Livestock: The good, the bad and the ugly

Later this month, many staff, partners and members of the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the institute’s annual program meeting. Alan Duncan, chair of the organizing committee, introduces below the theme for this meeting. ‘Livestock: the good, the bad and the ugly’.

ILRI has long promoted the virtues of livestock production for the poor. Our calendars and posters proclaim the value of ‘livestock for culture’, ‘livestock for women’, ‘livestock for food’, and so on. Yet in the wider world it seems that our voice is drowned out by a very different view of livestock: a view that sees farm animals as polluting the planet and degrading landscapes. This meeting is an opportunity for the ILRI community to consider these other perspectives and perhaps to try on some new approaches to livestock research for development.

People in the developed North have heard a lot recently about the negative impacts of livestock production. Many of these are concerns for animal welfare in so-called ‘intensive systems’, such as factory-farmed poultry, pigs and cattle. Other concerns are about the obesity, heart disease and other ailments and illnesses caused by over-consumption of fatty red meat, eggs and milk products. Still other concerns are for the global health scares provoked by livestock diseases that become human diseases (mad cow disease, bird flu) or for the economic devastation wrought by livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Working in the developing South, we have taken it for granted that such negative views of livestock do not extend to poor livestock keepers in smallholder systems in Africa and Asia. Yet it seems that the world doesn’t appreciate such subtleties. We are surrounded by some very negative blanket opinions about livestock. As a livestock research institute, have we neglected to conduct research on the ‘bads’ of livestock production?

At this meeting, we will face some of these issues head on and review the facts around livestock goods and bads. We’ll start with some scene setting: what are the goods and bads? What are the key facts and figures? What do the experts think? We’ll go on to look at what ILRI is doing in the area of livestock goods and bads and where it should be heading. While many of the goods and bads seem clear, there are many issues that don’t fit our neat categories – we aim at this meeting to tease out some of these ‘ugly’ issues. We won’t redesign our research program at this meeting, but we will start conversations that will shape our thinking about where we are and where we need to go. — Read more about livestock goods and bads …

 

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