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Resilient livelihoods with livestock

Livestock rearing is a mainstay of many rural communities in the dry lands. ICARDA is strengthening the resilience of pastoralists through livestock genetic improvement, community-based breeding programs, and diversification.

Sheep and goats are a major source of income and livelihoods for the rural poor. But, small-scale farmers usually lack the resources and information needed to improve animal health, productivity, and profitability. ICARDA is responding to this challenge through animal nutrition, feed and fodder production, preventative veterinary care, and improved genetic stock.

Efforts to raise the income of pastoralists also include community-based breeding programs, and diversification – giving communities the tools and know-how to create value-added products such as cheese, yogurt, or wool and mohair.


Genetic improvement boosts livestock productivity: An initiative to improve genetic stock is boosting animal productivity and profitability in dry areas. Good results have been achieved for sheep and goat herders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With some adjustments for local conditions, the strategy can be applied to other dry countries.

Documented results in these two countries reveal:

  •  80-200% increases in meat and milk production and animal growth rates
  •  Benefit -cost ratios of 3:1
  • A dramatic fall in animal mortality rates
  •  In Afghanistan, the technology package generated benefits worth over 650,000 USD, with a 71% rate of return on investment.

Small-scale animal breeding produces big results: Community-based breeding programs are proving a valuable approach for small-scale livestock farmers in remote dryland areas. Focusing on indigenous breeds of mainly sheep and goats, this sustainable alternative to more modern breeding programs has already proved highly successful in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Peru.

In Ethiopia, more than 500 households in remote communities have used the approach since 2008. They have been rewarded with improved flock genetic quality, animal health and productivity, and income from lamb sales.

Crops or Livestock? Why not both? Farmers do not always have to choose between crop or livestock systems. New methods are needed to cope with a changing situation and integrating crop-livestock systems can be a highly effective way of cushioning each sector from external pressure and getting maximum effects from a symbiosis of both. Successful technologies that combine crop and livestock systems include:

  • On-farm feed production
  • Rotation of barley with forage legumes
  • Growing cactus and fodder shrubs
  • Managing feed blocks from crop residues and agro-industrial by-products

Strengthening community resilience - diversification and value addition: Diversification of agricultural systems can be an effective means of mitigating risk and increasing incomes. Herders in rangeland areas are being encouraged to produce value-added products such as yogurt and cheese from their sheep and goats. The Awassi sheep, a hardy native breed of the Middle East demonstrates good resistance to high temperatures and low rainfall, bringing resilience and considerable potential as a source of meat, milk, and wool.