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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 3: Environment and resource management
close this folderAgricultural development in the age of sustainability: Livestock production
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentLivestock production, productivity, and feed resources
View the documentThe effect of government policy on livestock production
View the documentSuggested solutions
View the documentSummary and conclusions
View the documentReferences

Suggested solutions

It can be seen that the present livestock production, based on global grazing husbandry systems, ecological destruction through bush fires, and overgrazing due to high stocking density in areas where feed or water resources cannot support the number of animals, does not augur well for present and future productivity and sustainability.

What then are the solutions to ensure sustenance of the ecosystem and its herbage and tree shrubs cover and of the grazing livestock species for the future economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa?

Livestock production is still very much based on traditional systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, even in such agriculturally advanced countries as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, or Egypt. One would have thought that, with a large number of livestock research institutions and faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine in the region, a newer and more modern approach to livestock enterprise would have provided the answer for future productivity and the sustainability of both animals and the environment. It is true that old habits die hard and, therefore, the traditional herding system will continue in many African countries.

It will not be possible drastically to change the cultural and socioeconomic status of the livestock producers for at least another decade. It has, however, been shown that their production systems are more efficient in terms of livestock product yield per animal per unit area, probably because of their husbandry knowledge and complete devotion to their vocation. Large-scale farms with modern techniques of production are not the only way to sustain productivity. They are too capital and labour intensive to guarantee a profit compared with the low-input systems of traditional owners. A lot of large-scale livestock and arable farmers have failed in many countries, Nigeria being a good example. Indeed, it has been shown that in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, and Mali the contribution of communal livestock production to the national animal protein yield is greater than that from commercial ranching enterprises in terms of kg of protein production per hectare per year (Barrett 1992). For these and other reasons, our attention must be primarily focused on how to improve the traditional systems, to introduce simple and adaptable innovations and techniques to enhance productivity and yet protect the environment from being abused to the extent of irreversible degradation.

Suggested solutions for sustaining the productivity of both the livestock and plant species for future development are therefore centred on the following strategies:

1. improved animal genetic resources to meet future needs;
2. improved nutrition;
3. improved management;
4. government policies and commitments;
5. active participation by the private sector.

Improved animal genetic make-up

Modern ideas about animal production are mostly based on: the use of big-engineering to improve on the genetics of various animal species for higher output, embryo transfer, and immuno-genetics; artificial insemination and cross-breeding for quick genetic gain in heterosis; improvement of reproductive efficiency through the use of hormones and drugs to improve fertility rates. Developments in breeding animals with increased resistance to diseases and pests as well as in animal health and disease control through vaccine production are major contributions. Recombinant DNA technology has of recent years offered remarkable opportunities for restructuring animal phenotypes and ability to withstand viral and bacterial diseases. Cross-breds, if so adopted, would yield more meat (through faster growth) and higher milk output in a relatively short time. The goal of all these techniques is to produce a biologically efficient animal species for each ecosystem. However useful these techniques are, they are too advanced to be used by the present-day resource-poor subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, but could be of advantage in future to conserve the ecosystem and yet increase livestock production to meet the needs of the year 2000. For the next decade, emphasis should be on animal health through effective control of "economic diseases" such as gastroenteritis due to helminth parasites, streptothricosis, trypanosomiasis, and other chronic diseases that give rise to wastage owing to abortion, infertility, stillbirths, and unthriftiness, and even deaths.

Improved nutrition

Improved nutrition is the key factor. One way of achieving it is through increased crop yields, because grains and tubers are used to supplement natural grasses. Other methods are: effective management and utilization of natural pastures; feed resources conservation; and use of arable crop wastes.

At present, the global grazing orbit is declining owing to physical development (roads, new HQs, etc.) and the expansion of cultivated land as a result of large agricultural schemes. Therefore, better and more efficient management of range land is essential, e.g. controlled grazing, controlled stocking density, avoidance of bush fires, range reseeding, and water supply.

In order to conserve feed resources, silage and hay could be made from high-quality grass and legumes, and agricultural crop residues such as groundnut and cowpea tops could be conserved when the nutritive value of the plants used is high. Unfortunately, the inputs for such technology (tractors, bailers, etc.) are hard to come by for many peasant livestock farmers.

