ILRI’s Jimmy Smith on global health and food security: Why developing-country livestock matter so much

Global food security

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) gave a keynote presentation this morning (17 Oct 2013) at the opening of the Global Animal Health Conference, ‘Developing global animal health products to support food security and sustainability’, in Arlington, Virginia.

Smith began his presentation, ‘Global health and sustainable food security: Why the livestock sectors of developing countries matter’, by setting out the state of global food security and questioning how the world will manage to feed itself as the human population grows before stabilizing at about mid-century. Some 60% more food than is produced now will be needed by then, he said. And, somehow, some 75% of that increase will have to come from increases in productivity rather than from increases in land under cultivation. This higher production, he said, must be achieved while at the same time reducing poverty and hunger and addressing environmental, social and health concerns. In addition, the greater food production will have to be achieved in the face of temperatures 2−4 degrees C warmer than today’s.

He pointed out the great nutritional divides in today’s world, and warned of malnutrition’s huge financial as well as public health costs.

Nutritional divides among 7 billion people today

He noted that gains in consumption of meat in poor and emerging economies are greatly outpacing those of the industrialized countries.

Gains in meat consunmption in developing countries outpace those of developed countries

Smith then pointed out how much of the world’s food comes not from large-scale farmers but rather from hundreds of millions of very small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Global food production: From where?

These small-scale food producers, he said, are more competitive than most people think. He cited two examples. In East Africa, one million smallholders keep Africa’s largest dairy herd, Ugandans produce milk at the lowest cost in the world, and Kenya’s small- and large-scale poultry and diary producers have the same levels of efficiency and profits. In Vietnam, 50% of the country’s pig production is done by farmers with less than 100 pigs, and producers keeping just 1 or 2 sows have lower unit costs than those with more than 4 sows. Scientists estimate that Vietnam’s industrial pig production could grow to meet no more than 12% of the national pig supply in the next 10 years, so small-scale farmers will continue to supply most of the country’s pork for the foreseeable future.

Global livestock markets

In a series of graphs, ILRI’s director general presented figures for livestock commodities being global leaders, for the huge global trade in livestock products and for the fast-rising demand for meat, milk and eggs in developing countries.

4 out of 5 of the highest value global commodities are livestock

Percentage increase in demand for livestock products

Global trade of livestock products (milk excluded)

Global trade in livestock products (milk included)

Global animal health

Smith said that the developing world’s smallholder livestock producers can continue to produce most of the world’s milk, meat and eggs only if we can find ways to improve livestock health, especially by reducing food safety problems that reduce market participation by smallholders, by reducing the endemic livestock diseases that greatly lower livestock productivity in developing countries, and by lowering zoonotic disease transmissions that threaten small-scale livestock production in poor countries—as well as human health in all countries.

Food safety in developing countries, where most milk, meat and eggs are sold in informal or ‘wet’ markets, is a bigger problem than most people recognize, the ILRI director general said. He said we need to manage the risks of illness while retaining the benefits—to livelihoods and food and nutritional security—of informally sold livestock foods. And, he said, we have to educate people about the various risks of these informal markets, where common perceptions can be misleading; eating vegetables sold in these markets, for example, can be as risky to health as handling cattle or drinking raw milk.

Gender is an important determinant of food safety in developing countries, Smith said, with evidence indicating that Africa’s women butchers sell safer meat than their male counterparts. Women and children and farm workers are also at greater risking in contracting food-borne diseases.

Regarding health advice, Smith argued that it is most useful when it is tailored for specific circumstances, when it is based on evidence, and when it is developed in and with local communities. It’s also been found that what works best for increasing food safety are social incentives (e.g., ‘good parents do X rather than Y with their milk cows’), and risk- rather than rule-based approaches. Finally, he said, relatively simple and cheap interventions can lead to substantial improvements in food safety.

The big livestock productivity gaps between rich and poor countries, Smith explained, are due largely to poor animal health in these countries.

Big productivity gaps, largely due to poor animal health, persist between rich and poor countries

Livestock diseases take a huge toll . . .

Annual losses from selected diseases--Africa and South Asia

. . . especially in Africa.

Animal disease is a key constraint in Africa

And the toll from ‘zoonotic’ diseases, which are transmitted from animals to people, is especially devastating.

A deadly dozen zoonotic diseases each year kill 2.2 million people and sicken 2.4 billion

These zoonotic infections harm poor people the most.

Greatest burden of zoonoses falls on one billion poor livestock keepers

Incidences of zoonotic events are worringly on the increase . . .

Emerging zoonotic disease events, 1940-2012

. . . and can have enormous costs . . .

Costs of emerging zoonotic disease outbreaks

. . . as they spread, just as African swine fever is now spreading.

Africa swine fever threatens US$150-billion global pig industry

Global animal health markets

The animal health markets in developing countries are already significant and are growing rapidly. The global animal health market is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The global human health market amounts to US$1000 million and the global animal health market, including livestock, pets and other animals, some $20 billion. The global livestock health market is worth about $13 billion, with the livestock health market in Africa now experiencing a 15.7% year-on-year growth (the second fastest growth after Latin America).

Just 15 countries make up more than 85% of the global animal health market today; demand for animal health markets in developing and emerging economies is increasingly important.

Take India, for example.

Animal health markets: India

To take advantage of the increasing opportunities in developing countries will require an understanding of smallholder livestock systems and customers, who will need tailored packaging and marketing (e.g., drugs in small packets), delivery systems appropriate for widely dispersed farms, surveillance systems for development of drug resistance, and ‘One Health’ approaches and ‘Rational Drug Use’ used for both people and their animals. Among the ‘game-changing’ livestock health products urgently needed in poor countries and communities are appropriate vaccines for Newcastle disease in poultry and East Coast fever in cattle and quality assurance for all veterinary medicines.

