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Visualising livestock geography

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One of the major limitations in livestock sector planning, policy development and analysis is the paucity of reliable and accessible information on the distribution, abundance and use of livestock. With the objective of redressing this shortfall, the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO has developed a global livestock information system (GLIS) in which geo-referenced data on livestock numbers and production are collated and standardized, and made available to the general public through the FAO website.

Where gaps exist in the available data, or the level of spatial detail is insufficient, livestock numbers are predicted from empirical relationships between livestock densities and environmental, demographic and climatic variables in similar agro-ecological zones.

[Reference: FAO. 2007. Gridded livestock of the world 2007, by G.R.W. Wint and T.P. Robinson. Rome, pp 131, Environmental Research Group, Oxford, and FAO Animal Production and Health Division]

The spatial nature of these livestock data facilitates analyses that include: estimating livestock production; mapping disease risk and estimating the impact of disease on livestock production; estimating environmental risks associated with livestock due, for example, to land degradation or nutrient loading; and exploring the complex interrelationships between people, livestock and the environment in which they cohabit.

It is through quantitative analyses such as these that the impact of technical interventions can be estimated and assessed. Also, by incorporating these data into appropriate models and decision-making tools, it is possible to evaluate the impact of livestock-sector development policies, so that informed recommendations for policy adjustments can be made.

The components of the information system thus created include: a global network of providers of data on livestock and subnational boundaries; an Oracle database in which these data are stored, managed and processed; and a system for predicting livestock distributions based on environmental and other data, resulting in the Gridded Livestock of the World (GLW) initiative: modelled distributions of the major livestock species (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry) have now been produced, at a spatial resolution of three minutes of arc (approximately 5 km). These data are freely available through the GLW website1, through an interactive web application known as the Global Livestock Production and Health Atlas (GLiPHA)2, and through the FAO GeoNetwork data repository.

As well as detailing various components of the GLIS, this publication explains how livestock distributions were determined, and presents a series of regional and global maps showing where the major ruminant and monogastric species are concentrated. Spatial livestock data can be used in a multitude of ways. Various examples are given of how these and other datasets can be combined and utilized in a number of applications, including estimates of livestock biomass, carrying capacity, population projections, production and offtake, production-consumption balances, environmental impact and disease risk in the rapidly expanding field of livestock geography.

Informed livestock-sector policy development and planning requires reliable and accessible information about the distribution and abundance of livestock. To that end, and in collaboration with the Environmental Research Group Oxford (ERGO), FAO has developed the “Gridded livestock of the world” spatial database: the first standardized global, subnational resolution maps of the major agricultural livestock species. These livestock data are now freely available for downloading via this FAO page.

On the road, the ‘dhangars’ of Maharashtra

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Jyotiba dhangars from Kolhapur, travelling to Wai, in Maharashtra's Satara district.

Jyotiba dhangars from Kolhapur, travelling to Wai, in Maharashtra's Satara district.

The rapid loss of tree cover in western Maharashtra, together with overgrazing, has reduced the carrying capacity of the land for the animal herds of the pastorals. Many pastoral groups can  no longer sustain themselves on their traditional animal husbandry. The goat, the animal most adapted to degraded vegetation, has become an important herd animal – dhangars in earlier times maintained buffalo and cattle too. The dhangars have also become semi-sedentary, which has hampered their following of a rotational circuit of grazing. The only new resource which has become available is the increased demand of smallholder farmers for manure. Dhangar weavers used to enjoy a good market for their woollen and cotton blankets but mechanisation has all but ruined this occupation, and what market may survive for woven blankets is threatened by the steady impoverishment of the rural population. (Adapted from ‘The Ecological Basis of the Geographical Distribution of the Dhangars: A Pastoral Caste-Cluster of Maharashtra’, by Kailash C Malhotra and Madhav Gadgil, in South Asian Anthropologist, 1981.)

Written by makanaka

December 8, 2010 at 16:12