Creating Climate-Resilient Livelihoods from Livestock
Land O’Lakes Venture37 implements the livestock livelihoods portion of a resilience food security activity known as Maharo in southern Madagascar. Prior to that, Venture37 implemented the ASOTRY (“harvest” in Malagasy) program, which also included a livestock component in the same region.
On September 9, 2021, the United Nations announced that Madagascar is on the brink of experiencing the world’s first climate change famine. After a climate shock, livestock are often the only resource still available to vulnerable households to help them recover; livestock are a key component of southern Madagascar’s resiliency.
It is well-documented that livestock serve as a form of financial savings for rural families (WRI, 2019) and that the lower the number of animals owned by households, the higher the rate of child nutrition-related problems (FEWSNET, 2018). The Maharo and ASOTRY projects have worked and still work with a broad range of livestock-related activities, which contribute to household resilience against climate change, as called for in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Land Report, such as fodder and grazing management, livestock diversification, and water resources. This blog post will focus on livestock as a coping strategy for families to preserve their households’ financial reserves.
During severe drought periods, such as those in southern Madagascar now, livestock like cattle and goats can easily adapt from consuming grasses to consuming cacti. Even when maize and sweet potatoes have dried, livestock are still able to convert natural resources to financial resources that households use to offset shocks and stresses caused by the climate famine.
While implementing the ASOTRY program, we learned that preventive services offered by the community livestock workers, such as vaccinations and parasite control, reduced mortality losses to vulnerable households from 18% to 10%. We learned the necessity of including village savings and loan associations for communities’ livestock purchases and livestock health purchases. When combined with access to on-farm management skills, this contributed to a 20% increase in herd sizes during the drought recovery period. In other terms, in the words of Dr. Jenny Hodbod, Michigan State University, Department of Community Resilience, “They bounced back better” (GASL, 2021).
Increases in livestock efficiency demonstrate the improved use of natural resources to support long-term sustainability.
By increasing feed and forage cultivation (measured quantities) and increased anti-parasitic delivery through the last mile (number of community livestock workers per livestock-owning households) and quantities of dewormers sold, we can indirectly track improved natural resource use. By increasing forage biodiversity, climate risks are offset. The reduced parasite load can then improve the animal’s nutrient absorption and conversion into useable financial resources. Because the indicators are quantifiable, they can be measured for constant feedback and adaptive management.
Information gathered during the first year of the Maharo project found that livestock-owning households in the target area are exposed to more than $8 million in livestock mortality losses annually. An 8% reduction in mortality could inject $640,000 into 59,000 households.