Jimmy Smith ended his presentation with four key messages:

Global health and sustainable food security: Key messages

And he closed his presentation the following thoughts.

The risks of ignoring pressing animal health issues in the developing world are huge:

  • Lost livelihoods in poor countries
  • Greater global food insecurity
  • Increased risk of human illness in all countries

The opportunities for improving animal health in developing countries are just as big. With appropriate approaches, this significant animal health market should grow rapidly, for the good of all.

View the presentation.

See other recent presentations by Jimmy Smith:

Improving the environmental sustainability of livestock systems in the developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith, 30 Sep 2013

Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1, 16 Sep 2013

Why tackling partial truths about livestock matters so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 2, 16 Sep 2013

More presentations by Jimmy Smith.

Why tackling partial truths about livestock matters so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 2

Opening keynote slide presentation by Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, at the 22nd International Grasslands Congress, held in Sydney, Australia, 16 September 2013 (credit: ILRI).

This is the second of a two-part article on the opening keynote presentation at the International Grasslands Congress, held in Sydney, Australia from 16 to 19 September 2013, given by Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on Monday 16 September.

Importance of small-scale livestock production: The ‘goods’ and the ‘bads’
‘Livestock are a source of nutrient-dense animal-source foods that can support normal physical and mental development and good health; an income stream that enables the world’s billion poorest people to buy staple foods and other household essentials; and a means of underpinning soil health and fertility and increased yields, thereby enabling more sustainable and profitable crop production’, Smith said in his keynote.

‘But in doing so, if not managed well, livestock production can harm the environment. The sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases, for example, and can be detrimental to human health with the transmission of diseases from livestock to people.’

But there are real opportunities, Smith went on to say, to mitigate such negative impacts now and as livestock systems in the developing world transition in the coming decades.

‘The many goods and services that livestock provide can and must be produced in ways that are less damaging to the environment and pose less risk to public health while also sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest citizens, who currently have few options other than livestock farming.’

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 20

Livestock sector opportunities and trade-offs in a nutshell

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 21

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Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 1Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 31

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Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 36


In conclusion
Smith concluded by saying that the developing world’s livestock sector is diverse, changing and growing rapidly. ‘This will pose considerable risks, to the environment and to animal and human health in particular. However, if managed well, it also offers enormous opportunities simultaneously to contribute to global food and nutritional security and poverty reduction in rural areas.’

Read the first part of this article: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1: Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much, 16 Sep 2013.

About Jimmy Smith

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith on livestock research in Africa

Jimmy Smith, keynote speaker at the Sep 2013 International Grasslands Congress, held in Sydney, Australia, and director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

Jimmy Smith, a Canadian, is director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a position he assumed on 1 October 2011. Before joining ILRI, he worked for the World Bank, in Washington, DC, where he led the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio. Before joining the World Bank, he held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Still earlier in his career, Smith worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), where he served as the institute’s regional representative for West Africa and subsequently managed the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the CGIAR, an association of 10 CGIAR centres working at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Smith was born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed a PhD in animal sciences. He is widely published, with more than 100 publications, including papers in refereed journals, book chapters, policy papers and edited proceedings.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles that livestock play in food security and poverty alleviation, principally in Africa and Asia. The outcomes of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce the risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium, a global research partnership of 15 centres working with many partners for a food-secure future. ILRI has two main campuses in East Africa and other hubs in East, West and Southern Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

About the 22nd International Grasslands Congress
The program and other information about the 22nd International Grasslands Congress, ‘Revitalising grasslands to sustain our communities’, is online here.

Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1

Opening keynote slide presentation by Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, at the 22nd International Grasslands Congress, held in Sydney, Australia, 16 September 2013 (credit: ILRI).

This is the first of a two-part article.

The world’s small-scale farmers and livestock keepers, both relatively under-appreciated in global food security discussions and agenda till now, can be a large part of the solution, rather than a problem, to feeding the world sustainably to 2050.

This was the message today (Mon 16 September 2013) of Jimmy Smith, an animal scientist, food security specialist and director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Smith is in Australia to give the keynote address to the 22nd International Grassland Congress being held in Sydney 15–19 September 2013. This global forum is being attended by 1000 delegates from more than 60 countries.

In his presentation, Feeding the world in 2050: Trade-offs, synergies and tough choices for the livestock sector, Smith gave an overview of the global food security challenge and argued that smallholder animal agriculture is key to addressing it.

1: We need lots more food

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 2

‘Producing sufficient quantity and quality of food for nearly 10 billion people represents a huge challenge’, Jimmy Smith said. ‘We need lots more food in the next four decades and we need to produce it profitably, efficiently, safely, equitably and without destroying the environment.’

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 3

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 4

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 6

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 7

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 8

Feeding the World in 2050: Slide 9

The world’s sub-optimal diets
‘It’s a shocking indictment of the global food system’, Smith said, ‘that in the 21st century most of the world’s population have sub-optimal diets’.
• 870 million go to bed hungry
• 2 billion are vulnerable to food insecurity
• 1 billion have diets that don’t meet their nutritional requirements
• 1 billion suffer the effects of over-consumption

While all of these are problems we must address, I believe most of us would agree that there is no moral equivalence between those who make poor choices of food and those who have no food choices.— Jimmy Smith

2: The role of small-scale livestock production

Unknown to most people, Smith said, is just how much food is produced by smallholders. Some 500 million smallholders support more than 2 billion people. In South Asia, for example, more than 80% of farms are less than 2 hectares in size. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholders contribute more than 80% of livestock production.

