In Latin America and the Caribbean, culture, resource endowment, market opportunities, government policies and external pressures provide a milieu of agricultural production patterns. In addition, animal agriculture is affected by the often unpredictable climate, water availability, land degradation, pests, diseases, and genetic resources. Despite these problems, grazing animals utilize 76% of the agricultural land, livestock production accounts for 30% of the agricultural gross product and generates 35% of the total food produced in the region. On the other hand, shifting agriculture practices, greed and poor farming practices have led to natural resource degradation. Many environmentalists point to poor animal agriculture systems as the main culprit in the loss of the natural resource base. Nevertheless, the region has the potential for dealing with challenges to its food production and its natural resource protection. Since the late 1970s the application of a holistic approach to solving production constraints at the farm level has been a feature in the region's research and development programmes, an effort led by the Latin American Network for Animal Production Systems Research (RISPAL). RISPAL is a network comprising 16 projects in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Guyana, Peru and Venezuela. Its methodological achievements have helped establish appropriate research undertakings in the region. The focus of a 1992 livestock specialist meeting was to examine the commonly held belief that livestock have only negative impacts on the environment and are solely responsible for major environmental damage. The findings of this analysis contributed to the development of strategies for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI. created in September 1994, is responsible for two-thirds of all CGI AR livestock-related research in developing regions. In January 1995, 28 experts in livestock research from 25 countries were consulted in Nairobi to help ILRI define its global programme of research, training jand information activities. With over 300 million people around the globe depending for their livelihoods on their health and productivity, the time has come for a reassessment of the roles of livestock in society and their interplay with the environment must be confronted.


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