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Focus on... Draught animal power

It would be hard to estimate the number of working animals in the world (400 million is one estimate) but there is no doubt that their contribution to agricultural production is enormously significant. This is especially so in rainfed agriculture in developing countries where motorized mechanization is out of the question for smallholder farmers. Yet draught animal power is largely overlooked when policy makers discuss how to boost agricultural production and improve farm incomes.

Working animals save human labour, and carry more goods, more quickly. Crop residues and forage are recycled through manure, and soil fertility improves. More cultivation can be done on time and more of the harvest delivered and sold through the wider circle of trade that using animals for transport makes possible.

The use of animal traction stimulates local services in blacksmithing, animal health, cart and implement making, and income for owners through hire. Transport of crop residues after harvest for feeding to livestock in the dry season is far more practical with pack animals or animal drawn carts than by hand. Similarly manure can be transported from cattle enclosure to field, improving soil fertility and farm productivity. Draught animals complement other forms of transport and many serve dual purpose for power and productivity.

But there is no virtue in being starry-eyed about animal traction and ignoring the difficulties associated with promoting its wider use. One requirement is developing sufficient demand to stimulate the services and suppliers. Others include keeping animals in good condition for work, and avoiding theft. In the following articles we focus on a few of the issues surrounding draught animal power.

Trends in traction

How long does it take for a fashion to become a trend and for a trend to become a tradition? Not as long as one might suppose. Forty years ago there were fewer than 1,000 donkey carts in Mauritania even though donkeys have been used as pack animals for centuries. Now there are over 75,000 donkey carts...

Weeding out the best solution

The Teso region of north and eastern Uganda, an area that was once very productive, now struggles to improve crop yields despite the introduction of improved varieties. As soil fertility has decreased, annual grass weeds and perennial weeds that are difficult to control have begun to build up and persist in some areas...

Back in the saddle

A typical morning in Addis Ababa, as man, animal and machine compete in the scrummage of movement and counter movement that fills the main arteries from suburb to centre. Most striking to the visitor are the donkeys and whether in town or countryside, donkeys have a central place in Ethiopian life...

Pacific Passion for Horse power

It is hot, hard, heavy work. Like so many other farmers in Vanuatu - a string of hilly islands in the south west Pacific - husband and wife are working their land by hand. It took them two hours to walk uphill through thick forest and bush for them to get to this plot and, after a full day's labour...

Whose road is it, anyway?

Donkeys, their panniers piled high with forage and fuelwood cut from distant fields, follow steep, narrow paths that twist and turn across a hillside in Ethiopia. For rural farmers from Albania to Zimbabwe, animals provide a perfect 'intermediate' solution to transport needs...

Tilling and timing

In much of sub-Saharan Africa, time for land preparation is indeed short. Tilling and timing is a constant challenge and making best use of farm power is important...

See also:

Are beasts a burden - to the environment
Man and beast working together

Soil: Giving ploughs the push
Local transport solutions for rural development


Back to top 1st July 2003