Rethinking the Traditional Concept of Livestock Services: A Study of Response Capacity in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam


This paper reports the results of a comparative study of the livestock sector in 3 South East Asian countries - Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam - at different stages of development and under different political systems that have witnessed rapid livestock sector growth in the last two decades. In all countries this growth has highlighted weaknesses in national capacity to maintain adequate and fair provision of veterinary and other related services and to respond effectively to public health threats. The paper explores aspects of innovation capacity through an investigation of the changing spectrum of services, actor roles and patterns of interaction required to effectively respond to new opportunities and threats facing the livestock sector. Specifically, the paper seeks to develop a better conceptualisation of response capacity and to draw generic lesson on the limitations of current provisions and identify policy and other intervention strategies needed to strengthen this capacity.

The paper presents the major features of response capacity through an examination of the types of social and institutional arrangements required to mobilise different knowledge stocks and support services needed to enhance the capacity of livestock sector actors to innovate in response to dynamic markets and that at the same time safeguards public health and the livelihoods of poor people linked with the sector.

The paper argues that the concept of 'response capacity' conveys two specific elements of innovation capacity: (i) A sense of urgency arising from the emergence of new investment opportunities, disease outbreaks, environmental disasters, volatile capital and price shifts, and fast-track schedules of trade liberalization imposed from outside. These all demand quick responses from both producers and governments. Existing innovation capacity may help but a common weakness is the ability to respond in a timely fashion; (ii) the degree of local specificity. For response capacity to be effective, it must be built on an analysis of local specific conditions. These conditions involve not just dynamic markets, but also political and institutional changes such as democratizing and decentralizing trends. Again, existing innovation capacity may not sufficiently stress the specific kinds of opportunities and threats facing actors, and may generate misguided responses—responses that may be appropriate generally, but not in the specific contexts they are meant to address.

The country case studies revealed a number of weaknesses in existing response capacity including, (i) a continued reliance on public livestock services that are narrowly understood to involve only primarily research and the provision of extension and veterinary services even though these are well recognised to be woefully inadequate as a response capacity mechanism, and (ii) a lack of systemic coherence between the different elements of response capacity – research and other public service, private sector livestock activity and policy and regulatory system – is the main weakness of existing arrangements.

To respond effectively to new developments and to promote sustainable and equitable growth in the sector the paper suggests that (i) governments revisit existing veterinary services arrangements and identify ways of bringing in new sources of knowledge - both about emerging challenges and ways of dealing with them; and that ways of strengthening the patterns of interaction between different actors, polices and initiatives relevant to the sector and make sure that stakeholders who can champion a social and environmental agenda are included, need to be found.

A two-page executive summary is available in addition to this paper.


PPLPI, FAO, Rome, Italy, v+54 pp.

Published 1 January 2007