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From Subsistence to Specialised Commodity Production: Commercialisation and Pastoral Dairying in Africa

Research reports

In this review we explore how pastoral dairying has changed as a consequence of commercialisation, defined as the total or partial shift in production goals from meeting subsistence needs to producing for the market. This shift occurs when monetary exchange becomes so regular and so generalised that pastoral products are no longer solely produced for direct use by the production unit, but acquire a monetary value, realizable through market exchange. When this happens, the character of pastoral products as marketable commodities is taken into account by producers a priori, during the process of production itself.

Faced with the need to produce most of what they consume, subsistence-oriented pastoralists extract a broad array of useful products from their herds. Commercially-oriented livestock producers, on the other hand, may purchase from the market most of what they need, and only produce those livestock products which are most profitable to sell. Market involvement therefore tends to narrow the range of products extracted from herds and to encourage specialization.

With regards to semi-arid Africa, development planners generally view live animals for slaughter as the commercial product par excellence, while milk and dairy products are conceived of as subsistence goods which decline in importance with commercialization. Accordingly, most examinations of commercialization analyze the problems and prospects for increased meat production. In this paper we will consider the same issue of pastoral commercialization, but from the opposite direction, looking the other way down the telescope. We are concerned with what has happened when milk itself becomes a commodity, and alternatively, what happens to dairy production by pastoralists when live animal sales become more prevalent.

The opening section of the paper offers a general model of the economic factors which influence a pastoral household to withdraw from or remain in dairy production, either for home consumption or sale. The model provides an overview of the process of commercial specialization as it affects dairy production. Subsequent sections examine four factors which are associated with variation in dairy specialisation and which have practical consequences for development planning:

  1. Scale of production: larger versus smaller herd owners
  2. Production system: mobile versus settled livestock management
  3. Labour and management: gender roles
  4. Product and species variation.
Patrick M. Sikana, Carol K. Kerven and Roy H. Behnke, Jr.