Cattle are cash generating assets for mixed smallholder farms in the Eastern Amazon

M. Siegmund-Schultze*, B. Rischkowsky, J.B. da Veiga, J.M. King

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of cattle in the Amazon region is controversial in terms of their ecological suitability and profitability compared with crops. Nevertheless, they are widely distributed in the study area in north-eastern Pará and, contrary to the common image of cattle on large ranches, a high proportion of them are kept on smallholder farms. To explain their presence, cattle are assumed to have benefits beyond physical production, such as complementing resource use or representing capital. To test this hypothesis, the costs and benefits of the three main agricultural activities, cattle, cassava and black pepper production, in terms of land, labour and capital productivity, were recorded in 37 small farms over a period of 15 months. To provide a longer perspective, benefits and costs of these activities were calculated for their assumed lifetime, which in the case of cattle, assumed a stable herd, derived from a deterministic herd model. The resultant values for land, labour and capital productivity of cattle were much lower than the values derived from direct observations during the study period, and were not as high as those for cassava and black pepper. Furthermore, the analysis of resource use in the farms showed that cattle production was not usually integrated with cropping activities, did not improve the use of available labour, and competed for land. Therefore, there had to be a reason for keeping cattle beyond their physical productivity. It was deduced to be their functional quality. Cattle could be disposed of quickly and easily at any time, in order to acquire large sums of cash or the equivalent in kind. The liquidity derived from keeping living stock was not matched by other agricultural activities or by the financial market. Hence, cattle turned out to be the best instrument of finance for the smallholder. Farmers were not interested in the continuous development of their herds, or sustainable production practices, and favoured low input management. Consequently, development plans relying on long-term, continuous commitments to pasture and cattle management are inappropriate. Instead, research and extension work should focus on simple, flexible and low-cost improvements to cattle keeping on crop-livestock smallholder farms, until credit programmes are available that replace the financing function of cattle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)738-749
Number of pages12
JournalAgricultural Systems
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cash generating asset
  • Cattle
  • Eastern Amazon
  • Modelling
  • Smallholder
  • Systems approach


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