Unknown to most people, Smith said, is just how much food is produced by smallholders. Some 500 million smallholders support more than 2 billion people. In South Asia, for example, more than 80% of farms are less than 2 hectares in size. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholders contribute more than 80% of livestock production. Also unknown to many is just how competitive smallholders can be.

In India, at least 70% of the milk produced comes from smallholders and India is now the largest dairy producer in the world. In East Africa, Kenya’s 1 million smallholders keep the largest dairy herd in Africa (larger than South Africa); Uganda has lowest-cost milk producers globally; small-scale Kenyan dairy producers get above-normal profits of 19−28% in addition to non-market benefits (insurance, manure, traction) of a further 16−21%. And ILRI and partner scientists have shown that Kenya’s small- and large-scale poultry and dairy producers have the same levels of efficiencies and profits.

Feeding the World  in 2050: Slide 19

ILRI and other global partners recognize three major trajectories livestock systems are moving along as they develop, Smith reported. These are:

Strong growth
Where good market access and
increasing productivity provide opportunities for continued smallholder participation.

Fragile growth
Where remoteness, marginal land resources or agro-climatic vulnerability restrict intensification.

High growth with externalities
Where fast-changing livestock systems can damage the environment and human health.

Each of these, he said, presents different research and development challenges for poverty, food security, health and nutrition, and the environment.

Part two of this article is published here.

About Jimmy Smith

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith on livestock research in Africa

Jimmy Smith, a Canadian, is director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a position he assumed on 1 October 2011. Before joining ILRI, he worked for the World Bank, in Washington, DC, where he led the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio. Before joining the World Bank, he held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Still earlier in his career, Smith worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), where he served as the institute’s regional representative for West Africa and subsequently managed the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the CGIAR, an association of 10 CGIAR centres working at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Smith was born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed a PhD in animal sciences. He is widely published, with more than 100 publications, including papers in refereed journals, book chapters, policy papers and edited proceedings.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles that livestock play in food security and poverty alleviation, principally in Africa and Asia. The outcomes of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce the risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium, a global research partnership of 15 centres working with many partners for a food-secure future.

About the 22nd International Grasslands Congress

The program and other information about the 22nd International Grasslands Congress, ‘Revitalising grasslands to sustain our communities’, is online here.

Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond milk, meat and eggs

Kenya farm boy drinking milk

Kenya farm boy drinking milk (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

The science journal Animal Frontiers this month (Jan 2013) focuses on the links between livestock production and food security.

Maggie Gill edited the issue. Gill is an animal nutritionist by training who has spent years as a senior member of research institutions in the the UK (Natural Resources Institute, Natural Resources International, Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Scottish Government) and presently divides her time between work for the UK Department for International Development and the University of Aberdeen while also serving on the CGIAR’s Independent Science and Partnership Council. She is a former board member of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

In her introductory editorial to this issue, which focuses on livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, Gill reminds readers of the vast differences in livestock systems between the world’s poor and rich people and nations.

‘The relationship between livestock and food security is often portrayed by the media in emotional terms such as “Go vegetarian to save the planet”. Yet the relationship is not so simple. There are positive impacts of livestock on “the planet,” not the least in terms of the economy, with trade in live animals and animal products contributing 40% of the global value of agricultural output (FAO, 2009), but also in terms of the 1 billion poor people in Africa and Asia who depend on livestock for their livelihoods. The challenge is that there are also negative impacts of livestock, and they tend to be good headline grabbers!

‘I was pleased, therefore, to be invited to serve as guest editor of this issue of Animal Frontiers . . . [and] to have the opportunity to include papers about some of the lesser publicized facts about livestock and food security. . . . [A second issue on this topic will be published in Jul 2013.]

‘This issue takes a high-level perspective, exploring the relationship between people and animals (including fish) in developing countries, through trade and particularly in terms of nutrition. It then looks ahead to the challenge of climate change and considers how one traditional system (pastoralism) has evolved to cope with environmental instability. It ends with a paper on breeding strategies as an illustration of how scientific advances can help the livestock sector to make the best use of resources in a dynamic world. . . .’

One of the seven papers featured in this issue is by Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general, and his ILRI colleagues. The article focuses mainly on the impacts and implications of livestock on food and nutrition security in poor countries, which go well beyond being a source of milk, meat, and eggs.

‘The paper by Smith et al. (2013)’, Gill says, ‘highlights, for example, the indirect benefits of livestock to the food security of poor livestock owners through income from the sale of their livestock products, enabling the purchase of (cheaper) staple foods and thus improving the nutritional status of members of the household, albeit not in the way many researchers expect! . . .’

Below are a few of the facts noted in Smith’s paper, ‘Beyond meat, milk and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security’.

Farm animals both increase (smallholder systems) and decrease (industrial systems) food supplies
‘Livestock contribute to food supply by converting low-value materials, inedible or unpalatable for people, into milk, meat, and eggs; livestock also decrease food supply by competing with people for food, especially grains fed to pigs and poultry. Currently, livestock supply 13% of energy to the world’s diet but consume one-half the world’s production of grains to do so.’

Livestock directly enhance the nutrition security of the poor
‘However, livestock directly contribute to nutrition security. Milk, meat, and eggs, the “animal-source foods,” though expensive sources of energy, are one of the best sources of high quality protein and micronutrients that are essential for normal development and good health. But poor people tend to sell rather than consume the animal-source foods that they produce.’

Livestock enhance food security mostly indirectly
‘The contribution of livestock to food, distinguished from nutrition security among the poor, is mostly indirect: sales of animals or produce, demand for which is rapidly growing, can provide cash for the purchase of staple foods, and provision of manure, draft power, and income for purchase of farm inputs can boost sustainable crop production in mixed crop-livestock systems.’

