Author(s): Devendra C
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Abstract The importance of rainfed areas and animal agriculture on productivity enhancement and food security for economic rural growth in Asia is discussed in the context of opportunities for increasing potential contribution from them. The extent of the rainfed area of about 223 million hectares and the biophysical attributes are described. They have been variously referred to inter alia as fragile, marginal, dry, waste, problem, threatened, range, less favoured, low potential lands, forests and woodlands, including lowlands and uplands. Of these, the terms less favoured areas (LFAs), and low or high potential are quite widely used. The LFAs are characterised by four key features: i) very variable biophysical elements, notably poor soil quality, rainfall, length of growing season and dry periods, ii) extreme poverty and very poor people who continuously face hunger and vulnerability, iii) presence of large populations of ruminant animals (buffaloes, cattle, goats and sheep), and iv) have had minimum development attention and an unfinished wanting agenda. The rainfed humid/sub-humid areas found mainly in South East Asia (99 million ha), and arid/semi-arid tropical systems found in South Asia (116 million ha) are priority agro-ecological zones (AEZs). In India for example, the ecosystem occupies 68\% of the total cultivated area and supports 40\% of the human and 65\% of the livestock populations. The area also produces 4\% of food requirements. The biophysical and typical household characteristics, agricultural diversification, patterns of mixed farming and cropping systems are also described. Concerning animals, their role and economic importance, relevance of ownership, nomadic movements, and more importantly their potential value as the entry point for the development of LFAs is discussed. Two examples of demonstrated success concern increasing buffalo production for milk and their expanded use in semi-arid AEZs in India, and the integration of cattle and goats with oil palm in Malaysia. Revitalised development of the LFAs is justified by the demand for agricultural land to meet human needs e.g. housing, recreation and industrialisation; use of arable land to expand crop production to ceiling levels; increasing and very high animal densities; increased urbanisation and pressure on the use of available land; growing environmental concerns of very intensive crop production e.g. acidification and salinisation with rice cultivation; and human health risks due to expanding peri-urban poultry and pig production. The strategies for promoting productivity growth will require concerted R and D on improved use of LFAs, application of systems perspectives for technology delivery, increased investments, a policy framework and improved farmer-researcher-extension linkages. These challenges and their resolution in rainfed areas can forcefully impact on increased productivity, improved livelihoods and human welfare, and environmental sustainability in the future.
This article was published in Asian-Australas J Anim Sci
and referenced in Agrotechnology