Cattle Farming

The Livestock Revolution: Pathway to Poverty Alleviation

Globally demand for meat and milk rose greatly in the last 20 years. It will double in the next 20 years. The skyrocketing orders are fuelling massive increases in livestock production in poor countries. The extent and scope of the livestock increases are surpassing those of the Green ‘cereals’ Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. This phenomenon has power to affect the global economy. It has power to transform the social and physical landscapes of developing countries.

It is being called a ‘livestock revolution’. The stakes in it for the world’s poor are enormous. The Livestock Revolution could help relieve poverty and hunger worldwide. It could provide an engine for sustainable intensification of small-scale farming and marketing.

It could also beget pollution, degradation and disease as it stretches production in non-industrialised countries beyond capacities.

The Livestock Revolution is driven by appetites of billions of people with small rising incomes. It cannot be stopped. It can be harnessed, however, for poor people worldwide, who keep most of the world’s livestock.

An additional 2.5 billion people will live on this planet in 20 years. Analysts predict that demand for meat and milk will more than double in developing countries. By 2020, developing countries will produce 60 percent of the world’s meat and 52 percent of the world’s milk.

 From 1970 to 1995, poor countries increased their consumption of milk and meat by 175 million metric tons. That is more than twice the increase in developed countries and over half as large as the increased consumption of cereals made possible by the Green Revolution.

The market value of the increase in milk and meat production in this period totalled US$153 billion—more than twice the value of the increased consumption of wheat, rice and maize.

Consumption of animal foods will grow even faster in future. The meat production to grow four times as fast in developing countries as in developed.

Livestock contribute to the livelihoods of more than two-thirds (nearly 2.3 billion) of the world’s rural poor and nearly one person in eight depends almost entirely on livestock.

This is new established fact that securing the assets of poor farmers, enabling them to expand their enterprises, and to market their products are key strategies to combat poverty.


For poor farmers, the loss of one or two buffaloes/cows can mean no milk to drink and no money for medicines or children’s education. Livestock in developing countries often contribute up to 50 per cent of agricultural GDP and more than 20 per cent of total GDP. On smallholder farms worldwide, livestock provide up to 60 per cent of household income.

The health of livestock is less compelling in the developed world—although the end result of poor livestock health is poor human health and greater poverty.

Rapidly expanding demand for animal foods can be met by a series of price-driven adjustments. The Livestock Revolution is making increased livestock production inevitable and arguments against it academic. Livestock revolution is being driven not by new technology but by rising demand.

Livestock can make an important contribution to the nutritional status and quality of life of people who live on small-scale farms. More than a billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, which is successfully combated by adding milk and meat to a diet.

Evidence is mounting that the essential role of animal-source foods in combating these chronic problems has been overlooked or understated. Farm animals sustain and renew themselves on a diet of straw, grass, leaves, crop wastes and household scraps. They convert these into foods rich in protein, energy, and nutrients.

Calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, absent or scarce in cereals, particularly benefit women and are essential for the growth and learning of children surviving almost exclusively on starchy diets.


Asian region raised 464 million cattle, 153 million buffaloes, 412 million sheep, 446 million goats, and 7080 million chickens in 1999 (FAO, 2000). But the Asian share of world total meat production has been quite low when compared to its animal population. Although the demand in developing countries for animal proteins is increasing, animal production is not keeping pace with the growth in demand.

Consumption figures are lower than world average but the livestock industry is growing in this region, especially good progress has been made in the poultry sector. Judging from the animal numbers and meat output, there seems to be substantial room to make fuller use of livestock potential in this region.

In Pakistan farm income could rise dramatically with the rising demand for livestock products, but whether that gain will be shared by those who need it most—smallholders and landless agricultural workers—is not clear. Handled correctly, this rising demand could improve the well-being of millions of poor.