Smallholder livestock production and marketing can be ‘transformational’ for the world’s poor
‘Livestock have the potential to be transformative: by enhancing food and nutrition security, and providing income to pay for education and other needs, livestock can enable poor children to develop into healthy, well-educated, productive adults.’

The complex trade-offs inherent in livestock systems must be managed to increase the benefits and reduce the costs
‘The challenge is how to manage complex trade-offs to enable livestock’s positive impacts to be realized while minimizing and mitigating negative ones, including threats to the health of people and the environment.’

Read the whole illustrated article at Animal Frontiers: Beyond milk, meat, and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security, by Jimmy Smith, Keith Sones, Delia Grace, Susan MacMillan, Shirley Tarawali and Mario Herrero, Jan 2013, Vol. 3, No. 1, p 6–13, doi: 10.2527/af.2013-0002

The whole issue is available at Animal Frontiers: The contribution of animal production to global food security: Part 1: Livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, Jan 2013, which you can read about on the ILRI Clippings Blog today: Animal production and global food security: Livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, 8 Jan 2012.


Planet under pressure / A numbers game–but which numbers are the numbers that matter?

And growing

Population of the Earth on 26 September 2004, last day of a Fòrum Universal de les Cultures event in Barcelona, where this counter was and this photo was taken (image on Flickr by Daniel Daranas, horitzons inesperats).

Speaking on ‘Sustainable food systems for food security’, Marianne Banziger, a scientist at the CGIAR maize and wheat centre (CIMMYT), this afternoon gave a ‘Rank Lecture’ at the Planet Under Pressure Conference in London.

She began with a bald statistic: To meet the food security challenges converging over the next 50 years, she said, we will have to produce as much food as has been consumed over the entire history of humankind.

Things did not get better after that.

We can expect more food price hikes, she argued, like those the world experienced in 2008 and 2010. Those peaks were due to low stocks; food prices went up three-fold and food prices have never returned to 2006 levels.

A large part of the changing food situation, Banziger explained, is due to the many people in developing countries that are newly incorporating into their largely starch-based diets meat, milk and eggs. However, most people gaining a bit of disposable income for the first time and using it to buy animal-source foods are still consuming far less of these foods than people in rich countries.

Biofuels are complicating the situation further: some 40% of the US maize crop now goes to biofuel, which is more than what is produced for animal feed.

Food price increases push people back into poverty, she reminded her audience. As food prices increase, and people find food less and less affordable, the proportion of their consumption of staple crops increases. If we do not act, food and energy price inflation will exceed income growth of the poor—pushing them further into poverty.

Living on borrowed resources
What goes up must come down: As fertilizer prices go up, the profitability and yields of smallholder farmers in developing countries go down.

Some 300 million people in India and China are sustained with grain grown from the over-pumping of water (that is, water resources not renewed by rainfall).

Social unrest is likely to come back again and again; deforestation, water scarcity and human migration are all likely to increase,

We still have the time to act.
Science usefully provides us with options.

We could reduce our consumption of food. How many of us now recycle and conserve water? Reduce food wastage? Eat less meat? These actions reduce demand. Those people now climbing out of poverty have as much right as we do to eat well.

On the other hand, we could increase our production of food.

The more we delay investments in this, the steeper will be the challenges we face.

Among new opportunities for increasing productivity are use of precision agriculture and cell phones (for conducting financial transactions, buying crop and input insurance).

We should not make the same mistakes as in the past by focusing on higher productivity alone. Farmers also need to generate greater income, to build greater resilience to shocks, to conduct sustainable farming, and to access viable markets and value chains.

Eyes wide open
Closing the yield gap among today’s marginalized farmers will not be enough, Banziger said. Farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains now grow wheat for 700 million people. But the encroachment of heat on these plains is expected to reduce yields 20–30% by 2050.

We need to explore the untapped biodiversity of staple crops. Drought-tolerant maize varieties have succeeded in the past. We’re looking for heat tolerance in wheat. Will transgenics be needed? The challenges are extreme, so ‘we need to keep our eyes open’.

Catch 22
At the close of Banziger’s presentation, a population expert in the audience asked what he might have presumed to be a rhetorical question: Why had Banziger omitted all reference to reducing the human population as a main method of ensuring food security?

Banziger responded forthrightly: It is not the increasing numbers of people per se that is the greatest factor in our food challenges, she said. Rather, it is the great numbers of people who are escaping absolute poverty (especially in India, China and Southeast Asia), and who are improving the quality of their diets as they do so by adding animal-source and other highly nutritious foods to their daily meals.

The implications are that reducing the numbers of people on the planet will not solve our food problems if great numbers of those people that remain keep moving out of poverty–a trajectory that many of this conference’s delegates are spending their professional lives working to advance.

Read more about the Planet Under Pressure conference:
ILRI News Blog: Planet under pressure / Livestock under the radar, 26 Mar 2012.



Livestock one of three ways to feed the growing world–Economist special report

Dairy cow looks out from her stall in a village in central Malawi

A dairy cow looks out from her stall in central Malawi. Can such ubiquitous backyard livestock farming in the developing world feed the growing world? (picture credit: ILRI/Mann).

A special report on feeding the world, ‘The 9-billion people question,’ appears in this week’s issue of the Economist, as the world continues to grapple with a global food crisis. The author is the Economist‘s globalization editor, John Parker. In an article titled ‘Doing more with less’, Parker argues that ‘the only reliable way to produce more food is to use better technology.’

The world has three main ways to produce more food for our growing populations, he states, and we’ll need new technology for each. The three ways are better seeds, more productive livestock systems and advanced use of plant genetics, including genetic modification.

Parker gives examples of how ‘it is possible to grow more food, more efficiently, on both a regional and a national scale.’ ‘But,’ he asks, ‘can it be done on a global scale . . . to feed 9 billion people? If so, how?’