Within the past two decades, the mechanization of agriculture for crop production has contributed immensely to increases in cereal crop production and therefore in crop residues. However, it must be noted that mechanized farming has also physically contributed to soil degradation, resulting in deterioration of the soil structure and compaction of the subsoil (Anande-Kur 1992). These effects in themselves render the soils prone to erosion. The integration of livestock and crop production systems on a given land area can improve soil fertility through the output of organic manure by the animals and the more effective utilization of crop residues.

The utilization of crop residues for increased animal protein production has received greater research attention within the past decade because of the higher quantities of crop residue, especially from sorghum, maize, and millet, and partly because of the astronomical increase in the prices of agricultural by-products such as wheat and maize offal residue used for livestock feed, groundnut and cotton seed cake, and brewers dried grain. The importance of crop residue in the dry season feeding of ruminants in the Northern Guinea Savannah has long been recognized. Van Raay and de Leeuw (1971) estimated that crop residue grazing accounts for 85 per cent of total grazing time from the harvest period in December, declining to 40 per cent in February in the Sudan Sahel zone of Nigeria. Alhassan (1985) estimated that for every kg of grain harvested, there are 4 kg dry matter of straw from sorghum, 8 kg from millet, and 4 kg from maize straw. From table 12.4 it can be seen that approximately 16.4 million metric tonnes of sorghum straw and 23.2 million metric tonnes of millet straw were available in Nigeria in 1980/81 from 6.1 million hectares of sorghum and 4.5 million hectares of millet, respectively. This may apply to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where these crops are grown on a large scale. By treating this straw with non-protein nitrogen sources or chemicals (e.g. urea, ammonia, and sodium hydroxide) the lignin content will be degraded and the feed value and palatability enhanced. If animal feed is supplied in this way, further destruction of the ecosystem by way of bush fires for early grass growth and overgrazing when feed resource is scanty can be prevented or minimized. Here again, education of the stock rearers about the need to settle and adopt such simple technologies is essential. Other agricultural by-products with great potential for animal feed include sugarcane tops, molasses, bagasse, discarded cocoa beans, pineapple tops, and other rejects.

Table 12.4 Estimated areu sown to sorghum and millet and their grain and straw producffon for venous cropping years




  Area Grain production Estimated straw Area Grain production Estimated straw
  (ha m.) (m.t) (m.t) (ha m) (m.t.) (m.t.)
1964/65 5.6 4.2 16.8 4.4 2.7 21.6
1969/70 5.8 4.3 17.2 4.2 3.2 25.6
1974/75 4.8 3.9 15.6 4.0 2.6 20.8
1980/81 6.1 4.1 16.4 4.5 2.9 23.2

Source: Nuru (1986).

It can be seen that, for optimum resource usage, there is an urgent need for an integrated approach to livestock development for increased product availability at reasonable or affordable prices and enhanced natural resource management and conservation.

Similarly, the use of microbes has greatly enhanced our knowledge about the production and utilization of better nutrients to feed various species of animals for a higher output of meat, milk, and milk products. In addition, modern trends in production make use of anabolic steroids - a combination of progesterones, oestrogen, testosterone, and zeasolone (plant origin) - as feed additives to promote faster growth and therefore higher output; growth hormones to increase milk production in lactating cows; and ionospheres (antibiotics) and coccidiostats in poultry. These drugs are mentioned only in passing here, because the level of education, socio-economic status, and acceptance of these new techniques by the majority of livestock producers cannot at present be guaranteed. Only a few enlightened farmers in southern Africa are able to use these technologies. More appropriate and simple technological innovations therefore need greater emphasis.

Improved management techniques


Change from a free-range production system to an acceptable marketoriented and sedentary system could be considered. Most of the destruction of ecosystems is due to bush burning, overgrazing, and lack of adequate water points. A more sedentary husbandry system with higher input and higher output could be desirable in some agroecological areas. This would not be easy in the arid zone, but it would be possible in the semi-arid and sub-humid zones. In the arid zones, a reduction of livestock numbers in keeping with the carrying capacity of the land is desirable. Agro-pastoralism is a solution in some areas where there is adequate rainfall. This is the emerging trend in the sub-humid zone of Nigeria, where more and more pastoralists are settling (ILCA 1979; Otchere et al. 1985). In this way, the concept of integrated farming systems can develop to great advantage. In the Congo, and other densely forested countries, the use of typanotolerant breeds of animals is now more emphasized. These animal species are not only adapted to the environment but also more productive in such areas. It must be noted, however, that sedentarization and its acknowledged benefits can be achieved only through a dynamic and workable land tenure system that is the responsibility of the government.


