Livestock in Asia: The challenges and opportunities

300 million poor people in Asia depend on livestock. ILRI's regional representative in Asia outlines the challenges and opportunities and provides an overview of some of ILRI's current activities

Iain Wright took over the post of ILRI’s regional representative in Asia in October 2006, based in ILRI’s office in New Delhi, India. ‘The geographical scope of ILRI’s operations has expanded, especially in Asia and particularly South Asia. There are several reasons behind ILRI’s increasing presence in Asia, and its focus on South Asia, explains Wright. ‘Notably, Asia is home to almost half of the world’s poor livestock keepers, with about two-thirds of those in South Asia.’

Iain Wright, ILRI’s regional representative in Asia

Asia: Historic progress, but progress uneven
Asia is undergoing a phenomenal transformation with some countries progressing at an unprecedented rate – yet many countries and provinces are being left behind.
According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) latest indicators, South Asia is home to 47% of the world's poor living on less than $1 a day. India has reduced its poverty rate by 5-10% since 1990; most other countries registered reductions in poverty over the period, except for Pakistan, where poverty has stagnated at around 33% (using national poverty lines). Source:


What is the real extent of poverty in Asia?

A special chapter, which focused on poverty estimates and measures, contained in an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, considered the real extent of poverty in Asia.

‘Despite experiencing impressive reductions in poverty, Asia region remains host to unacceptably high levels of poverty.  There is considerable diversity across Asia and the Pacific in both poverty incidence and poverty reduction trends. For example, while in 2002 around 233 million fewer people lived in poverty than in 1990, a large majority of this reduction is explained by dramatic poverty reductions in the People’s Republic of China, with Southeast Asia also contributing significantly. In comparison, progress was much slower in South Asia, where around 434 million people were still poor in 2002—a figure only some 14 million lower than in 1990.’

The rural poor and South Asia most vulnerable
The chapter highlights three main findings:
1. Rural poverty often accounts for two thirds or more of total poverty.
2. There is a great deal of diversity in the incidence of poverty with South Asia being extremely poor:
A high incidence of US$1 a day poverty and a large population mean that South Asia was home to almost two thirds of Asia’s extremely poor in 2002.
3. Poverty remains a problem even where the incidence of extreme poverty is low.
The authors suggest that if a move were made to a slightly higher poverty line such as $2 a day (a poverty line close to that found in low middle-income countries) a majority of most ADB developing member countries populations are poor.
The incidence rate of $2 a day poverty in Indonesia, for example, is almost seven times that of $1 a day poverty and reveals, among other things, the vulnerability of those who have escaped $1 a day poverty.

Source: Key Indicators 2004: Poverty in Asia: Measurement, Estimates, and Prospects

Millions of rural poor in Asia dependent on livestock
‘Despite high levels of economic growth and rising demand for livestock products there are still large numbers of rural poor in Asia who depend to a greater or less extent on livestock for their livelihoods.  The challenge is to ensure that they have the means to access markets and the ability to produce products in the quantity and of the quality required.’ says Wright.

Population growth, urbanisation, increasing incomes, and changes in diet preferences are creating a massive growth in demand for animal products, with rapid growth in total milk and meat production, especially pork and poultry. However, these trends have resulted in the following:
• Greater pressure on the natural resource base
• Intensification of animal systems
• Need for improved efficiency in use of feed resources
• Higher concentration of animals in urban and peri-urban areas
• Increased disease risk, pollution and human health issues

Against this backdrop, poor farmers face a diverse set of animal production problems caused by disease, inadequate nutrition, resource degradation and a changing trade and policy environment.

Highlights of ILRI research in Asia
ILRI is currently active in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Indonesia is one of the world’s poorest countries and has the world’s biggest avian influenza problem. ILRI and partners are pioneering a new community approach, known as ‘participatory epidemiology’, and enlisting villagers help in controlling bird flu in Indonesia through local knowledge.