‘The main gains will have to come in three ways,’ Parker writes: ‘from narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers; from spreading the so-called “livestock revolution”; and—above all—from taking advantage of new plant technologies.’

(1) Regarding the first way, Parker says better technology is already closing the gap between best and worst producers in comparable environments.

(2) Regarding the second way, Parker writes: ‘The second main source of growth will consist of spreading a tried and tested success: the “livestock revolution”. This consists of switching from traditional, open-air methods of animal husbandry, in which chickens and pigs scratch and root around the farm, eating insects, scraps and all sorts of organic waste, to closed “battery” systems, in which animals are confined to cages and have their diet, health and movement rigorously controlled. This entails huge losses in animal welfare, and European consumers are reacting against the system. But there are also gains in productivity and sometimes even in welfare, by reducing losses from diseases and predators that in traditional systems can be distressingly high.

‘Improving livestock farming is important because of meat’s growing share in the world’s diet. Meat consumption in China more than doubled in 1980-2005, to 50kg a year per person. Between now and 2050, meat’s share of calories will rise from 7% to 9%, says the FAO; the share of dairy produce and eggs will rise more.

‘Livestock matters for many reasons. It provides financial security in poor countries, where herds are often a family’s savings. It can affect people’s health: new infectious diseases are appearing at the rate of three or four a year, and three-quarters of them can be traced to animals, domestic and wild. Avian flu is just one example. Livestock also plays a part in global warming. Much of the methane in the atmosphere—one of the worst greenhouse gases—comes from cattle belching.

‘Since the 1980s livestock production has far outstripped that of cereals. World meat output more than doubled between 1980 and 2007. Production of eggs rose from 27m tonnes to 68m over the same period. Some countries have done better still. India has the world’s largest dairy herd. Its milk production trebled, to 103m tonnes, over a period when global milk output increased by half. Brazil increased its production of chickens fivefold in 1987-2007 to become the world’s largest exporter. Most spectacularly, China raised its output of both eggs and milk tenfold.

‘For sheer efficiency, there is little question that battery systems do a better job than traditional methods. A free-range hen scratching around might lay one or two eggs a week. Feeding her costs nothing, giving a net gain of 50-100 eggs a year. A battery chicken will lay six eggs a week. She might cost the equivalent of 150 eggs to feed, producing an annual net gain of 150 eggs. And selective breeding has made her more economic to keep. Battery chickens used to need 4kg of feed for 1kg of eggs; now they need only 2kg.

‘Moreover, it is almost impossible to scale up a farmyard operation: there are only so many insects to eat, and so many hens one family can look after. And to breed the most productive hens which convert their feed most efficiently into eggs and are most resistant to disease, you need large flocks.

‘So there are two reasons for thinking that the livestock revolution will continue. One is that some countries still lag behind. An example, surprisingly, is Brazil, which has just one head of cattle per hectare—an unusually low number even for a country with so much land. Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca, of the São Paulo industry federation, says Brazil should be able at least to double that number—which could mean either doubling beef production or using half the area to produce the same amount.

‘Carlos Sere of the International Livestock Research Institute thinks traditional systems could borrow some of the methods of closed battery-farm systems—notably better feeding (giving a small amount of animal feed makes a big difference to the weight of range-land cattle) and the introduction of new breeds for better yields (as Kabiyet did by switching from longhorn to Holstein cattle).

‘The second reason for expecting further gains is that recent genetic analysis could improve breeding dramatically. About a third of the livestock revolution has come about through selecting and breeding the best animals. Another third comes from improved feeding and the remainder from better disease control. In the 1940s and 1950s breeding relied on the careful recording of every animal in the herd or flock; in the 1970s on artificial insemination by the best sires; and in the 1980s on embryo transfers from the best females into ordinary breeding animals.

‘New genetic analysis now promises to bring in another stage, says the FAO’s Henning Steinfeld. It allows breeders to select traits more precisely and thus speeds up breeding by reducing generational intervals: if you know which genetic traits an animal has, there is no need to wait several generations to see how things turn out.

‘This will not happen everywhere. Europeans and—to some extent—Americans are increasingly influenced by welfare concerns. They jib at confining animals. The European Union has banned certain kinds of cages, and California is following suit. But, so far, people in emerging markets, where demand for meat and animal products is growing fast, are less concerned about such things, so the next stage of the livestock revolution will mainly be concentrated there.’

(3) Regarding the third way—making better use of plant genetics, Parker argues that ‘the change likely to generate the biggest yield gains in the food business—perhaps 1.5-2% a year—is the development of “marker-assisted breeding”—in other words, genetic marking and selection in plants, which includes genetically modifying them but also involves a range of other techniques. This is the third and most important source of growth.’

Read the whole special report in the Economist: The 9 billion-people question, 24 February 2011.

Read the whole article in the Economist: Doing more with less, 24 February 2011.

Listen to John Parker interviewed on this subject: A special report on food, 24 February 2011.

State of the World 2011: Innovations Nourishing the Planet

State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet: Cover State of the World 2011 provides new insight into under-appreciated innovations working right now on the ground to alleviate hunger (photo credit: Worldwatch Institute).

This week Worldwatch Institute released its flagship publication, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. The report spotlights successful and efficient ways of alleviating global hunger and poverty.

Agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero and other staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are the authors of Chapter 14, ‘Improving food production from livestock’.

While investment in agricultural development by governments, international lenders, and foundations has escalated in recent years, it is still nowhere near what is needed to help the 925 million people who are undernourished. Since the mid-1980s when agricultural funding was at its height, agriculture’s share of global development aid has fallen from over 16 per cent to just 4 per cent today.

