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The importance of working animals

Hunger and malnutrition are killing, each day, 25,000 people, mostly children. In addition, some  900 million people are suffering from hunger. Wrong development strategies, the neglect of agriculture over decades, the liberalization of markets of developing countries through the World Bank and IMF’s structural adjustment programs,  dumping exports of food products by industrialized countries, the priority given to export crops,  the unbalanced role played by multinational corporations, the lack of agrarian reforms and the urban bias are among the main causes of this daily scandal. New risks for agriculture are arising through climate change, the rapid degradation of eco-systems as well the speculative investments in the agricultural sector , including land-grabbing, the development of agro-fuels and the speculation on food commodities. 
Paradoxically, most of the victims of hunger and malnutrition – 80 per cent - reside in rural areas. According to the FAO, 50 per cent of them are small farmers, 20 per cent are landless, 10 per cent are nomadic herdsmen or small fishermen.  And whereas in the EU the farming population constitutes only an average of 5 per cent of the total population, it is about 50 per cent in many developing countries and even between 60 and 80 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
The vast majority of these small farmers, mainly women, cultivate an average of between one and two hectares of land – and often even less – with hoes and machetes, which are the only tools at their disposal. This is the case for some 600 million out of a global number of 1,3 billion farmers . Only a minority, approximately 300 million, are using working animals. By contrast, a Western European farmer possesses an average holding of 40 hectares, cultivated with increasingly powerful tractors and other machinery, and employs large quantities of pesticides and fertilizers.
After the world food crisis of 2008, agriculture is given again more importance. It should be put at the heart of any poverty reduction strategy, especially in the least developed countries. Its basic principles should be food sovereignty and agro-ecology, support for small-scale farmers and family agriculture and the full recognition of the role of women. The participation in the decision-making process of all concerned, especially farmers organizations, is vital.
A policy of fair and stable prices for food products  would be essential to provide small-scale   farmers with sufficient buying power and to enable them to emerge from hunger and poverty. It would at the same time favor a higher level of investment by peasants themselves. This also would require adequate market regulation so as to shield vulnerable agricultural producers against dumping and price volatility.
More investment by governments and international organizations is taking place but it is far from being sufficient. It is not always used properly. Governments should be advised to use available resources to facilitate in particular the acquisition of effective, sustainable tools including working animals instead of costly machines and tractors.

When I travelled early 2013on the roads of Ethiopia, a very poor country, I became aware of the importance of working animals for transport and the marketing of food products as I saw an impressive number of donkeys, horses and oxen drawing  carts charged with food products from villages to the next town market. They play as well a key role in the harvest system: on the outskirts of many villages, couple of oxen and horses were threshing wheat while turning around and trampling on the straw.  
In 2006, I attended in Geneva a conference by professor Gil Ducommun which had as a title : ‘In Burkina Faso, farmers could feed their country’. Ducommun is professor for development policy at the Haute Ecole Suisse d’Agronomie (HESA) in Zollikofen. His main message was that a reorientation of the buying power at the level of Ouagadougou, the capital, - of some 350 million euros – towards the consumption of national food products instead of imported food, could become a formidable engine for development. He recommended to invest in working animals, especially oxen and compost. Animal traction could double the production. A credit and investment system has to be put into place which, in particular, could facilitate the acquisition of oxen and ploughs, he said. No doubt, these recommendations remain valid for many developing countries.
Last September,  I visited an agro-ecological project called ARFA  in Burkina Faso, where 80 per cent of the 16 million population are small farmers. ARFA allows the farmers in some thirty villages to learn agro-ecological practices. I was amazed to see how these practices produce better and new harvests, like market gardening, providing small farmers and in particular women’s associations with additional  revenues, opening them a real perspective to move out of poverty. One of the methods the project is teaching to fight soil erosion is the use of light ploughs, called ‘kassine’,  drawn by oxen or donkeys to break the hard, lateritic soil before adding some compost .  We saw the result : a sorgho harvest which was impressive. This project showed us also the importance of  working animals in contributing to the development of compost which plays a key role for organic farming. Manure is an essential element for organic fertilizers which are not always available in sufficient quantities because of a lack of animals, including working animals.
I fully support the  recommendations on the role, impact and welfare of working animals in the Report of the FAO-The Brooke Expert Meeting which took place in Rome on June 2011. The issue of working animals needs to be put far higher on the agenda of all relevant international organizations, like FAO, OIE but also IFAD and WFP. They should better recognize the contribution of working animals in the fight against hunger and poverty, their fundamental role for the sustainable revitalization of agriculture and also for transport of goods and people as well as the incomes, food and services they provide to families. Working animals should be included in their reports, programs and policies. They should provide guidance to governments to raise awareness, visibility and recognition for the role of working animals, to explain their importance and their health and welfare to livelihoods and national economies. Likewise, academic, international and national research centers, universities and specialized schools should include this issue on their agenda, programs and education curricula’s.

Jean Feyder


Biographical Notice
Jean FEYDER is a retired Ambassador. He is now writing articles and working with NGO’s in the field of development and food systems as well as of Palestine.
From 2005 to 2012 he was Permanent Representative of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the United Nations Office, International Organisations and to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva. 
From 1998 to 2005, he was Director for Development Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg. 
From 2006 until 2011, Ambassador Jean Feyder Chaired the Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries at WTO. From 2009 until 2010, he was Chairman of the Trade and Development Board of United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD). 
In June 2011, he chaired the Committee of the recurrent discussion on Social Protection during the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference. In June 2012, during the 101th Session of that same Conference, he chaired the Committee on the Social Protection Floor which adopted a Recommendation on this issue.
He is the author of a book on the issue of hunger published first in German in 2010 by Westend under the title ‘Mordshunger’, then in 2011 in French under the title ‘La Faim Tue’ by L’Harmattan. An updated version of “Mordshunger” is published in October 2014 and of “La Faim Tue” end 2014.
He is married and father of two daughters.

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