By AKKINAPALLY RAMAKRISHNA
ANIMAL agriculture – encompassing ruminant and non-ruminant livestock and poultry – is an integral part of the socio-economic fabric and a source of livelihood in Papua New Guinea.
Today in PNG, and elsewhere in the developing world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, many farming systems are changing rapidly. Human populations are growing and becoming more urbanised and richer, resulting in a rapid increase in demands for high value foods – vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and fish.
Over the last three decades, livestock production grew faster than crops and made significant contribution to agricultural growth, which is considered to be an important factor in poverty reduction in most developing countries (Fig 1). Therefore, in rural PNG, a growing livestock sector augurs well for the low income households to augment their income and escape poverty.
Most developing countries continue to grapple with problems of nutritional insecurity and rural poverty and PNG is not an exception.
The livestock research for development is expected to make a significant contribution towards improving nutritional security and to reducing rural poverty.
The expanding demand for animal food products generates significant opportunities for the poor to escape poverty through diversifying and intensifying livestock production. Besides, the increasingly integrated global markets under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), are also creating opportunities for exporting animal food products.
The route to poverty reduction through livestock, however, is not free from threats.
Subsistence and poor livestock producers face numerous constraints in production and marketing. They are constrained by a lack of access to capital, quality inputs, improved technology and support services. They have small marketable surpluses, while local rural markets are thin, and sales to distant urban markets result in very high transaction costs.
What is more, poor livestock producers face increased competition from large commercial producers, which undermines their economic viability.
Intensifying livestock production would also cause negative externalities to environment and public health.
Another danger to pro-poor livestock growth stems from the globalisation of markets.
Global trade in livestock products is dominated by a few developed countries and is heavily distorted. Some countries in the European Union and the United States provide a high level of protection to their livestock industry, making it more difficult for developing countries to compete in the global market.
In fact, many developing countries face the threat of cheap imports.
On the other hand, developing country exports are thwarted by stringent food safety and quality standards. Whether smallholders will be able to take advantage of the opportunities, resulting from the increased demand for livestock products, will depend on how supportive public policy is to smallholder livestock production and the extent to which smallholders improve their scale and efficiency of production.
To transform livestock production to the benefit of the poor it is critical for livestock researchers to understand how livestock systems are changing in marginal and rapidly changing systems environments.
To achieve sustainable and equitable livestock sector growth in the different systems, it is important that technology, policy and institutional innovations are combined and specific attention paid to how the poor can benefit from the emerging opportunities through targeted and intelligent public-sector research and development interventions.
We envisage the following policies and actions can improve smallholder competitiveness and pro-poor development of the livestock sector:
1. Strengthening of markets, institutions and trade:
*Identifying market failures (credit, insurance, inputs, technology and information) that prevent smallholders from participating in livestock production and marketing;
*Mapping supply chains for live animals and their products and sub-products and strengthening those chains that benefit most to the producers through public policy;
*Assessing future demand for animal food products in terms of their quantitative and qualitative requirements, price and other attributes.
2. Strengthening the role of livestock in poverty alleviation, food security and environmental protection:
*Understanding and quantifying livestock’s contribution to poverty reduction;
*Identifying policy, institutional and technology options to make livestock growth more pro-poor;
–Risk mitigation, market access, credit, insurance, vulnerability and knowledge management to minimise vulnerability of the poor to risks; and
*Integrating smallholders in the process of industrialising livestock;
–Equity and environmental impacts of industrialisation;
–Public policy support for participating smallholders.
3. Increasing livestock productivity: Challenges, opportunities and strategies for research and development (R&D);
*Improving feeding systems using local feed resources especially through food-feed crop improvement and low-cost feed formulations;
*Estimating and reducing the economic losses from animal diseases;
*Methods for the conservation and improvement of indigenous livestock; and
*Information and knowledge management, particularly for institutional capacity building.
In conclusion, livestock systems will continue to be the backbone for rural livelihoods in PNG.