Tending to a povertyfree
Nearly one billion head of livestock are kept
by more than 600 million small farmers
and herders in rural areas around the world.
Most of these livestock keepers – about
95 per cent – live in extreme poverty.
Even though livestock keeping offers a promising opportunity to
combat poverty in many developing countries, especially as the
demand for animal products such as milk and meat continues to
rise, most livestock policies and services tend to favour large-scale
production. In order to take advantage of emerging market
demands and reduce their poverty, small farmers and herders need
access to basic services and technologies, such as veterinary care,
good roads and grazing lands, as well as policies that take account
of their needs.
Getting access to the right resources
The right kind of livestock services can make all the difference to poor livestock keepers struggling
to run more efficient businesses and reduce their own poverty.
These services include veterinary care, grazing lands,
feed grain, reliable water sources, good roads, breeding
technologies and access to financial services. When a
national livestock project in Togo provided small farmers
and herders in 300 rural communities with access to animal
vaccines, for example, the health and productivity of
the livestock improved and incomes increased.
Training and expert advice are also important.
A poultry-improvement project in Pakistan, for instance,
provided women poultry raisers with animal vaccines and
medicines, and training in their use. One year later, flock
size and egg production had increased significantly and
chicken deaths had decreased. Another reason for the
project’s success was that it took into account the particular
needs and problems of the Pakistani women. By considering
the women’s limited financial resources, the organization
managing the project kept operational costs down
and enabled the women to prosper.
Poor people themselves need to be involved in the
development and selection of livestock services. Yet their needs
are often neglected. Living far from big cities and often illiterate,
rural poor people are seldom asked to take part in the
development of policies or the structure of services. To be
effective, livestock services need to address the reality that most
rural poor people lack access to vital resources such as land,
water, markets, credit, health services and education.
One way to ensure that poor people are given a voice in
decision-making is by helping them form official producer
organizations. A project in the Central African Republic
transformed a group of 25 000 regional herders into a national
service organization capable of playing a major role in livestock
development. Cooperatives and self-help groups can strengthen
the competitive position of poor livestock keepers and reduce
poverty in entire communities. Such initiatives need the support
of governments and development organizations. They can be key
to improving livestock services and empowering the rural poor.
Tending to a poverty-free future
great and small
More than 150 million livestock
keepers are landless. In South Asia,
the increasing privatization of
common lands is leaving millions of
them without access to grazing lands.
In the next 30 years, developing
countries will need an additional
120 million hectares for food-crop
production in order to feed their
growing populations. This will put
additional pressure on grazing land,
watering points and other resources.
Integrating livestock with crop
production can improve farm
productivity by as much as
100 per cent.
The type of livestock kept by rural
people often depends on their
available resources. In India, for
example, farmers with access to
irrigation are more likely to keep
larger animals, like cattle or water
buffalo, while people without
irrigation tend to keep smaller
animals. Landless people are less likely
to keep any animals, depending on a
daily wage for their survival.
Urbanization and rising incomes are
creating a growing demand for meat
and milk in developing countries,
where about 6.3 million small farmers
are currently delivering milk to
55 000 cooperative societies.
A survey of more than 1 700 livestock
keepers in Bolivia, India and Kenya
found that lack of access to feed and
water was their most serious problem.
Livestock diseases posed the most
significant problem for 20 per cent
of those surveyed.
In Bangladesh, where an estimated
8 million rural poor families
participate in microcredit
programmes, about 20 per cent
of the loans are invested in livestock.
Who are livestock keepers? The rancher in Guatemala with a
herd of cattle, the farmer in Bangladesh raising three chickens,
the villager in the mountains of eastern Morocco keeping a
single hive of bees. All hold livestock and all have a role to play
in reducing poverty.
For poor people, there are many
benefits from keeping livestock –
from the largest water buffalo to the
Livestock are a form of currency.
For many people, animals represent
savings. The sale of livestock and manure
can mean quick cash in hard times.
Income from livestock and their many
products – milk, eggs, meat, wool,
leather, honey – can allow poor families
to put food on the table, improve their
nutrition, send their children to school
and purchase medicine for themselves
and their animals.
