The Northern Savanna Ecological Zone (NSEZ) made up of northern, upper east and upper west regions of Ghana offers an ideal and conducive environment for ruminant livestock production. Ruminant livestock are animals with a four-chambered stomach, capable of converting roughages, forages, and agro-by products into products such as meat and milk for human consumption. These animals include sheep, goats, and cattle. The NSEZ has the right rainfall, vegetation, land, less pest, and diseases for ruminant livestock production on any scale from small, medium to commercial production.
The zone is home to about 50% of the country ruminant population with smallholder producers using traditional methods of production forming the majority. The ruminant livestock sector potential in the upper east region and the country at large is yet to be fully exploited. The ruminant livestock value chain has the potential of creating many jobs for various actors along the value chain in the region and country.
In the Upper East Region, ruminant livestock production when taken as a business could create jobs, employment, ensure food and income security for many households. The sector could enhance the image and remove the upper east region from the league of three poorest regions in the country.
For instance, improved cattle production could result in the use of bullocks to plough smallholder producers’ fields of approximately 0.5 hectares instead of using tractors. Tractors are difficult to come by during the onset of the rains, very expensive and continuous use on the same field predisposes the land to hard pan. Some research indicates that, bullock – owning households cultivate 60% more land than those who do not.
The upper east region also experiences variations in rainfall pattern and declining soil fertility resulting in reduced crop yields from cultivated field. Ruminant livestock production could reduce the impact of rainfall variation due to climate change and declining soil fertility by providing manure. Manure from ruminant livestock production will enhance the soil nutrient content and water holding capacity for improved yields. An integrated ruminant livestock -crop production system will therefore make smallholder producers more climate resilient in a changing climate.
The livestock sector in Ghana, contributes on average an estimated 7% to Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP), hence it makes a significant contribution to overall Agricultural development. However, in 2001, the estimated population of livestock in the country for cattle was 1.3 million, sheep 2.5 million, goats 2.7 million, pigs 0.37 million and poultry including guinea fowl 10 million (Livestock Development Project Appraisal Report, 2001). Almost fifteen years down the line, the estimated livestock population in 2014 were cattle 1,657,000 sheep 4,335,000, goats, 6,044,000, pigs 682,000 and 68,511,000 poultry (Ghana Livestock Development Policy and Strategy 2016).