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close this bookAnimal Husbandry - Initial Environmental Assessment Series No. 2 (NORAD, 1994)
close this folderPart I: General account
close this folder2 The environment affected by the project
View the document2.1 The ecology of animal husbandry
View the document2.2 Socio-cultural conditions
View the document2.3 Institutional conditions

2.2 Socio-cultural conditions

Traditions that have evolved over a long time under specific natural conditions often play a part in animal husbandry. This applies to societies that base most of their survival on livestock (nomads) as well as societies in which livestock are an integral part of a more complex agriculture. To nomad societies, such as the Bedouin, the Turkana and the Masai, domestic animals represent not only a source of food and income, but also security, bank, status, etc. The number of animals may in some cases be more important than the amount they produce. The supply of feed and water decides when and where the nomads must move. In later years, more and more nomads have chosen to settle down. In order to utilize pasture resources in areas where drinking water is scarce, both animals and water are sometimes transported by lorries. Droughts and desertification, or bush overgrowth, in areas where pastoralism is practiced may signal that the balance between humans, livestock and environment is about to collapse. The reasons may be population growth or structural changes in the society. As a consequence, the production system of the nomads may not be sustainable in terms of the natural resource base.

In settled cultures, the element of domestic animals varies a great deal. The diets of some have traditionally included very little food of animal origin. In many population groups, the ability of adults to digest lactose has disappeared. This is due to the fact that the process of synthesizing the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down lactose, may cease after infancy. The ability to digest meat, eggs and fish, however, is not affected by this. Nevertheless, the possibilities of producing feed may be so small that livestock production is in reality out of the question. The intake of animal protein thereby becomes marginal. FAO recommends a daily intake of 20 gram per person. In many developing countries, large population groups are far below this limit.

Traditions, religions, taboos and other socio-cultural conditions may influence which types of domestic animals are found or not found in an area. In keeping with Islam, one should not eat pork, which leads to a low consumption of pork in the Arabic world and other Muslim countries. Another example applies to parts of India where cows are considered as holy, and can therefore be milked but not slaughtered.
In large parts of the world, women have a central role in food production. This especially concerns food for sustenance. The womens' burden of work can be considerable in such societies. In addition to domestic chores, they may also have to cultivate the soil, tend the animals, procure feed and water, etc. In many African societies, milking and the making of milk products are exclusively the domain of women. Sales of various livestock products can often make livestock an important source of income to women. At the same time, this may keep the supply of nutrition to the whole family at a satisfactory level.

Pastures are in many places communal property and can, for example, be owned collectively by a village. Such a situation may have the effect that everybody tries to get as much as possible out of the common land. This may lead to such a high density of animals that little feed is left for them. The growth may virtually stop. Attempts to reduce the number of animals may fail because the leaders of the village tend to be the biggest keepers of animals on the common pasture. Division of common land into individually owned areas can be complicated and time-consuming.