Promoting smallholder livestock

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 26th March 2013


THE livestock sector makes significant contributions to the livelihoods of more than 600,000 smallholder farmers, mainly through subsistence and small commercial production of pigs and poultry with cattle, small ruminants and inland aquaculture playing an increasing role. 

Despite its significance, not much has been done in this sector in the past 10-15 years in terms of research and development. 

The livestock sector has been a struggle for a while, an indication that the current support provided is inadequate to meet the needs of smallholders.

There are a number of constraints limiting our people from benefiting from these enterprises. These need to be addressed for smallholder farmers to improve production to meet fast-expanding local markets.

One of the main constraints is availability and cost of livestock feed. 

The rising cost of stockfeed is considered a bottleneck to commercialisation of smallholder livestock production in PNG. 

Studies have indicated that between 2003 and 2012, the retail prices of commercial broiler finisher, layer pellets and pig grower diets in Lae had increased by 55% to 115%. Given that feed constitutes at least two-thirds of cost of producing chicken meat, egg and pork, the escalating stockfeed prices remain a major hindrance to active participation of smallholders in the fast-expanding domestic market for meat and eggs.

According to the 2000 PNG agriculture census, 25% of about 220,000 chicken farmers are market-oriented, selling part of their produce to village and local markets. This number is expected to have increased in recent years as farmers responded to emerging market opportunities for their products. 

The volume of stockfeed supplied to the domestic market was also expected to have steadily increased, as were the imports of cereal grains including rice, wheat and sorghum. 

The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has been exploring options for reducing the high cost of feeding commercial poultry and pig enterprises. 

Various low-cost feeding technologies that maximise use of local feed resources have been developed, evaluated and released to the farming community for possible adoption. The feeding technologies released by NARI included the sweet potato silage for growing pigs, released in 2010, and broiler concentrate released in 2011.

These feeding systems enabled smallholder farmers to blend appropriate proportions of boiled sweet potato or cassava tubers with formulated concentrates to make balanced diets for broilers, layer hens and growing pigs. 

These feeding options have been proven to be effective in significantly reducing the cost of feeds, even when the tubers are bought from local markets. 

In most cases, farmers can use sweet potato or cassava produced in their backyards, which further cuts down on the cost of feeding and, thereby, improving profitability of the livestock enterprises.

To further reduce these costs, NARI is conducting a multi-institutional collaborative research project aimed at promoting rural mini-feed mills that can produce various formulations of balanced concentrates and complete diets using largely local feed resour­ces. The feed ingredients that can be processed in these mini mills include agro-industrial by-products such as mill run, copra mill, fish meal, rice bran, palm kernel meal, meat meal, bone meal as well as available cereal and legume grains. Imported premixes are essential to make balanced diets. 

The project is considering alternative ways of establishing and managing mini-feed mills at the village level. One option is to have the mills owned and operated at the community level in which trained technicians operate them as stand-alone business enterprises, with members buying concentrate or complete diets at set prices. 

Mini mills could also be run as privately-owned and managed enterprises.

NGOs and other institutions can also set up and manage such mills. Mini mills can use either electric or diesel engines. 

Key advantage of mini mills is that they can be set up in remote villages. 

The Domil Integrated Community Development Cooperative Society in Jiwaka has demonstrated the advantage of using mini mills to reduce the cost of feed and allow subsistence farmers to participate in profitable commercial growing of broilers using cassava flour as the major ingredient in broiler finisher diets. 

This cooperative has been collaborating with NARI and partner institutions in this research project. 

Several other mini-feed mills would be closely evaluated for their effectiveness and profitability over the next two years in an effort to develop practical strategies for profitable use of mini-feed mills.

The National Fisheries Authority is partnering with NARI in this project to also serve the needs of aquaculture farmers. 

Other partners on this project are the PNG University of Technology, the Lutheran Development Service, the Christian Leaders Training College and the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.

In the long-term, it is envisaged that mini mills could play vital roles in enhancing the transformation of smallholder livestock production even in remote and marginal areas by creating market opportunities, generating local gainful employment, value addition to local produce and making quality animal products readily available at household and village market levels.