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Fairness on the livestock field of play

close this book The Courier - N°158 - July - August 1996 Dossier Communication and the media - Country report Cape Verde
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by Sarah Reynolds

In the town of Thies one of Senegal's regional capitals, there is an abattoir where nothing goes to waste. Even the horns of cattle are sold for making carvings for sale to tourists while the tips of the horns are exported to Japan. In a rural area of Chad, small-scale livestock farmers are preserving meat by the age-old process of cutting it into strips and drying it in the sun. Careful attention to hygiene and quality control has resulted in a product so consistently good that it has found an export market as far away as Gabon. Livestock producers in sub-Saharan Africa are responding to market opportunities, not because they recognise the need to improve national food requirements, but in pursuit of profit. Therein lies the best chance for stimulating the livestock sector's production capacity. The challenge is to design policies that protect consumers without crushing entrepreneurial potential for producers.

More than half the population of sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be living in a town or city within the next 30 years. These city dwellers will have neither the skill, the time nor the space to raise livestock. There are indications on present trends that their demand for food of animal origin will increase. Where will they get it from ? Imported meat is more expensive than it used to be, largely as a result of the change in policies of the European Union. These have also affected the supply of low-cost milk powder and butter oil. Imports from countries outside the continent will undoubtedly continue but intra-African trade and local production will become far more significant.

It has been estimated that the production of animal products in sub-Saharan Africa would have to increase by 4% per year to ensure an adequate supply of animal protein for the region's growing population, and to end the need for imports. This presents a major challenge to policy-makers. Already, the current pressure on land resources is causing conflict in some areas and the prospect of more people, more animals, and more strain on already inadequate resources, is perturbing.

Information vacuum in developing countries.

The concept of value

Decisions on how to achieve sustainable and yet more productive land-use, while at the same time ensuring fair access to resources for other interested users, cannot be soundly based if made in an information vacuum. It was in recognition of the lack of information about the livestock sector that the CTA organised and sponsored a seminar on Livestock development policies in the humid and sub-humid zones of sub-Saharan Africa. This was held in Abidjan, Cote d'lvoire on 5-9 February 1996. It was attended by participants from 17 countries within the region and by representatives from international institutions and from Europe. The objective was to contribute to the ongoing debate on policies aimed at bringing about sustainable livestock development while respecting natural resources in developing countries.

The concept of value

Effective planning of government action on issues such as import policy, provision of inputs and services, marketing and research priorities requires quantitative information on livestock production systems. Why is this information lacking when it is estimated that livestock products contribute about 25% of total agricultural GDP in subSaharan Africa? The livestock sector is too important to ignore and yet it is consistently undervalued. The reason is that economists and statisticians like to deal with a tangible unit that can be counted. Ideally, this should be a monetary unit but, failing that, it should at least be a unit that can be easily converted to money, such as the number of animals potentially available to the market. But if animals are used to sustain a traditional way of life, for people who do not have to pay before they can eat, it is difficult to put a monetary value on the food they consume. Similarly, if a herd of animals is sustained by forage that has no other use, on land that can be used for no other purpose, the cost of feeding cannot easily be measured in financial terms. Indeed producers have little to gain from allowing government departments to acquire information about their assets.

Livestock owners have their own objectives when deciding whether and how to increase production. Livestock provide energy in the form of draught power, and dung for fuel or biogas. Their manure restores structure and fertility to the soil. Social prestige may be measured in the quantity and quality of the animals one possesses. For some livestock owners, their animals are their 'barking' system. They represent a deposit account for accumulated wealth and a current account when an animal is sold to raise cash. Indeed it may be impossible to obtain credit from an orthodox bank. There is an added advantage in that there are no interest charges to pay when you raise cash by selling your own animals as opposed to taking out a loan from a bank. It may be difficult to measure real production when animals are treated as a capital reserve. For example, an increase in meat prices, perhaps as a response to a change in economic policy, may result in a short-term reduction rather than increase, in the number of animals being marketed. This is because producers are able to maintain their income by selling fewer animals and can simultaneously increase their breeding herds. Alternatively, there may be little incentive to producers to sell more animals if they have no use for the extra money they earn. It is of course true that more people are joining the cash economy as they become aware of the desirability of consumer goods, or of services such as schooling. Governments may aspire to design policies which will develop the livestock sector for the economic welfare of society as a whole, but if these policies ignore the objectives of livestock owners, they will fail.