India has made remarkable progress in poverty reduction. Here, livestock production is growing faster than arable agriculture. It is predicted that livestock will contribute more than half of the total agricultural output in the next 25–30 years. One of the biggest impediments to growth of the livestock sector in India is the large-scale prevalence of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). ILRI and partners have recently formulated a global ‘roadmap’ for controlling FMD focusing on the special research needs of the poor in endemic FMD settings.

ILRI is also working in North East India with the Directorate of Dairy Development (DDD) of the Government of Assam, undertaking a comprehensive study to identify opportunities to boost the milk sector and improve the livelihoods of smallholder producers. A new strategy for pro-poor dairy development in Assam has been prepared and the Action Plan will be released shortly.

China has recorded extraordinary poverty reductions over the last two decades, with over 400 million fewer people living in extreme poverty. This emerging giant has demonstrated the importance of agricultural and rural development in poverty reduction. It has also been praised for its potential to become the world’s next science superpower. ILRI has established a molecular genetics laboratory with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing. The joint CAAS/ILRI molecular genetics laboratory focuses on characterization of the huge wealth of livestock and forage genetic resources in the country as well as providing a focal point for training scientists from throughout Asia in modern genetic techniques.

CAAS ILRI Beijing Lab brief

Important lessons to be learned from Asia
Wright believes that there are many important lessons to be learned from Asian countries’ experiences: ‘By studying the rapidly changing economies of South East Asia and the way in which livestock both contribute to, and livestock keepers benefit from the economic growth, lessons can be learned for the livestock sectors in South Asia and Africa.’

‘There are both positive and negative lessons. On the one hand, some countries, such as China, have made massive strides in poverty reduction, including among rural livestock keepers, but on the other hand, intensification of parts of the livestock sector has resulted in massive environmental problems. Livestock research and development in other parts of the world can learn a lot from analyzing these changes.

ILRI is facilitating an e-consultation for the development of an Action Plan for Pro-Poor Livestock Research for Sustainable Development in South Asia and South East Asia.

‘There is concern that much past livestock research has not contributed to poverty reduction in many parts of Asia. We are encouraging stakeholders from all areas of livestock research and development to get involved in the forthcoming e-consultation.

‘Now is the time to take a fresh look at how livestock research can contribute to poverty reduction in Asia’ concludes Wright.

Further information:
ILRI Research in South East Asia: ILRI’s collaborative projects in South East Asia are summarized in a brief.

ILRI and Livestock Research in South East Asia brief.

ILRI’s representative in Asia: Iain Wright, whose background is in livestock systems, joined ILRI from the Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, UK, where he worked for 25 years, managing a number of research programmes, and more recently was Head of Business Development and Chief Executive of the Macaulay Institute’s commercial research and consultancy company.  Although based in the UK, he worked extensively on livestock research and development projects in Asia.

New strategy for pro-poor dairy development in Assam

ILRI and partners recently unveiled a new action plan to help the poor in Assam improve their livelihoods through the dairy sector.

Assam is located in the far North-East corner of India and shares its borders with six Indian States and two countries. The majority of milk is produced by rural smallholders using indigenous cattle and buffalo, but productivity is low in comparison with other States in India. Further, most milk is marketed through traditional and informal channels, estimated at 97% of locally marketed milk, compared to some 80% nationally.  In spite of these constraints, Assam displays strong production potential and inadequate milk supply, so there are many opportunities to grow the dairy sector and help the poor improve their livelihoods.

In 2005, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was invited by the Directorate of Dairy Development (DDD) of the Government of Assam, to collaborate in a comprehensive study on the dairy sector in Assam to identify opportunities to boost the milk sector and improve the livelihoods of smallholder producers.

About Assam

Assam is situated in the far, North-East corner of India. The total geographical area of the State is 78,438 sq kms which accounts for about 2.4% of the country’s total geographical area. In 2001, the population of Assam stood at 26.64 million – representing 2.59% of the total population of India.