Livestock also act as a kind of social
glue. Loans and gifts of livestock connect
people to other family members, as well
as to communities and institutions. In
many societies, bride dowries are paid
in livestock. Herders who share livestock
with their relatives also share the risks
brought by drought and disease.
Livestock are used to resolve conflicts,
pay debts and settle scores. A family’s
place in society is often measured by the
amount and kind of livestock it owns.
When women own livestock, their social
status can be improved, empowering
them to participate in decision-making.
Livestock serve a practical function,
too. They carry heavy loads, help
plough fields and provide means of
transportation. Their manure fertilizes
the soil. Most livestock graze on straw,
grass, kitchen scraps and other waste,
and thus convert unusable materials
into high-quality food for humans. Their
meat adds protein to cereal-based diets
and can improve the nutrition of children.
The presence of livestock reduces the
need for human labour in the fields.
Even the smallest animals can
contribute to poverty reduction. Although
enterprises involving micro-livestock,
such as guinea pigs, silkworms, snails,
honeybees and rabbits, have lower
profits, they also have lower initial costs
and carry less risk. Raising small animals
is often a stepping stone to more
profitable enterprises. And small
livestock, which tend to live closer
to the homestead, are especially
important for women, who may need
to stay near home to care for children.
Yet, when it comes to keeping
livestock, poverty is relative. A family’s
poverty is not determined by the number
or size of livestock it owns but by wider
social, geographic and economic factors.
For instance, a farmer with ten goats
might be well off in one part of the
world, yet poor in another area where
natural disasters and other factors make
raising goats more difficult. On the
whole, livestock keepers are considered
poor when their animals do not help
them meet their basic subsistence needs.
In many regions of the world, poor
people depend on livestock to earn
money and yet cannot afford to eat
the meat they produce. When the poor
have access to grazing lands, it is often
sparsely populated dryland, which makes
raising animals difficult and prohibitively
expensive. Larger livestock, such as cattle,
water buffalo and camels, can produce
more readily traded products than smaller
animals, and thus generate more income.
But poor farmers can rarely afford to
own such animals.
Some livestock graze on unwanted
materials and so perform a recycling
function, which can help improve the
environment. However, lack of animal
feed and insufficient land often force
poor farmers to overgraze their larger
livestock, damaging the environment
as a result.
Livestock are a form of currency.
For many people, animals
represent savings. The sale of
livestock and manure can mean
quick cash in hard times.
The impact of globalization
Over the past 20 years, globalization has hit the world’s agricultural sector and opened
up its markets to an unprecedented degree.
At the same time, there has been a growing demand for
meat and milk in many developing countries. Together, these
developments present both significant opportunities and risks
for the millions of poor people who keep livestock.
Critics warn that the opportunities of globalization have been
unevenly distributed and can work against developing countries.
Poor livestock keepers, for instance, usually cannot afford to meet
the sanitation standards required to trade globally and find it
increasingly difficult to compete at home when cheap export
products are introduced to local markets. Increased meat and milk
production and the processing they require to meet the demands
of the global marketplace can have a significant impact on
natural resources. The more land is needed for livestock, the more
nutrients are taken from the soil, the more deforestation occurs,
the more wildlife preserves are threatened and the more waste
and gas emissions are produced.
Poor livestock keepers can benefit from globalization, but only
when they are equipped to compete in the marketplace. To keep
up with the growing demand for milk and meat, they need
disease-control measures to make sure their animals stay healthy,
passable roads to get to markets and access to financial services
that will support their enterprises. To be able to comply with
stricter food-safety regulations, they need access to refrigeration,
and facilities for food processing and storage. With the right
tools, organization and training, and with adequate investment
for long-term economic growth, poor livestock keepers will be
in a better position to tackle the risks of globalization and seize
Today, the vast majority of the world’s estimated
40 million people living with HIV/AIDS reside
in developing countries.
Poverty puts people at significantly higher risk for HIV infection
and aggravates the disease’s impact in a variety of ways. When
families are hit by HIV/AIDS, it can worsen their poverty. Labour
and time are lost and incomes are reduced. Knowledge normally
transferred from one generation to the next is lost when parents
die before their children are old enough to farm.
Owning livestock can help families cope with some of the
devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. Livestock can be sold to help meet
extra costs for food, medical care and funerals. Larger animals,
such as cattle and water buffalo, can provide necessary labour
and save the strength of ill family members.
