Sheep in the tropics: an undervalued resource
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CTA. 1993. Sheep in the tropics: an undervalued resource. Spore 48. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49258
Sheep, like other domesticated ruminant species, have adapted to a wide range of environments from the temperate regions through to the humid tropics, including some of the world's most arid areas. Unlike the commercial production systems - both...
Sheep, like other domesticated ruminant species, have adapted to a wide range of environments from the temperate regions through to the humid tropics, including some of the world's most arid areas. Unlike the commercial production systems - both extensive and intensive - commonly found in the developed world, sheep production in the ACP countries remains largely traditional and sheep are also too often an undervalued resource. Small-scale. family based, systems are commonly found throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and sub-saharan Africa, where sheep are usually kept as a component in mixed farming practices. Sheep, being prolific. provide an attractive return on investment to resource-poor farmers. Unlike cattle, initial investment is lower and lambs offer a more flexible product. It is easy to sell a lamb to cover outgoings such as school fees, farm inputs (seeds and fertilizer), or to cover social or religious commitments. Sheep sales can tide a family over the critical pre-harvest period when last season's food reserves are running out. In many communities women may also own and benefit from sheep ownership rather than just looking after them. Throughout the ACP countries there are numerous breeds of sheep many of which have not been fully documented. However all, to varying degrees, have adapted to their local environments. For example, recent results from ILCA have shown that Red Maasai sheep show genetic resistance to endoparasites in their home ranges in coastal Kenya. Some other notable breeds include the trypanotolerant West Africa Dwarf (Djallonk\E9); the large, fat-tailed Sudanese Desert; the Macina wool breed from Niger; the fat-rumped Black Head Persian; and the prolific Barbados Blackbelly. now widespread throughout the Caribbean and used in crossing programmes with local breeds elsewhere. Traditional systems Apart from the presence of adapted breeds one other factor distinguishes traditional production systems, almost without exception: they operate with minimal inputs. Cash inputs are rare and labour is usually provided by the family - often the children. Feed is rarely purchased. with animals depending on common grazing, crop residues and browse. Other inputs such as mineral supplements and prophylactic treatment are rarely provided, even if they are available. Yet, even under such conditions, sheep remain productive animals, converting available feed resources into valuable products. Sheep are prolific. Although multiple births are less common than with goats, in the tropics they usually produce young three times in two years. This enables most breeds to rear around 1.5 lambs per ewe per year. Although goats have larger litter sizes, work with dwarf sheep and goats in Nigeria has shown that sheep are more efficient meat producers. This is due to the greater survival rate and superior growth of the lambs. The main constraint to increased productivity. for both species, is the high pre-weaning mortality that often exceeds 30%. Even so, sheep provide resource-poor farmers with an appreciating resource, producing a valuable and flexible product, at minimum costs and risk. More for less The almost 'something for nothing' attribute of traditional production systems makes such low input practices difficult to change. Most farmers have limited resources - cash, labour and land - and, therefore' carefully examine the opportunity-cost of how they use them. Often it is hard to justify risking additional scarce inputs when there are so many other demands on such resources. The challenge therefore is to introduce husbandry practices of demonstrable benefit, with minimal additional inputs or risk. Within any community there are producers who get more from their sheep than other farmers. Identifying what makes them different and then bringing others up to their standards, probably offers one of the easiest routes to increased production. Simple interventions can be implemented such as ensuring water is always available; the strategic use of feed resources - concentrating on the late gestation and early lactation periods; and adequate and clean shelters especially at lambing. All can significantly increase farm production and are all within the scope of farmers without recourse to any significant increase in investment. The demand for sheep meat is largely related to disposable income which, in many ACP countries, has stagnated. However, mutton is a readily acceptable and often a preferred meat. There are also niche markets to be exploited. In Islamic countries sheep command high prices during the main religious festivals. And in the Caribbean tourism is a growing industry with a demend for quality meat that could be supplied by a local sheep industry. As these markets expand, the opportunity to develop more specialised production will increase. For example, fattening enterprises developing in proximity to either the main markets or where surplus feeds exist, such as agro-industrial by-products. It is easy to envisage, as national economies pick-up, a stratification of sheep industries in developing countries, with the smallholder and pastoral sectors supplying stock for finishing in more specialized fattening enterprises. It is the responsibility of the research and extension agencies to ensure that the technical expertise and training is available to allow these enterprises to succeed when the economic environment is right. There are now two well-established networks in Africa and Latin America/Caribbean, which allow for the exchange of information for those associated with sheep development. These are: The Small Ruminant Research Network c/o International Livestock Centre for Africa P.O.Box 5689 Addis Ababa. ETHIOPIA and Central American and Carihhean Agroforestry and Small Ruminant Network (AGROVICAP) c/o CATIE 7170 Turrialba. COSTA RICA