solomons (Solomys) have been hunted almost to extinction. Again, domestication could relieve pressure on remainig wild populations and could offer animals ideally adapted to local climates and food supplies and for which demand is already proven. The agouti (Dasyprocta) of Western Africa is another rabbit-sized rodent that could suit the needs of Caribbean countries looking for an alternative to rabbits and guinea pigs. Invertebrates Bees, silkworms and snails are three very small forms of livestock with many economic advantages. Bees are perhaps best known world-wide, but are not suitable for crowded urban environments because of their habitual swarming and their sting. Where there is some small area of land, however, and particularly where that land can be planted to nectar-bearing crops, shrubs and trees, beehives can be sited to minimise risk to neighbours and to produce a useful crop of honey with minimum effort and little or no supplementary feeding. Another insect species, now being introduced cautiously into Africa, is the silkworm. Small-scale sericulture and silk production have been introduced into Zimbabwe and they are seen as having considerable potential for providing alternative employment and income-generating opportunities. The NGO Intermediate Technology (IT) is involved with what is to be a pilot project in the Eastern Highlands. Silkworms feed on the leaves of mulberry and two mulberry plantations have been established. Already a local market for cocoons has been established with a commercial silk company and the IT project is to promote post-cocoon activities such as hand reeling and weaving the silk. There is also a great potential for producers of snails, another delicacy in West Africa, the demand for which again outstrips supply. There are many species and not all are edible; those with the greatest relevance to ACP countries are the 'giant' or 'lend snails' Achatina and Archachatina species. Good husbandry requires careful planning since snails are susceptible to dehydration, over-heating, infectious diseases, parasites and predators. However, once a good routine is established, it is not difficult to produce a regular supply of snails for domestic consumption and sale Joseph Cobbinah a Ghanaian researcher describes in a forthcoming CTA publication, in very practical terms both the potential for snail meat, its high quality (12-16% protein, 45-50 mg/kg iron and only 0.5-0.8% fat), and how to establish snail culture. He also points out the huge potential for exporting snails: France alone is estimated to require 50.000 tonnes annually, of which about two-thirds are imported. Italy consumes over 300 million snails each year and the US imports several million dollars worth of snails annually. Since a wide variety of leaves, vegetables, fruits, tubers and flowers are suitable food plants, the potential is considerable for adding value to surplus vegetable matter by converting into premium saleable meat. The way ahead Where currently wild species are to be domesticated a certain degree of trial and error will have to be accepted while experience is gained on optimum housing, feeding and breeding. Some experience already exists and could be drawn upon by those wishing to embark on production of the species reviewed. One word of caution is necessary. When considering species new to a region, no animal should be chosen which, by escaping, would become a pest. There have been many occasions in the past when this has happened and the difficulties of controlling the pest have far outweighed the benefits of its initial introduction. It is easy to confuse the illusion of choice with the reality of economics. There are already several viable options of livestock species suited to the needs of landless and near-landless people but care must be taken to choose species best adapted to particular climates, food sources and local social customs and preferences. Research information is available for the long-domesticated species and extension services can draw upon these to promote those considered most appropriate.