Fair play

In a football match, the referee is there to see fair play. In the livestock sector, governments have to ensure fair play between the 'demand team' and the 'supply team', in other words the -consumers and the producers. Governments often make two mistakes. Either they help one team at the expense of the other, or else they join in the game themselves. The role of the authorities should be to make the rules that protect both teams from unfair or unsafe practices. For example, health and hygiene regulations must be in place, and enforced, but not be so onerous that illegal and totally unregulated marketing channels are established.

Private traders have considerable power to manipulate markets if they collude to form cartels and prevent outsiders from entering their ring. Governments should ensure that this is not allowed to happen, that markets are open and that traders are free to operate provided that they observe health and hygiene regulations.

Veterinary services

Most countries are no longer able to supply even minimum standards of veterinary support to their livestock producers. The efforts that have been made in recent years have been largely in the form of donor-funded projects where continuity is rarely guaranteed. The only viable alternative seems to be to transfer activities of this kind to service providers in the private sector.

The work that they do under contract to the government, for example relating to the control of epidemic diseases, must be funded by government or other central agencies since cost-recovery from individual livestock owners is not feasible when participation has to be compulsory. The work that they do on behalf of individuals, or associations of livestock owners, should, however, be paid for by those who benefit directly from the increased productivity that should result - the farmers. The greatest difficulty lies in managing what will be a long and difficult transition period. The success of ventures to privatise veterinary services depends on whether the profession can deliver a decent living in the private sector, particularly in rural areas where the need is undoubtedly greatest.

Rural development

It is in the rural areas that livestock production needs to be intensified. On the outskirts of Africa's major cities, intensive pig and poultry production is already being supported by commercial, joint venture capital. Dairy units, in which exotic, high performance cattle breeds are managed in a controlled environment, are producing fresh milk for cash-paying consumers in nearby towns and cities. Urban areas create the demand but it is the rural areas that need the development.

Animal products are seasonal and prices fluctuate accordingly. However, consumers are more likely to develop the habit of using products that are consistently available at stable prices. Government intervention to stabilise prices risks favouring the consumer at the expense of the producer. For example, if imports are used to counter temporarily high prices during periods of drought, then producers will receive less for their reduced output at the very time when they need support. The most effective policy of price stabilization is to encourage the adoption of production systems that are less vulnerable to seasonal changes. Processing achieves this to some degree and brings benefits to both producers and consumers. Furthermore, because animal products are perishable, and dangerous to human health when they deteriorate, processing extends storage life, and may even have an effect in improving food security.

In most countries, the time of greatest food shortage is at the beginning of the rainy season. This is also the time when milk production soars because cattle have good feed; and yet much of that milk is wasted because there is more than required for home consumption. If that surplus milk can be fumed into cheese, potential customers in more distant markets may be reached. Provided that the product is acceptable to the consumer, cheese-making reduces wastage, diversifies the producer's source of income and may also provide employment, and therefore income, to those brought in to help with the production.

A technology that has been exhaustively tested by FAO for its suitability for use in Africa is lactoperoxydase. This is an enzyme which extends by three hours the length of time before milk begins to curdle and clot. This effectively doubles the time available for milk to reach the cooling centre, and thereby extends the catchment areas for producers wishing to supply fresh milk to urban markets. The trials that have been conducted show that it is entirely safe. When milk is brought to rural collecting points, it is the responsibility of the cooling centre employee, not the farmer, to add the enzyme at the prescribed rate as the milk is transferred into cans.

On current trends, it seems probable that there will be more than 20 capital cities in Africa that have a population of 10 million people by the year 2010. How many other cities and towns will have developed by that time ? There are so many people migrating to the urban areas, and they are doing so because the type of activities that ought to be taking place in the countryside do not exist. If the livestock industry, both primary production and processing, can be encouraged in rural areas, and if the infrastructure is in place to ensure that animal products, in whatever form, can reach urban markets, rural dwellers will find it more comfortable to stay where they are rather than going to the cities to look for jobs that do not exist.

The challenge for policy-makers is to deal even-handedly, not only in the interests of the livestock sector, but in the interests of other farmers, consumers, the national economy and the long-term sustainability of the nation's natural resources. For this task, reliable information, which is accessible to all countries within the region, is essential. The database structure of this information should be standardised so that it can form the basis of regional cooperation on trade and the sustainable use of land resources.