Crops and Livestock Systems | EXPLOREit @ ICRISAT /sites/all/themes/icrisat
Crops and Livestock Systems
Roadside goat market in Mozambique, no infrastructure, services and control.

Crop and livestock farming systems are key for future global food security. The demand for animal products is rising and “the livestock revolution” could drive sustainable rural development and be an opportunity for thousands of smallholder farmers.  

2/3 - of global population live in crop-livestock systems, producing

50% - world's cereals,

66% - world's sorghum,

74% - world's millet,

75% - share of global milk production produced in mixed crop-livestock farms. They produce 60% of the world's meat.

Importance of crop-livestock systems

Livestock is an important component of farming systems in developing countries, directly supporting the livelihoods of 600 million poor smallholder farmers (ref: Thornton Philip, 2010). Raising livestock improves the resilience of poor communities, especially in arid regions where droughts and pests could destroy all crops.

Many smallholder farmers in semi-arid Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia do cultivate crops and raise livestock on their farms, in a so-called crop-livestock farming system.

These mixed farms produce roughly half the global food production and half the cereals.

Currently, livestock is one of the fastest growing agricultural subsectors in developing countries. This growth is driven by the rapidly increasing demand for livestock products, because of population growth, urbanization and increasing incomes in developing countries. But this so-called “livestock revolution” also means more pressure on land and water resources for animal feed. 

What are the best bet crop-livestock technologies to sustainably improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and what could be the trade-offs ? How do we facilitate uptake of these improved technologies and practices?

To increase farm productivity and livelihoods while conserving the natural resources, we need an integrated approach as crops, livestock and soil/water/biomass are interdependent components of the whole farming system.

Understanding synergies and trade-offs between crops and husbandry

There are many interactions between crops and livestock, which vary between regions and farms depending on household resources, external drivers (eg policies and markets) and the way the farmer manages his or her farm.

Some crops or crop residues can be used as animal feed. Livestock provides draft power and organic manure that boosts soil fertility, thus increasing crop yields.

Livestock improves smallholder farmers' livelihoods, generating incomes by providing both food and non-food products that the household can sell in formal or informal markets. For the poor and under-nourished, particularly children, the addition of modest amounts of meat, milk or fish to their diets can have substantial benefits on their health.

The multiple interactions between crop - livestock and the natural resources, soil and water in particular, should be carefully analyzed in a systems perspective to understand the potential impact and trade-offs of a particular change in the crop-livestock system.  For instance the SystemWide Livestock Programme looks at the use of crop residues and competition between feed, renewal of soil fertility and other purposes. Other aspects determining the crop-livestock interactions the cropping patterns (eg should the farmer allocate surface for grain or fodder crop ?), mulching practices and soil fertility, feeding strategies and livestock productivity, or the access to information and extension services.

Localized and market-oriented approach to facilitate uptake of innovations

Livestock development should lead to better incomes and nutrition. Yet, mixed crop-livestock small-scale farms in developing countries do not have often enough incentives to invest in their husbandry, as the markets they have access to are often informal with poor infrastructure, inputs and services, resulting in high risk and low return of investment.

One major constraint for these farms is availability of feed sources and rising animal feeding costs. Various innovations could help like sorghum or millet varieties with crop residues of greater fodder quality  [see for instance "Sida-funded Bio-Innovate program, new sorghum and millets varieties for better food and animal feed security and improving livelihoods in Eastern Africa" or "Improving post rainy sorghum varieties to meet the growing grain and fodder demand in India" ACIAR-funded  project, “Improving post rainy sorghum varieties to meet the growing grain and fodder demand in India], using nitrogen-rich grain legumes residues, mixing sorghum stover with urea or promoting interesting fodder sources such as bana grass (read the  Crop-livestock intensification in Zimbabwe case study).

Innovation platforms gathering farmers, traders and other stakeholders along the livestock supply chain can drive the necessary changes in the way crops and livestock are managed, leading to intensification, better value for the farmer and more efficient and profitable value chain for smallholder farmers .  

Farmer in Mozambique with stock of maize stover treated with urea as improved animal feed.
Cattle eating sorghum leftover in Mali – Crop residues are important in crop-livestock systems.
Goat value chain in Zimbabwe – innovation platform enables uptake of better practices.