Handled incorrectly, or not handled at all, it could hurt those millions.
What will largely determine whether the Livestock Revolution is more blessing or curse for the poor and rich alike is publicly funded research. The knowledge, policies and technologies produced by research can help to create a dynamic livestock sector able simultaneously to increase food, economic and environmental security to the poorest communities.
Livestock production will offer poor farmers increasing opportunities to raise their living standards. Research that makes livestock and crop-livestock production efficient and sustainable will thus help the Pakistan farmers rise out of poverty.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of livestock is that, unlike other agricultural products, they ‘are flexible: they can be moved in response to variable rainfall conditions and can be purchased or sold in response to variable market conditions.

Mobility is what makes livestock the “bottom line” in so many peoples’ shrewd risk and resource allocation. As “mobile production units”, they can be deployed so as to exploit non-arable areas and special “patches” in the landscape that would otherwise be of little or uncertain productive value to humans.

The improvement of livestock production will be particularly important in the coming years, in view of the future financial constraints in Pakistan public sector. There will be an increased need to use limited resources effectively. Economic structural adjustment programmes have resulted in farmers having cuts in subsidies, extension, and veterinary services.

Any programmes aimed at alleviating poverty through livestock production will have to be based on sound knowledge of the situation in smallholder farming systems, including gender issues, in the context of the prevailing socio-economic conditions.

Despite six decades of evolving approaches to alleviate rural poverty, poverty is persistent, widespread, and in some cases increasing. Surprisingly, this is true even in the face of overall claimed economic growth throughout the country. This established reality and deepening poverty underscores the fact that the causes of poverty are complex and that appropriate policy responses are inadequately understood.

Buffaloes, cattle, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals are life-enhancing as well as life-supporting. Animals feed people and soils. They generate incomes.

They are the major capital asset of smallholder farmers. They reproduce themselves under even the harshest conditions. They are highly specialised eaters of grasses and similar vegetation. They convert these organic materials indigestible by people into human food of the highest quality.

Livestock are often the most important and most reliable form of capital storage. ‘Animals act as readily fungible financial instruments and yield substantial interest in the form of both weight gains and new births’. Animal products are an important source of disposable income. Where cash is severely scarce, the sale of even a single animal can spell the difference between life and death by providing cash with which to obtain essential foods or medical care.

The small daily income gained by selling milk brings new opportunities to farm households, raising hopes as well as living standards. Dairying, in fact, acts as a ‘cash crop’—and one that is heavily relied upon because it generates a more regular income than most other enterprises available to the poor.

In severely cash-scarce environments, livestock-generated ‘micro-enterprises’ and ‘micro-assets’ allow people to plan for the future and see families and communities through hard times, when prolonged drought or rain or market fluctuations take their toll. Importantly, such livestock enterprises also act as a ‘starter’ that enables people to raise themselves and their families from degrading poverty to low income to middle class.

Livestock-keeping empowers women in particular. Women in developing countries often own livestock, particularly small stock, when they are denied ownership of land. Rural women worldwide typically participate directly or indirectly in some or all aspects of animal agriculture. On farms without large ruminants, much of the manual labour is done by women.

During past four decades, the poultry farming in Pakistan has made a spectacular progress transforming itself from a backyard industry into a dynamic and sophisticated agri-based industry.

During these years industry has grown in size, quality and productivity. In Pakistan, average consumption of eggs and poultry meat is well below that in developed countries. This is where the demand for poultry products will increase most in the future.

Compared to other livestock sectors, the poultry industry is showing a characteristic tendency to a rapid application of advanced technology.

There are some clear differences between poultry husbandry and the animal husbandry in general, which can explain the fast developments in the poultry industry, such as: a high rate of reproduction, a quick return on capital invested and the absence of the necessity to own large area of land.

Several factors contributed to this trend and the first and foremost in increasing consumer preference for poultry meat among all communities. Since it is accepted by all communities, it can be called as the “Universal Meat”.

Efforts have been made to improve the production quantitatively and qualitatively in the livestock sector. But marketing of livestock and livestock products, with few exceptions such as milk and eggs, is still to receive the attention of the planners and policy makers. The rural producers are a most unorganized lot.

