Description of typical situation

This context describes mixed crop-livestock systems with small (sheep and goats) and/or large (cattle and buffalo) ruminants, as well as horses and donkeys, on smallholder farms that are mostly found in regions with seasonal rainfall, i.e., with dry and rainy seasons. Examples are found in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya), South and East Asia, and Latin America (Andean region). The precipitation in the rainy season, in combination with an adequate level of soil fertility, typically supports sufficient food production to sustain the needs of farm households. Because of the relatively favorable conditions, human population and farm density are often relatively high, setting specific constraints for farm development. Farms are small, labor is predominantly provided by household members, land for farm extension is limited, and food crop production for household consumption is traditionally the major farming objective. Farms tend to become smaller over time, by inheritance to the next generation, though a recent study showed that pressure on farmland was slightly decreasing in Tanzania.

Livestock is important on such farms to support crop production through supply manure, providing traction for plowing, tilling and transport, and being a capital stock. The quantity of meat and milk sold is limited, but milk sales, even of small quantities, are important since they provide daily cash income. Though subsistence, i.e., support of the livelihood of the farm household is the traditional objective, these farming systems can be increasingly market-oriented. This often takes place in the vicinity of urban locations, where market-oriented production is often associated with specialization and intensification of farming systems. Where such specialization and intensification take place, crossbreeding of local breeds with exotic ones may occur, but, in general, crossbreeding is limited.

Globally, in many regions with mixed crop-livestock systems, the market orientation of farming has just started, and this process is constrained by limited access to the market for inputs and outputs which can be caused by remoteness and/or suboptimal infrastructure. However, where conditions are favorable, geographical clusters of smallholder farming have turned almost fully to market-oriented production, driven by market demand, infrastructure development, input and service supply, marketing channels, extension, and education. Such clusters are often found in peri-urban areas but not necessarily. The integration between crops and livestock may become less prominent or even absent in such clusters, and production tends to intensify.

As animal productivity rises and as farm rearing focuses on the delivery of edible products (nonfood production functions of livestock are replaced by alternatives, such as mechanization, banking, and insurances), the number of livestock with nonfood production functions decreases. Some of the principles relevant to smallholder systems will be less important in such market-oriented systems, where the principles applying to the intensive production systems may become more relevant.

Common environmental issues

The greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity of meat and dairy production in mixed crop-livestock systems tends to be high, due to the low productivity at animal and herd levels, and poor quality of the feed ration. GHG emissions are mainly due to enteric fermentation; land use change and fossil fuel emissions are generally low. (Principles 2 and 3)

Communal grazing lands in regions with smallholder mixed crop livestock farming are often at risk of ecosystem degradation due to overstocking, especially in times of prolonged droughts. Grassland degradation is observed as vegetation cover is altered (reduced or even entirely eliminated, or evolving from grass to shrub), and signs of soil erosion appear. Such degradation reduces production potential, but also biodiversity, the amount of carbon stored in soils, and replenishment of aquifers. Communal grazing lands in regions with smallholder mixed crop livestock farming are also being converted into cropland, contributing to GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. (Principles 2 and 5)

Land shortage and increasing population pressure on land result in diminishing farm sizes, forcing famers to intensify their land use. For example, in Ethiopia, cultivation of Khat and market-oriented dairy production are land use activities generating high returns. The derived income is used to safeguard household food security. In the absence of balanced fertilizer application, intensification can cause soil nutrient mining, which leads to a decrease in soil quality and eventually degradation (Principles 4 and 5).

Low productivity, increasing pressures on land, increasing consumer demands for food and water, climate change, and environmental degradation are all drivers of aggravating water scarcity in these types of dry to temperate systems (Principles 3 and 4).