1. Intensive sustainable livestock production: an alternative to tropical deforestation.
AMBIO, 19, 1990, pp. 397-400
Extensive cattle grazing is the principal production system employed by the colonizers of rain forests and has been, and still is, encouraged by most state agencies for rural development and agrarian reform, even though scientific research has demonstrated clearly the failure of this system in most tropical ecosystems.
When cattle-grazing systems are the main activity of resource-poor farmers with insufficient capital and minimal access to credit, returns are usually insufficient to support the minimal needs of the family. The consequence is that the land is sold, usually to the rich landholders, who, through economies of scale, can continue with the extensive grazing systems; and the resource-poor farmer turns once again to the forest and the destructive process continues.
To solve the problem of tropical forest destruction demands a strategy which is of necessity complex, if the remaining tropical forest areas with their ecological riches and biological diversity are to be preserved.
An intensive livestock production model, based on the concept of using highly efficient energy- and nitrogen-fixing plants, promises to offer an appropriate technological solution to the problem of providing an alternative to extensive cattle-grazing systems.
An appropriate strategy is the rational use of the natural resources of the tropics, namely:
- solar energy captured by highly efficient crops through the processes of photosynthesis; and
In recent years, several Latin American countries, have directed research and development activities towards validating the hypothesis that sugarcane can be the basis of intensive animal production systems, thus assuming the role played by the cereal grains in the temperate countries. In a complementary way, it is increasingly being recognized that nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs (leguminous and non-leguminous) can provide much of the protein needed to balance the carbohydrates from the sugarcane.
The model has the additional benefit of providing a comparative advantage for the resource-poor farmer with limited land area. The model employs fractionation of both the sugarcane and the forage trees to provide suitable diets for monogastric and ruminant animals in an integrated operation, which is proving to be technically, economically and ecologically sustainable.
The model developed in Colombia employs complementary livestock species (pigs and sheep) managed in confinement. Productivity is a function of sugarcane yield which depends on soil fertility, water availability and variety. For the world average yield of 50 tonnes per ha per year, total liveweight production per year from pigs and sheep can be 1500 kg per year. With appropriate management, sugarcane can yield up to 180 tonnes per ha per year, which will give 8000 kg liveweight per hectare per year.
During the last three years, this model has been subjected to continuous testing and adaption to Colombian conditions with extremely promising results. The crops used in the model (sugarcane and forage trees) are perennial, thus soil erosion is contained.
Implementing these models on a massive scale will result in a substantial reduction of the area required to support a resource-poor farmer. At the same time, existing grazing areas can be transformed into more productive units with obvious advantages in terms of job creation and economic stimulus to rural development.
A weakness of the system is the lack of certainty as to the best way to provide the protein input. Recent developments in this area are encouraging. And even at the present stage of development, the results are much more superior, in economic, sociological and ecological terms, than traditional grazing systems.
1070 92 - 3/120
Africa, Nigeria, humid tropics, study, snail utilization, traditional medicine, cultural values
AGBELUSI, E.A. and B.N. EJIDIKE
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