The oil palm ranks supreme among tree crops (coconut, cashew, citrus and rubber). Today, the Malaysian palm oil industry is remarkable in one of the most highly organized sectors of any national agricultural research (NARS) system in the world. In Malaysia, oil palm is referred as “the golden crop.”
This book was launched by the Minister of Primary Industries and Commodities on January 10th on the 100th year anniversary of the commercialization of the palm oil industry in Malaysia. The reference to “The unfinished agenda” emphasizes shared ideals and major opportunities for potential increased productivity in integrated animal-agriculture, mainly cattle and goats.
Silvopastoral systems are the focus of this book, and are important pathways for increasing animal protein production, but the systems are sadly neglected. The concept of silvopastoral systems relate to agroforestry crop options that are integrated with animals. They are an important pathway for food production. Integrated systems link the natural resources (crops, animals, soils and water) to economic, social and ecological perspectives. Malaysian agriculture is essentially mixed farming, and given the vast diversity of crops and animals, integration and diversification of various crops and animals is common. The impact of the synergistic interactions gives a greater total contribution than the sum of their individual effects. Thus, integration of beef cattle with oil palm results in increased fresh fruit bunches (FFB), palm oil, and beef. Additionally, ecological and economic sustainability are mutually reinforcing. In small farms, ruminants are multifunctional and contribute significantly to productivity, stability and sustainability of many farming systems in the developing world.
Challenges for agriculture
The livestock sub-sector is one of the fastest growing in agriculture (World Bank, 2003), and the second largest contributor to the agricultural economy, superseded only by staple cropping. The quest to increase per animal production is justified by the awesome human needs and rising incomes, increasing per animal production is justified and driven by the awesome human needs and rising incomes.
Unfortunately, agriculture is waning and so is R and D, exacerbating inefficiencies in natural resource management (NRM) and production systems, persistence of food insecurity, poverty, malnutrition, exploding food prices, catastrophic floods, survival, and natural resource degradation particularly in the less-favored areas (LFAs), mitigation, and the unpredictable effects of climate changes are major challenges and concerns.
12.5% of world population is currently malnourished (FAO, 2012), and emphasizes the need for more food. Food-demand patterns are also rapidly changing which imposes changes in farming systems which may go against tradition. Farming systems in Asia are characterized and dominated by small farms, dominating presence of about 87% of the global total of 470 million small farms (< 2 ha), many of which are models of efficiency. Key descriptors of small farmers are deprivation, subsistence, illiteracy, survival and vulnerability, whose lives are a non-ending syndrome of poverty - adaptation - fragile lives - little hope - low life expectancy complex (Devendra, 2011). Technology-driven transformation, empowerment and community-based pro-poor development are essential.
The unfinished agenda merits an assertive program, institutional commitment, and joint efforts with the private sector. In the absence of this urgent action, the development of sustainable silvopastoral systems will remain a continuing academic rhetoric. The combined threats and effects of climate change damage to the environment are unpredictable. Equally serious is the limited capacity of the national agricultural research systems in most countries. Dr. Devendra suggests revitalized intensification of animal agriculture to enhance productivity through three pathways:
- Significantly intensify the efficient use of the natural resources and enhance the integrity of the environment.
- Increase the availability and access to food, especially animal proteins (Devendra, 2010), by improving the integrity of the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends.
- Intensify the use of less-favored rainfed areas (LFAs), and empower the most marginalized men and women farmers to improve farming systems and agricultural productivity. Goats can be used as the entry point for development.
The unfinished agenda merits an assertive program, institutional commitment, and participatory efforts with the private sector. Time is not on our side and there is urgency in the resolution of priority issues in the immediate future. Without these and urgent action, sustainable silvopastoral systems will remain a continuing academic rhetoric.
In Chapter 12, Dr. Devendra identifies new issues such as diet trends, intensification, enzootic diseases, and rising costs which challenge cost-effective production, efficient use of the production resources and the policy framework. Appropriately, he emphasizes the tenets of research, leadership and direction. A long reference list at the end of the book provides a guide to the primary sources of data.
Vision must lead the way, and it is sobering to reflect in closing on two very appropriate and endearing quotations:
- “Beyond your diagrams and equations don’t forget the face of the hungry man.” Albert Einstein
- “Land rich in livestock is never poor and land poor in livestock is never rich.” Ethiopian proverb
Devendra, C. (2010). Small farms in Asia. Revitalising agricultural production, food security and rural prosperity. Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 175 pp.
Devendra. C. (2011). Climatic change in animal production in Asia: coping with challenges agriculture, ASM Sci. J: 5: 138-152.
FAO. (2012). The State of Food Security in the World. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, 43 pp.
First published in Malaysia in 2017 by MALAYSIAN PALM OIL COUNCIL (MPOC). This book can be purchased from the publisher for approximately $17 USD (not including shipping).
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