Vol 36,No 1
Small farm systems to feed hungry Asia
The Asian region is characterized by high humanpopulationgrowth rates, rising demand for food suppliesto meet current and projected requirements, continuingpoverty, urbanization and increasing zoonosis. Of these,increased population growth and the implications forfood supplies are especially critical, given that Asia alonehad a human population of about 3.3 million in 2005,which is projected to increase to about 4.6 million by 2020.Hungry Asia thus has the awesome task of grappling withthe demand for more food and its distribution, in whichanimal proteins rather than calories from cereals are themajor concern. Concerning the latter, the projected totalmeat and milk consumption levels in 2020 are far inexcess of anticipated supplies in Asia (Delgado
1999). The rapid growth in the consumption of foods of animal origin is especially spectacular in East and South-east Asia, where the current and projected demand hasplaced major challenges and unprecedented pressure onthe management of natural resources (land, crops,animalsand water) and improved animal productionsystems (Devendra, 2004 ). An inquiry into where theseincreased food supplies are going to come from, and whois going to supply the growth in consumption, inevitablyleads to a discussion and assessment of the contributionand capacity of small farming systems and small farmersin Asia.In this context, there is a school of thought that main-tains that, with increasing globalization, economies of scale, intensification and commercialization, these smallfarms do not have a viable future and are likely todisappear.This is unlikely to be the case in Asia becauseof the very large number of small farms, the production of relatively high proportions of foods of animal origin, theconsiderable size of the rural populations and livestock keepers therein, and continuing poverty and hunger. Ithas in fact been suggested that small mixed farms willremain predominant in Asia in the foreseeable future, inwhich crop–animal systems will see continuedintensificationand important growth, and that animals, inaddition to production, will continue to enhance thenatural resource base (Devendra, 2002). Pro-poorstrategies,plus social and effective developmentpolicies,are therefore needed to address increasedcontributionsfrom these farms to the food chain withinan enabling economic environment to spur agriculturaldevelopment.The small farms are diverse, complex, and are foundacross all agroecological zones (AEZ). They are involvedwith various biological and livelihood diversificationstrategies. A large proportion of the poor population isfound in small farms throughout Asia, living in theshadow of poverty and hunger, with an enduring wish foran improved and more comfortable life tomorrow. It isestimated, more importantly, that as much as 75% of thepoor, or 0.9 billion, live and work in rural areas with anincome of less than US$1
day (IFAD, 2001). In thedevelopingcountries, it has been reported that 50% of theestimated four billion rural poor are dependent on live-stock to maintain their basic quality of life, but their livesare being placed at risk by Western agricultural systemsas domestic markets in the mega cities are targeted byWestern food experts (Hodges, 2005).This paper focuses on small farm systems and smallfarmers with respect to their aspirations, characteristics,constraints, trends and their future. It is concernedspecifically with characteristics of small farms and smallfarmers, the role and potential contribution of animalsand improved natural resource management (NRM),ways of increasing productivity, pro-poor initiatives forthe alleviation of poverty and food insecurity, anddevelopmentpathways to achieve these objectives. Theawesome need is for effective development policy tostrengthen and accelerate the capacity of sustainableanimal production systems on small farms to increaseanimal protein supplies to meet human requirements inthe future. The paper emphasizes that the development of small farms in rainfed AEZs is imperative and especiallyimportant, and concludes with a discussion on strategiesand development pathways that link resource use,systemsperspectives to address major constraints,opportunitiesand policy issues.
The small farm scenario
It is important to understand and keep in perspective themeaning of small farms and their characteristics, as wellas those of resource-poor small farmers and the landless.
Definition of small farms
A definition of small farms is surprisingly sparse, andperhaps symptomatic of inadequate efforts to understandthe nature and characteristics of small farm systems andtheir relevance. Devendra (1993) defined small farms ascomplex interrelationships between animals, crops andfarming families, involving small landholdings andminimum resources of labour and capital, from whichsmall farmers may or may not be able to derive a regularand adequate supply of food or an acceptable income andstandard of living. Lipton (2005) refers to family farms,which are operated units that derive most of the labourand enterprise from the farm family; these are, however,not the same as small farms. Small farms are typicallymixed farms, and quite often these farms are involvedwith crops–pigs–aquaculture integration, such as inVietnam (see Figures 1 and 2).The traditional small farm scenario is characterized byseveral factors:•There is low input use.•Diversification of agriculture is practised.•There is limited access to resources, services andtechnologies.•They excel in the use of indigenous knowledge andtraditional systems.•A high proportion of the farmland is used for foodcrops, mostly for home consumption and also for foodsecurity.•Cash crops are grown to generate income.•A mix of animals is present, but seldom are more thantwo species of ruminants reared together.•Low economic efficiency and competitiveness areevident, due mainly to low transaction costs and theuse of unpaid family labour.•There is poor access to market outlets and poor market-ing arrangements.