The percentage of poor in Assam is the highest among the seven sister States of the North East. Around 36.09% of the State’s population continues to live below the poverty line, a figure considerably above the national average of 26.1% (1999-2000). There is a rural-urban divide: four out of ten people in rural Assam are likely to be below the poverty line, while in urban Assam, the incidence is less than one in ten.

Cattle constitute the largest livestock group followed by goats, pigs and buffaloes. Livestock in Assam are mainly indigenous breeds but the average productivity is poor in comparison with other States of India. The production of milk in Assam in 2002-2003 was estimated at 773 million litres as against 750 million litres in 2001-2002 indicating a nominal increase of 3.06 per cent over.

Action plan presented to stakeholders
On Wednesday 30th May, ILRI and the DDD presented their findings and a draft action at a final stakeholders’ meeting in the Assam capital Guwahati convened by the Assam Minister for Animal Husbandry and Veterinary, the Hon. Khori Singh Enghti. The action plan is based on surveys of 1500 consumers, 600 traditional and formal market agents and 3000 dairy producers in eight districts of Assam. It also includes an analysis of the successes and failures in the formal sector in Assam and an analysis of the quality and safety of milk and dairy products in both the traditional and formal sectors. The data were gathered and analyzed in collaboration with local partners in Assam.

New Strategy for Pro-Poor Dairy Development

Assam Action Plan Highlights

Demand outstrips supply
The report found dairy production to be a feasible option for raising incomes and improving livelihood opportunities, particularly for the rural poor. According to Steve Staal, ILRI’s markets theme director, ‘Our study shows that there is a huge gap between demand and supply. To meet the demand, which is mostly for good quality raw milk, dairy interventions that address productivity, access to livestock services and markets, and improved milk quality in the traditional sector, would result in more income and more employment for rural smallholders.’

Improved productivity and increased production essential
Besides large market potential in rural Assam, the survey also found many farmers expressed a desire to become involved in increased marketed milk production, but low milk yields and lack of a basic marketing infrastructure were identified as major obstacles. The action plan highlights opportunities to increase farm-level production and productivity through improved animals such as cross-breeds, improved fodder and feed technology, and by providing access to livestock services. The action plan also incorporates actions to provide smallholder access to reliable markets to absorb more milk at remunerative prices. The government of Assam have already made efforts to bring smallholders into collective market mechanisms, but marketing of milk through the processed milk channel remains relatively insignificant and smallholders receive little remuneration.

Pro-poor interventions critical
The plan highlights that dairy systems in Assam may be too diverse to have a singular policy thrust. It states: ‘We need to recognize such diversities of the system and place them within pro-poor dairy intervention designs and enable poor households to take part in the process.’

According to the report, no dairy development is possible in Assam unless it addresses the problems faced by the traditional sector. Most of the milk consumed in Assam is ‘raw’ unpasteurized milk supplied by smallholders. The survey found that demand for pasteurised milk was low and its consumption was limited almost entirely to urban areas. Staal emphasised the need for an inclusive plan ‘Any development plan that focused mostly on pasteurised milk is unlikely to yield the desired results. The idea is not to have a parallel competitive system to beat the traditional sector but to strengthen the existing system and help build a blend of modern infrastructure and professionalism.’

Quality standards to be raised
The report also highlights the need to raise quality and hygiene standards. According to Delia Grace, an epidemiologist and food safety specialist at ILRI, ‘Most of the samples analysed did not meet general bacteriological quality standards causing a potential risk to human health. There is an urgent need to create awareness among farmers and distributors to address the problem.’ The report suggests taking immediate steps to provide training packages to milk farmers and distributors and to raise awareness among consumers that all ‘raw’ milk should be boiled before consumption – a practice that is generally followed in Assam.

Assam action plan soon ready for implementation
According to Iain Wright, ILRI’s representative for Asia ‘the report was well received by stakeholders and we are currently incorporating their comments. The final action plan will be released within a month.’

ILRI Assam Dairy Project Staff

Liza and Patro