‘The international community has been neglecting entire segments of the food system in its efforts to reduce hunger and poverty,’ said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project.

State of the World 2011 draws from hundreds of case studies and first-person examples to offer solutions to reducing hunger and poverty.

For example, grassroots organizations are helping to fight hunger in Africa, which has the world’s largest area of permanent pasture and the largest number of pastoralists and 15–25 million people dependent on livestock. In South Africa and Kenya, pastoralists are preserving indigenous varieties of livestock that are adapted to the heat and drought of local conditions—traits that will be crucial as climate extremes on the continent worsen. In Maralal in the northern region of Kenya, one group of Maasai pastoralists is working with the Africa LIFE Network to increase their rights as keepers of both genetic diversity and the land. Jacob Wanyama, coordinator for the African LIFE Network and advisor to the Nourishing the Planet Project, says Ankole cattle—a breed indigenous to Eastern Africa and traditionally used by pastoralists in the area for centuries—are not only ‘beautiful to look at,’ but are one of the ‘highest quality’ breeds.’ They can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—something that’s more important than ever as climate change takes a bigger hold on Africa. ‘Governments need to recognize,’ says Wanyama, ‘that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity.’

The State of the World 2011 report is accompanied by other informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos, and podcasts, all of which are available at

In conducting this research, Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project received unprecedented access to major international research institutions, including those like ILRI in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The team also interacted extensively with farmers and farmers’ unions as well as with the banking and investment communities.

This report was produced with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Starbucks Punjabi-style: Where milk and ‘milk emporiums’ reign

An early evening outing to buy milk products at the milk bar.

An early evening out to buy the day's milk at the Verka Milk Bar, in the town of Mohali, in India's Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

Outside the Verka Milk Plant, in the town of Mohali, in India’s breadbasket state of Punjab, is the ‘Verka Milk Bar cum Fast Food Complex’. It’s more like a 'Milk Emporium', with extensive grassy gardens dotted with families eating at picnic tables and larger-than-life-size statuary celebrating milk and the many products made from it as well as a dozen different milk stalls, booths, shops and restaurants selling a wealth of milk and milk-derived products along with Kentucky fried chicken and a few other more conventional fast foods.

A large variety of milk and milk products are on sale

A large variety of milk and milk products are consumed by the people of Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

But milk still reigns supreme here. From 6 in the morning till 10 in the evening every day, day in, day out, the human traffic walking up to the windows to buy milk in all its guises—fresh milk, curd, butter, ghee, paneer, milk shakes, milk whey, milk powder, milk sweets, salted and sugared lassis, sweetened flavoured milk drinks, ice creams—never stops.

Dhiraj Singh (right) purchases a box of milk sweets at the Mohali milk bar.

ILRI economist Dhiraj Singh (right) purchases a box of milk sweets (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

People here like to buy their milk products daily, to ensure the freshness of this perishable product. And buy they do. While Kenyans like to think they are big milk consumers, the Punjabis appear to put Kenyans to shame, consuming not only large quantities of dairy products on a daily basis but consuming several hundred kinds of milk-derived products.

Mohali's 'Modern Milk Bar Cum Fast Food Complex'

The 'Modern Milk Bar Cum Fast Food Complex' in Mohali, Punjab (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

The town of Mohali lies adjacent to Chandigar, a capital shared by the states of Punjab and Haryana. Bordering Pakistan to the north, into which 'the Punjab' extends, Punjab is India's richest state. It is the largest provider of the nation's wheat and has the lowest poverty rates.

One of the scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute ILRI) working in the Punjab is Dhiraj Singh, an economics student at the Centre for the Study of Rural Development at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi. Singh is conducting surveys on the intensification of dairy enterprises in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar as well as Punjab, and in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. He is conducting surveys of villagers, dairy cooperatives, private dairies, dairy vendors and district offices.

This ILRI research is funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development.

Meat/milk/eggs: Who should reduce—and who should increase—their consumption to slow global warming

Agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero (Cost Rica), based at the Nairobi, Kenya, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), this July-August 2010 hosted a 'write-shop cum think tank' session with a group of leading world experts on the topic of food systems, particularly those involving meat, milk and eggs, and climate change.

Eight short filmed interviews of 4 of these experts on the following topics are posted on Click on the links below to view the interviews.

(1) From cows to camels: adapting to Africa’s drying climates
Ilona Glücks: Vétérinaires sans frontières (VSF), Switzerland

Many of Africa’s grazing lands are becoming drier with climate change. Some pastoral communities that have traditionally herded cattle, sheep and goats across these lands are switching to camels. Camels produce milk for longer than cattle, maintaining production even during prolonged dry seasons and droughts. Researchers expect that camels will become increasingly common and important to the economic and nutritional well-being of Africa’s pastoral households.

(2) Will deforestation remain the biggest driver of human-induced global warming?
Michael Obersteiner: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria

Deforestation historically has been the largest producer of human-generated greenhouse gases. Recent experience suggests that global deforestation trends can be reversed. Since 2002, for example, Brazil has virtually stopped the clearing of forests on a massive scale to make room for livestock grazing.

(3) We can reduce global warming through our food chains
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

Significant amounts of greenhouse gas produced by humans are generated by the growing, processing, distribution and sale of food. Much can be done to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in our food chains.

(4) We need to find equitable ways to reduce greenhouse gases
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

Scientists report that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 per cent by 2050. Research shows ways to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, which generates a large amount of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by humans. Policies to support such reductions must to take into account the different needs and circumstances of developed and developing nations. 

(5) Will vegetarianism reduce global warming?
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

While changes need to be made to address growing problems of obesity and diet-based ill health in rich countries, animal products will remain vital to the nutrition of poor people in poor countries, where consumption of milk, meat and eggs is about a tenth the rate of that in rich countries. Whole populations becoming vegetarian or vegan will help neither the overfed nor underfed. 

