Sheep production is a key component of rural household livelihoods in central Tunisia. Within this arid and poverty-stricken environment, scarcity of water and prolonged bouts of drought have led to significant variability in crop production; and therefore reliance upon livestock holdings as a secure source of wealth from which to draw upon during periods of hardship. Our geographical interest in this paper is Sidi Bouzid, a governorate which has had a traditional affinity to an indigenous Barbarine sheep breed. Historically valued by Tunisian consumers for its range-fed meat quality, this fat tailed breed is well adapted and suited to a parched environment. Yet, an increasingly larger proportion of thin tailed Algerian breeds are now present and growing. Given the relative advantage of Barbarine breeds, in terms of reduced risk, adaption, and consumer preference, our paper seeks to explain the observance of a decrease in pure Barbarine breed lines. This is of particular importance given that Barbarine breeds would appear to be pro-poor, relative to the Algerian breeds, and in an area with significant poverty.
Utilizing a mixed methods approach (focus groups and survey), we characterize the dominant sheep production system within Sidi Bouzid, identify the main stakeholders, marketing channels for inputs and outputs, challenges and opportunities to production, and recommendations for policy and research that are aimed at enhancing sustainable livestock production systems for poverty reduction. Our findings indicate that the major challenge for this value chain is economic in nature, which has been exacerbated since the Tunisian uprising of 2011. With higher meat to carcass ratios (lower fat ratio), abattoirs and butchers are increasingly demanding thin tailed breeds over the indigenous fat tailed Barbarine breeds. This has placed an increased burden on small livestock producers, given higher feed consumption needs for thin tailed breeds, and increased production risk in periods of sustained drought. We make an argument for more contemporary forms of social and economic organization at the community level with the end to protect the livelihoods of poor livestock producers, while placing less pressure on degraded range land resources.
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