Role of livestock on mixed smallholder farms in the Ethiopian Highlands : a case study from the Baso and Worena Wereda near Debre Berhan

G. Gryseels

    Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


    The productivity of livestock in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of milk and meat is the lowest of any world region. The outcome of livestock development projects has been disappointing. Low returns to investment in such projects have often arisen from poor project design, in turn the result of inadequate understanding of the relevant livestock production systems. Livestock in sub-Saharan Africa is concentrated on smallholder farms, where crop and livestock husbandry are practiced in association. The role of livestock in such "mixed" farming systems and the interactions between the crop and livestock components have often been poorly understood.<p>The highlands have the highest density of both the human and livestock populations of any major ecological zone in sub- Saharan Africa. Almost all the livestock of this zone can be found on mixed smallholder farms. Ethiopia accounts for 50% of the African highland landmass, and has the largest livestock herd on the African continent. This study reviews the role of livestock on mixed smallholder farms in the Ethiopian highlands.<p>The study takes a farming systems approach to research. It was undertaken within the framework of the Highlands Programme of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA). Field data were collected from 1979 to 1985 through farm management and household economic surveys of a total of 170 traditional smallholder farms located in four different Peasants Associations of the Baso and Worena district. The area is representative of the higher altitude zone of the Ethiopian highlands, and is located in a cereal-livestock zone. The farming system is based on smallholder rainfed subsistence agriculture, annual crops planted by broadcasted seed, rudimentary implements and an ox-drawn wooden plough, the 'maresha'. The results of this study show that livestock are of crucial importance to this farming system, and that there is a high level of crop-livestock integration. Livestock provide a dominant part of the farm's cash income and gross margin. The main outputs of cattle were intermediate products used as inputs into the crop production enterprise, such as draught power for land cultivation and crop threshing, and manure for fertilizer. The availability of animal draught power was a significant factor in determining the level of farm grain production. Livestock generated a substantial amount of employment, and was of prime importance in providing security and a source of investment to the farm household. Animals, particularly small ruminants, were sold according to cash flaw needs, and purchased as a store of wealth. Donkeys provide almost all the transport of inputs and outputs of agricultural products. The data show that livestock productivity is low for final products, but high in terms of intermediate products. The main production and institutional constraints to increased farm output are identified and discussed. The principal constraint to the development of livestock production for increased offtake of meat and milk is the importance given by farmers to the intermediate functions of livestock.<p>Research on relevant technology to increase the productivity of livestock in the Ethiopian highlands is reviewed. At ILCA's experiment station in Debre Berhan, research was undertaken on possible interventions for the farming system of the Baso and Worena district. Two technologies related to smallholder livestock production appeared particularly promising: the use of crossbred dairy cows (Boran x Friesian) for milk production, and the use of a newly developed single-ox plough. The encouraging results of on-station research and an ex-ante evaluation using a linear programming model led to the initiation of farmer-managed on-farm trials of both technologies in the same peasants associations in which the diagnostic studies had been undertaken previously. The productivity of test farms was compared with that of other farms that served as a control. Crossbred dairy cows had significantly higher milk yields than cows of local breeds, incomes of dairy test farmers were significantly higher than those of control farmers, and no major problems were encountered in technology adoption. The major constraints to dairy development in the area were found to be a shortage of feed during the dry season, lack of milk marketing facilities particularly during the main fasting period, occasional disease problems of crossbred cattle, and the lack of appropriate breeding services. If adequate extension services can be provided, smallholder dairy production on the basis of crossbred cows could be an efficient vehicle for agricultural development in the area. Verification trials were also conducted on the utilisation and rate of adoption of the single-ox plough for land cultivation. Both utilisation and adoption were low. An important weakness of the technology appeared to be the poor structural stability of the single-ox unit compared with the traditional 'maresha'. plough drawn by a pair of oxen. The research findings suggest that single-ox ploughing may be useful for seed covering operations, but could not replace the use of paired oxen for land cultivation.<p>The study concludes with an appraisal of the methodological approach taken in the research process, and a discussion of the transferability of the research results that were obtained. The implications of the study for future research work m agriculture and livestock in the Ethiopian highlands are also discussed.<p><TT></TT>
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Zwart, D., Promotor, External person
    • Jansen, E.P., Promotor, External person
    Award date28 Sep 1988
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Publication statusPublished - 1988


    • agriculture
    • socioeconomics
    • social structure
    • zootechny
    • mixed farming
    • production structure
    • agricultural structure
    • ethiopia


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