According to Harrison (1987), forestry has been considered separately from agriculture and livestock. Foresters view farmers and herders as vandals and destroyers of forests, while peasants see foresters as policemen who exclude them from land that was traditionally theirs to control and use. Farmers view tree planting as an alien activity carried out by unpopular professionals. Forestry nevertheless has a crucial role in farming and pastoralism in Africa. There is a need to integrate forestry fully into crop and livestock production in order to sustain agriculture in a stable ecosystem in the future. The Grazing Reserve Law in Nigeria is worthy of emulation by other countries. Suitable trees will provide fodder for animals at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rains when feed is scarce. The most crucial role of appropriate forest trees would be the recycling of soil nutrients in an environment in which heavy rains leach nutrients below the reach of crop roots and the maintenance of soil organic matter in an environment in which high temperatures break down organic matter very quickly. A promising approach to agro-forestry to sustain crop and livestock production is alley farming. Suitable multi-purpose trees that provide abundant fodder or mulch from their leaves, fuelwood and stakes from their stems, as well as the ability to fix nitrogen are greatly recommended. At the moment, trees such as Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia septum, and Sesbania seban, among others, have been found suitable. There is, however, the need to increase the number of species that meet the requirements.

Pasture establishment

With the current increase in crop production through massive landclearing in many countries in Sub-Saharan African, coupled with the growth of population and hence the physical development of more and larger towns and cities (urbanization), the land-use pattern is constantly changing and less land is available for crop and livestock production.

Intensive production systems and the use of crop residues and agricultural by-products are thus further emphasized. Because of the limiting factors on global grazing, which are even more likely to be a problem in the year 2000 if livestock and human population growth are not restrained, the need arises for sedentarization and pasture establishment if there is to be enough animal protein and at the same time the natural ecosystem is to be conserved. Technically, scientists have developed suitable pasture plants to meet the variations of the agro-ecological zones in Sub-Saharan Africa. The grasses and legumes required include Digitaria spp., Buffel grass, Guinea and Rhodes grasses, together with Stylosanthes, Centrosema, and other varieties of legumes. It will require social and cultural changes amongst the nomadic and livestock owners if they are to adopt the technologies that have been developed and to treat livestock ventures as viable commercial enterprises not just a way of life. In this respect, several African governments have a lot to do as regards land tenure systems and the provision of assistance in the acquisition of infrastructure and credit facilities for a profitable future livestock industry.

As part of the new technology in animal husbandry, improved pastures produce more dry matter of high nutritive value and lead to greater animal productivity than do native pastures. To date, the traditional African livestock farmer has yet to adopt these new techniques. Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, grazing land is communal; only a few private ownerships exist. Improvement of the range by individual stockowners by oversowing with legumes and by fertilization is not advantageous because grazing areas are for communal usage.

There must be more emphasis on the training of range and pasture specialists in order to achieve success in range improvement and conservation and in pasture establishment and effective utilization, and also to prevent further range degradation and to ensure increased livestock productivity.

Government policies and commitments

Government policies and programmes to assist herdspeople and the millions of people engaged in livestock enterprise need to take cognizance of the following:

(a) The land tenure system must be revised in some countries to make it easier for those who really need land to obtain it. The need to instill pride of ownership and willingness to invest in development is crucial because communal grazing is free and therefore unattractive for commercial livestock enterprise.

(b) Nomadic education as presently carried out in Nigeria is encouraging and worth emulating by other countries.

(c) The supply of sufficient manpower/experts, e.g. animal scientists, range managers, and technical staff, is essential. Most African universities are non-starters in the production of such specialists.

(d) Regulatory control of herd size and distribution to achieve ecological balance and avoid overgrazing needs policy attention. The encouragement of herd owners to move to the sub-humid zone in Nigeria, which is rich in feed resources, is a very slowly developing programme.

(e) Greater incentives to producers - marketing, credit facilities, technical supervision, subsidized inputs, etc. - are essential.

Active participation by the private sector

Private sector participation in the primary production of livestock is highly desirable if the necessary output of livestock products is to be achieved in the future. Through this sector, environmental degradation can be minimized and increased productivity of livestock products ensured. So far, only in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, and South Africa are people engaged in modern commercial livestock production. The need to invest in the industry as a high-potential economic enterprise cannot be overemphasized if the future is to be safeguarded.