Cattle are the most commonly used animals for work throughout the world. Water buffalo are also used in the humid tropics, and donkeys, horses, and camels in the semiarid areas. Draft animals are maintained over a wide range of agro-ecological zones, but are particularly common on small mixed farms where rain-fed crops are grown mainly for food production. Draft animals and humans provide an estimated 80% of the power input on third-world farms. This is largely because on farms where size and scale of enterprise rule out mechanical power, animal power is the only means the farmers have of cultivating land, other than use of family labor.
Although draft animals make their greatest contribution in agriculture, they also have an important role in transport. It has been estimated that about 20% of the population of the world relies largely on animal transport of goods. Animal carts and sledges are used to transport goods and people in rural areas, especially where roads are unsuitable for motor vehicles. Animal power reduces the drudgery of many of the household activities such as water and fuel collection. Where wheeled vehicles cannot be used, such as in mountainous areas where roads are absent or poorly developed, pack animals may be used to transport goods. Working animals, particularly in North Africa and Asia, make a considerable and important contribution to the urban economy, being used to transport produce within the urban areas. Many of the people owning and using these animals are landless people, to whom the animal represents the main way of earning a living.
Draft animals are also used in the timber industry and to power stationary equipment such as water pumps, sugar cane crushers, and grinding mills. Less widespread is their use in the movement of materials in small-scale building projects and road, dam, and reservoir construction within rural areas.
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