The scale of production is small and scattered. Marketing of livestock is associated with a unique set of conditions which makes it highly risky and laborious, besides prevalence of relative imperfection in the marketing mechanism. Marketing of livestock is mostly the forced one and under stress.

Livestock development programs in Pakistan have been hardly based on the understanding of the livestock production systems. The relationship between, biological, technical and social factors are important while implementing locally or internationally assisted development projects.

The demand for animal protein has drastically increased past two decades which in turn increased commercially based livestock production systems to meet the market. There has been an over emphasis on single commodity development, and a technology driven orientation with little or no participation of farmers, and formation of stronger farmer based institutions.

The increasing confluence of animals and human health problems, as well as the pressing issue of emerging diseases, require increased attention to livestock health.

Climatic and environmental constraints that have limited a host of diseases to the equatorial latitudes are changing. Today, it is estimated that 55 percent of human diseases have animal origins. Targeting animal diseases may therefore lead to new drugs or vaccines for animal diseases.

The number animals increased a less contribution to the increase of production of each sector whether meat or milk. Breeding programs, artificial inseminations and strategies used to upgrade the animal population not a successful one, particularly when applied to small mixed- farming systems.

Government give less priority to rural livestock sector, resulting in underdeveloped infrastructure, limited access of farmers to markets and credit, low and fluctuating producer prices, inadequate producer organizations and weak marketing organizations. Most of livestock population is nondescriptive with low production potential.

The strategy is to improve productivity through better utilization of available feed, with improving forage and pasture, upgradation program be undertaken with semen of exotic breeds and dairy breeds to increase meat and milk production. Increasing self-sufficiency on feed grain will be an important factor in future livestock sector developmental programs.

Since feed cost is becoming the most important factor in livestock production, in the immediate future, animal producers and government policy makers must look closely at their available feed resources and produce more feed grains that need not to be bought with US dollars.

There is no doubt that the present economic crisis has taught an important lesson for placing too heavy a dependence on imported raw materials in animal production. The environmental pollution emerged as a major challenge for further expansion of intensive system of livestock raising.

Therefore waste disposal facilities must be developed and modern abattoirs should be available in major production areas instead of consumption areas. Meat production is done in unhygienic condition and meat industry is unorganized. Modernization of existing slaughterhouses and establishment of new modern and hygienic plants must undertake at national level.

In Pakistan the statistics on livestock sector is not properly collected and maintained. Therefore proper data on animal population, production, marketing and disease incidence should be collected. Based on them short term and long term development plan should be prepared for the development of the sector.

This inadequacy has to be overcome through periodic surveys on livestock industry. Lack of proper marketing and non-accessibility to markets, result in the exploitation of farmers by the middleman at various level. It is difficult for a small holder farmer owning one or two animals to organize their marketing properly.

Thus, small-holder livestock farmers should be encouraged to organize themselves into cooperatives, associations or public groups to facilitate requisites inputs to increase meat production and improve its quality as well as to market their surplus produce at appropriate price.

Livestock livelihood provides pathways out of poverty for millions of poorest people. Poverty reduction and growth strategies need to recognize the multi-dimensionality of rural livelihoods and the importance of farm-non farm linkages in facilitating rural growth.

Policy priority therefore should be given to providing an enabling rural environment for commercial activities such as institutional innovations that support competitiveness of household producers, lower level of formal and informal taxes, and increased investment in public goods such as agricultural research, extension, and infrastructure.

No single approach taken alone is likely to alleviate poverty. Specified breed development through genetic enhancement is essential for rapid growth in livestock production in the country.

Focus areas needs to be identified in breed improvement instead of doing everything by everybody. Good research can result in reducing poverty paving the way for overall economic development.

Dr. Alamdar Hussain Malik is Secretary/Registrar, Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council with the mandate to establish uniform standards of basic and higher qualifications for graduates & postgraduate in veterinary and animal husbandry profession and to regulate the registration, practice and conduct of the veterinarians.

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