Thursday, January 31, 2008

La vache

"“You know, in Uganda, we have to look for survival of the fittest,” Mugira said once he finished sorting out the confusion. “These ones, they are the fittest,” he went on to say, gesturing toward his Holsteins. In physical terms, there was really no contest between the tough Ankoles and the fussy foreign cattle, which were always hungry and often sick. But the foreigners possessed arguably the single most important adaptive trait for livestock: they made money. Holsteins are lactating behemoths. In an African setting, a good one can produce 20 or 30 times as much milk as an Ankole.

The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.

“You do have local animals with various kinds of disease resistance and whatever other kinds of things you don’t want to do away with,” said Chris Delgado, an agriculture policy adviser at the World Bank. “But there’s a problem: They are kept by very poor people, and they don’t want to stay poor.”"

This is a fascinating (long) article, (thanks Leila). There is a similar situation unfolding everywhere in the world, and in Lebanon, most of the cows are now Holstein. The local (baladi) cows have all but disappeared. Problem with the Holstein, here as in Uganda, is that they need lots of care and food and water. Small farmers cannot aways afford to feed them as they should, and sometimes do not give them enough to drink. This reduces productivity of the Holstein, and they become a wasted investment. However, when cared for, they produce very well. I wonder what the situation is like now with the price of feed having gone up more than the price of milk (because once again of monospsony, the presence of only a few large buyers who can dictate the price). Is it still worth having improved breeds or has the old baladi variety become more economically efficient? Are there still any baladi cows around?

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