(6) How much land should be converted from foods to bio-fuels?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

With land becoming increasingly scarce, converting lots of farms to grow crops for bio-fuels rather than food could reduce our food supplies and drive up food prices. Most of the world’s arable land now being used to grow food should not be converted for bio-fuel production. Rather, unused lands and non-food crops or waste biomass (e.g., inedible cereal stalks) should be sought for bio-fuel production.

(7) Should we curtail livestock or biofuel production to slow global warming?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

Livestock enterprises today produce more greenhouse gases than the production of fuels derived from biomass; that’s because livestock keeping is still so much more common than bio-fuel production. But policies to curtail livestock production in poor countries would harm the poor. Livestock are the nutritional and economic mainstay of some one billion poor people today, and are likely only to increase in importance as the global human population grows to more than 9 billion by mid-century. 

(8) Will we ever run our cars on bio-fuels?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

One day we will probably grow enough bio-fuels to power airplanes. It is unlikely, however, that we shall ever produce bio-fuels at scales sufficiently large to replace petrol for our cars.

Livestock: ‘Polluters of the Planet’ or ‘Pathways out of Poverty’? A public debate

Small-scale pig farming outside Beijing

Two development experts recently debated the 'public goods' and 'bads' of global livestock production. They debated the question, 'Should we eat less meat to increase food security', in a 'Spat' column in the current (June 2010) issue of People and Science, published by the British Science Association.

Arguing 'no' (with reservations) is John McDermott, a Canadian veterinary epidemiologist who serves the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as Deputy Director General for Research. Arguing 'yes' (also with reservations) is Vicki Hird, a Senior Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, a UK-based environmental non-governmental organization.

The missions of both ILRI and Friends of the Earth have much in common. Both organizations, for example, are investigating ways to reduce climate change. And both want to manage natural resources in ways that conserve as much land, water, biodiversity and air as possible, with everyone getting a 'fair share' of those resources.

But when it comes to their views on livestock — as to whether cows, sheep, goats, pigs and other farm animals do more good than bad, or more bad than good, for people and their environments — each of these development experts sees livestock from a different perspective.

For Hird, who lives in Europe — where environmental concerns are major issues, and where the public embraces environmental causes and activism — livestock are largely 'polluters of the planet'.

For McDermott, who lives in East Africa — where people's greatest concerns are getting a job, putting food on the table and paying school and medical fees, a region where development concerns take centre stage — livestock represent 'pathways out of poverty'.

Large-scale pig production in Beijing

As one might expect, Hird takes a 'global' and 'environmental' view of the impacts of livestock production, focusing on the inhumane industrial 'factory farms' of industrialized countries, the over-consumption of fatty meat by the rich, and the rape of South American forests to make room for cattle, sheep and goat ranches or for growing soy to feed pigs in Europe. McDermott, also as one might expect, takes the perspective of the world's 450 million small farmers, who raise their animals on grass and crop wastes rather than grain, whose children don't yet eat enough meat, milk and eggs, and whose livelihoods depend directly on the natural resources they have at hand.

Both of these development experts, perhaps surprisingly, also agree on quite a lot when it comes to livestock. They agree that factory farming practices are becoming more and more unsustainable as well as inhumane; they agree that most people in rich countries would profit from eating less fatty meats; they agree that South America's forests should not be felled so that rich people can eat more pigmeat; and they agree that finding more sustainable as well as equitable ways of producing livestock is in the general public interest.

What the debate focuses on, then, is not so much what to do but how to do it. And, as we shall see, on how long that should take.

McDermott argues for giving small farmers 'incentives', for example, to redistribute livestock herds or to intensify their crop-plus-livestock farming systems in ways that make more efficient use of natural resources.

Hird argues for more regulation of the livestock industry in richer countries in areas such as farm subsidies and taxation, and for raising awareness of the major environmental, social and health problems that livestock systems can cause so as to change public (meat-eating) behaviour.

McDermott thinks our biggest job is 'to close the selective-evidence divide on both sides of the debate' by getting more evidence in key areas; some industrial practices, he points out, make 'very efficient' uses of environmental resources. To come up with equitable policies in the global livestock sector, McDermott argues, will require better assessments — and at much more local levels — of the differing socio-economic as well as environmental trade-offs of those policies. 'Before taking broad action', he says, 'we should use the best available knowledge to design and test interventions in pilot studies'.

Hird is impatient 'to wait for a perfect evidence base' before acting and says they have 'presented a Sustainable Livestock Bill in Parliament to kick start the dialogue on vital UK action'.

In brief, Hird appears most interested in quickly getting to 'less' livestock intensive production' and McDermott in developing long-term 'smarter' livestock intensive production'.

Let us know below what you think.

More . . . (People and Science Spat, June 2010)

Friends of the Earth

International Livestock Research Institute

In a new 2-minute filmed interview on the 'goods' and 'bads' of livestock by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), scientists Phil Thornton, of ILRI, and Andy Jarvis, of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in Colombia, give their views on whether giving up eating meat altogether would help to save the environment. They describe the importance of livestock to the livelihoods of one billion of the world's poor and caution that removing livestock from the environment would have its own effects. These scientists shared their views during the launch of a new initiative by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) called ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.’


Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of livestock systems

While livestock production levels in developed countries are holding steady, livestock production systems in developing countries, particularly in the emerging economies, are rapidly changing to meet a rapidly growing demand for livestock foods due to those countries’ growing populations, cities and incomes. Some of these fast-evolving livestock production systems are using ever-larger quantities of water and other natural resources and emitting ever-larger amounts of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming. Many people are questioning whether the increasing demand for meat and milk in developing countries can be met within equitably negotiated and sustainable greenhouse gas emission targets.

