H. Agriculture and Livestock

1. Seed Security

Populations at risk are often vulnerable for as long as they remain dependent on outside interventions for their survival. In rural areas, self-sufficiency is usually dependent on the ability of farmers to produce sufficient food for themselves and their families. For this to occur, farmers must have some measure of seed security, or economic and physical access to sufficient quantities of good quality seed before the planting season. As with food security, the three variables that are central to the attainment of seed security are availability, access, and utilization.

Seed availability refers to the seed supply within the affected district, region, or community. Seed availability is described according to the desired type, quantity, and quality of seed or planting material available, as well as where and when it can be obtained. Availability may refer both to the farmer seed system and to the commercial seed sector. In almost all regions of the world, each year farmers retain seed from their harvests. In addition to saving seed, some farmers purchase all or part of their seed on the market, either to supplement their own supply or to add diversity to their seed selection. Other methods of obtaining seed include seed exchanges, gifts, and loans.

Seed access refers to the ability of farmers to acquire the seed or planting material that is available. In some cases, seed may be readily available on local markets, but subsistence farmers are either unable to purchase the needed seed, or may not be able to physically reach the area where seed can be obtained. In many crisis situations, access will be limited to only a certain portion of the population. As seed prices go up, the purchasing power will be reduced for many people in the community, and they will no longer be able to purchase what they need for the season.

Seed utilization refers to the ability of farmers to make use of seed, once they access it. This implies that farmers have the tools, the land, the knowledge, and the physical ability to plant seed. In many situations, these factors will not be an issue. Land tenure, however, may play a role, particularly when DPs are trying to farm. In addition, tools may be needed following a major crisis, and training may become important in situations where new planting materials are being introduced.

a. Evaluating Seed System Interventions

Interventions used to strengthen seed systems in a country will be determined by the initial needs assessment; if farmers are seed insecure, understanding which of the above variables is responsible for that insecurity is important, because addressing the wrong component may actually cause further problems over the long term. Practitioners of seed interventions must understand the roles that each of these components plays in agricultural recovery following a crisis and must use this understanding to target interventions accordingly.

Before any intervention is implemented in a region, it is important to determine the origins of seed supply, factors affecting seed security, and how these factors can be dealt with in a sustainable fashion. Perhaps the most important part of this assessment is to distinguish between problems of availability and problems of access before designing a program to address the seed issue. In many cases, the crisis will affect both of these components, but in some cases only one will be affected.

Farmer seed systems vary somewhat from place to place, but they are usually resilient and preferred by farmers. Seed availability is often a factor following a long-term drought or a sudden-onset disaster. In these cases, both stored and planted seeds may be destroyed or lost, leaving farmers without seed to plant, and without the ability to obtain new seed through traditional farmer seed systems. In these cases, seed distributions may be an appropriate intervention.

In many crisis situations, access will be limited to only a certain portion of the population. As seed prices go up, the purchasing power will be reduced for many people in the community and they will no longer be able to purchase what they need for the season. Interventions should be targeted toward increasing market access for this segment of the community, rather than the community as a whole. Lack of access to seeds should not be confused with lack of availability, because interventions for lack of access are very different from those for lack of availability. Treating access problems with seed distributions may actually cause more harm than good, because local farmers and traders rely on market sales to maintain their livelihoods.

When availability is determined to be the most significant problem faced by a community, seeds are often distributed to local farmers. In some situations, distribution of hand tools may also be appropriate. Tools should not automatically be included in seed distributions; need for tools must always be assessed separately.

In other cases, utilization may be a serious problem faced by the farming community. Seeds may not be of appropriate quality to produce a good harvest. Access to farming lands may be constrained by conflict or the presence of landmines. In other cases, households may be unable to plant fields due to a lack of labor caused either by national or military service requirements, or by serious illness (e.g., HIV/AIDS, malaria) of the normally able-bodied family members.

2. Livestock

Livestock-including camels, cattle, goats, sheep and fowl-are an important component of agricultural economies. They provide meat, milk, manure, traction, transport, fuel, skins, hides, and other products. When emergencies occur, livestock productivity decreases and animals can be lost. When conditions improve, livestock are important assets in helping people to recover nutritionally and economically. In times of insecurity, when local populations are displaced, livestock can enable families to retain some stability; by taking the animals with them when they move, families maintain some food security.

Livestock systems vary depending on whether they are part of pastoral lifestyles (nomadic or semi-nomadic) or mixed farming systems. In pastoral systems, populations derive most of their food and income from livestock. Pastoralists usually live in arid or semi-arid areas or mountainous regions where crop production is difficult, and the availability and distribution of forage varies seasonally, depending on precipitation. Pastoralists cope with this variability by migrating with their herds and using other strategies to maintain productivity. Livestock production is critical to pastoral economies as they have few economically viable alternatives.

Mixed farming systems include both livestock and crops, and are either sedentary or agro-pastoral (livestock spend a portion of the year in distant grazing areas while crops are produced close to home). Livestock and crop production complement each other and provide many advantages over crops alone by reducing risk and increasing productivity. Animals can graze on crop residues that would otherwise be wasted. They provide manure to fertilize the soil and improve the soil structure. Livestock can survive a short, dry spell, ensuring food security when crops fail.

In both pastoral and mixed farming systems, livestock owners adopt practices that promote food security and reduce risk. Some animals may be placed with other families to avoid total loss from disease or disaster. Keeping different species (e.g., cattle, sheep, and goats) reduces the risk of disease and uses grazing resources more efficiently than keeping only one species. Pastoralists with large herds often split their herds into smaller groups, each tended by a different family member, to more rationally use grazing resources and to reduce the risk of loss from theft, disease, or disaster.

In emergency situations, conflicts arise when DPs with livestock compete for reduced forage and water resources, or when moving herds destroy crops. Often, livestock are slaughtered to generate income or stolen by soldiers or other hungry people. Animal mortality from malnutrition increases when fodder is insufficient or inappropriate. When herds mix at watering points, local endemic diseases increase and weakened animals with low resistance succumb. Livestock losses can be enormous.

Livestock losses can reduce income and food security for 5 years or more while flocks and herds are being restocked. If emergencies continue, as in conflict situations, losses may be so severe that recovering herds is not a viable option. People lose their livelihoods completely as animals die or are sold on local markets, and households become increasingly vulnerable. Destitution is becoming more common among livestock owners as livelihoods are lost.

a. Evaluating Livestock Interventions

Evaluating options for livestock interventions requires an understanding of the role of livestock in local production
systems and an evaluation of the need to preserve the nutritional and economic benefits of livestock resources. Knowledge about the severity and distribution of the emergency is important to identify target regions. Monitoring the climate and other conditions is helpful because the situation may change rapidly.

Because livestock have a life cycle spanning multiple years, losses during an emergency situation represent disruptions in both present and future income. Thus, interventions must respond to current needs, while simultaneously addressing long-term opportunities to preserve and enhance livestock assets.

Because the health and population of livestock is closely tied to the natural resources in the environment, it is important to recognize that overstocking in a region can exacerbate problems caused by drought or disease. For this reason, it is important to look very carefully at restocking programs, particularly if the environment has not yet recovered from climatic shocks. In many cases, simply keeping a core herd of breeding animals alive will be the first step to a natural recovery once pasturelands begin to improve. Destocking measures should be considered when market access is a problem (e.g., borders or international markets are closed) and animals are dying from lack of fodder or water. Provision of basic animal health care may be one of the most effective means of preventing excessive animal deaths.

TOC: Information on Populations at Risk