But traditional inheritance customs and discriminatory policies
can deprive people affected by HIV/AIDS of their livestock. Women
and children who lose their husbands or parents to the disease can
suffer a double loss when inheritance laws take the household’s
livestock away as well. Poor families affected by HIV/AIDS are often
denied access to small loans and forced to sell their animals, losing
perhaps their only form of savings.
Livestock services and technologies must take households
affected by HIV/AIDS into consideration if they are to serve and
protect society’s most vulnerable people.
Women livestock keepers: unique
knowledge and special needs
Women produce as much as 80 per cent of the food in most developing
countries. Men’s participation in agriculture, on the other hand, has been
declining in recent years. War and disease have reduced male populations in
rural areas. And men often migrate to towns and cities in search of work.
Ahmed E. Sidahmed
Technical adviser and focal point
Livestock and Rangeland Systems
Technical Advisory Division, IFAD
Via del Serafico 107
00142 Rome, Italy
Telephone: (39) 0654592455
Fax: (39) 065043463
Centre for Research on Globalization
Centre for the Study of Sustainable
Agricultural and Livestock
Consultative Group on International
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations
Global Livestock (CRSP)
International Centre for Agricultural
Research in Dry Areas
International Food Policy Research Institute
International Livestock Research Institute
Livestock System Group,
University of Reading
World Food Programme
International Fund for Agricultural Development
Via Serafico, 107 – 00142 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 54591
Fax: +39 06 5043463
Women farmers often possess unique knowledge of livestock and tend to shoulder
the primary responsibility for animal care. However, women’s roles in livestock keeping
often depend on regional traditions and taboos. In some cultures, women raise large
animals, in others, they do not work with livestock at all. Some women only process
livestock products or clean the animals’ stalls. Others care for small animals kept near
home, such as goats or chickens. Sometimes a woman’s access to livestock is limited
to her family ties. She might borrow her husband’s donkey to carry water, or use
the milk from his cow to feed her children.
Women livestock keepers also have to struggle with formidable economic
constraints. Women inherit fewer animals than their male relatives, and when they
do own livestock, it is often in name only, and husbands, brothers or sons tend to
control livestock sales and profits. Without collateral, women are often denied credit
and are forced to rely on exploitative village moneylenders.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has only made matters worse. A woman widowed by AIDS
must often sit by while male relatives step in to claim her deceased husband’s property,
including his livestock. Even when a widow is able to keep her husband’s livestock,
she often finds herself cut off from the financial and agricultural services that were
once available to him.
Development projects can help women become livestock owners and protect their
access to vital services and resources. But much more needs to be done to ensure that
women have the tools they need to be successful livestock keepers. Women in
developing countries are more likely than men to spend the money they earn on their
families’ needs, including school fees, medical care and food for their children. A study
in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia and South Africa, found that when women in poor
households had control over money and assets, their children were more likely to
be clothed and educated and their girls healthier. Another study found that children
in poor households headed by women had better nutrition than those in poor
households headed by men.
Given the importance of women in agriculture and the vital roles they play in
meeting their families’ needs, particular attention must be given to supporting them
as livestock keepers.
By working together, about 10 000 herder families sharing common grazing lands in eastern
Morocco have been able to rehabilitate severely degraded rangelands.
Through a USD 47.7 million livestock and pasture development project, sheep herders in the
country’s most important pastoral region formed 44 pastoral cooperatives, which introduced new
rangeland management practices while respecting tribal structures and preserving traditions.
Drought and overgrazing had severely damaged the rangelands. Herds were decimated and
incomes had fallen dramatically. The herders needed to work together if local herding practices
were to change and disaster averted. Through the cooperatives, new practices were introduced,
including range control and respect for use rights. Nearly 14 500 hectares of fodder shrubs were
planted, 60 watering points were repaired or installed, and annual health care was provided for
nearly 900 000 sheep and goats. The introduction of a coordinated grazing rotation system, which
included bans on grazing in certain areas and the fencing of 461 000 hectares of rangeland,
led to increased fodder production and allowed better control of the use of pasture lands.
Despite five years of drought from 1997 to 2001, more than 460 000 hectares of rangeland