The (surprising) answer is ‘yes’. Research tells us that emissions from livestock systems can be reduced significantly through technologies and policies, along with incentives for their implementation.

Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions

Livestock contribute up to 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are ‘anthropogenic’, or generated by human activity. The main greenhouse gases from livestock systems include methane produced by the belching of animals (25 per cent), carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by uses of land that encourage the decomposition of organic substances (32 per cent), and nitrous oxide (N2O), commonly known as ‘laughing gas’, produced by spreading manure and slurry over lands (31 per cent).

As one would expect with such great differences in livestock production systems in different regions of the world, different systems in different regions emit very different amounts and types of greenhouse gases. Overall, most emissions to date have come from industrialized countries practicing factory farming, the least from developing-country family farms. Moreover, two of the most significant contributors to the greenhouse gases produced by livestock systems in the developing world are the rapidly expanding industrial livestock operations in Asia and deforestation in Latin America to make room for livestock grazing and feed crop production.

That said, however, it is also true that the emissions per animal in poor countries tend to be much higher than those per animal in rich countries, for the reason that most livestock in poor countries are maintained on poor diets that reduce the efficiency by which the animals convert their feed to milk and meat. And the increasing human populations, urbanization and demand for livestock foods in developing countries means that future increases in livestock greenhouse gases will come from the South. Livestock researchers at ILRI and elsewhere are helping people to manage trade offs among natural resource use, livestock emissions and livestock productivity. Seven ways to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by livestock Here are seven practical ideas for reducing the greenhouse gases emitted by livestock.

1 Reduce consumption of, and demand for, livestock foods in developed countries

Whereas under-consumption of livestock foods is a main problem in developing countries, over-consumption of livestock foods—including fatty red meat, eggs and full-fat milk and dairy products—damages the health of many people living in affluent societies. The demand for cheap livestock foods in rich countries in many cases is met by imports of livestock products or feed grains from the developing world, the transport and supplies of both of which can lead to environmentally damaging land-use practices and over-use of water and other natural resources, which in turn increase the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in those developing countries. Reducing the relatively high levels of consumption of livestock foods in the developed world would thus not only help improve the health of many people in rich countries but also reduce environmentally damaging livestock production practices in both rich and poor countries, leading to significant reductions in the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gases.

This point raises another: to ensure that any negotiated emissions targets that may be established are equitable as well as feasible and useful, we shall also have to institute programs to track and account for the greenhouse gases ‘embedded’ in the many livestock and feed products traded worldwide. Such a system would give buyers of livestock products some understanding of the ‘greenness’ of the products they are buying. Common sense can no longer be our guide. Such are the complexities of modern food chains that beef raised on the pampas of Argentina and shipped to the North American Midwest might, for example, have generated lower levels of greenhouse gases than corn-fed beef raised, slaughtered and packaged right there in the Midwest.

2 Improve the diets of ruminants in developing countries

Providing cattle, water buffaloes, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals in developing countries with better quality diets increases their feed-conversion efficiencies and thus reduces the amount of methane generated in the production of a unit of meat or milk. Many small-scale farmers can, for example, improve the diets of their ruminant animals by better managing their grazing lands: they can rotate the pastures they use, plant improved species of pasture grasses, make strategic applications of animal manure, and develop ‘fodder banks’ of planted legumes and other forages. They can make use of more strategic combinations of available feed resources. Many crop-livestock farmers can supplement the poor grass diets of their animals with the residues of their grain crops after harvesting. (Although many cereal residues are of relatively poor nutritional quality, research by ILRI and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics shows there is considerable potential for improving the nutritional quality of stover.) And some can give their ruminants feed additives that manipulate the microorganisms living in the rumen to quicken microbial fermentation. What’s needed are practical methods to monitor the effectiveness of mitigating greenhouse gases using these practices as well as policy environments to make implementing them cost-effective.

3 Help farmers in developing countries obtain and maintain higher-yielding breeds

Where resources allow and breeding services exist, replacing low-producing local animals of the developing world with fewer and better fed animals of higher yielding breeds would reduce total emissions while maintaining or increasing livestock yields. Such shifts include keeping more productive types of a given breed, such as by crossing local cows with genetically improved dairy cow breeds to produce cross-bred cows that possess traits both for both hardiness and higher milk yields.

4 Better match livestock species to environments in all countries

Switching species to find those better suited to particular environments and resources could raise animal productivity levels. In some circumstances, exchanging ruminant animals for pigs, chickens and other monogastrics (which possess single- rather than four-chambered stomachs) could reduce total methane emissions, although high amounts of grain used to feed the monogastrics can offset the methane saved. For this reason, alternative feeds and feeding practices for monogastrics urgently need the attention of the research and development communities.

5 Impose regulatory frameworks for managing manure in all countries

Regulatory frameworks could reduce nitrous oxide emissions from manures, particularly by enforcing better management of excreta in the larger livestock operations in developing countries and applications of slurry and manure in the developed countries. Furthermore, developing ways to monitor and verify reductions would open the door to mitigation payment schemes.

6 Apply land-use policies that forestall cultivation of new lands

Some carbon lost from agricultural ecosystems in the past can be recovered. Any management practice that increases the photosynthetic input of carbon and/or slows the return of stored carbon to carbon dioxide via respiration, fire or erosion will increase carbon reserves, thereby sequestering carbon. We can thus reduce carbon dioxide emissions by applying land-use policies that forestall the cultivation of new lands now under forest, grassland or non-agricultural vegetation.

And rangeland and silvo-pastoral livestock systems would store much greater amounts of soil carbon than they do now if we put in place land use and livestock policies and practices suited to local conditions. Such interventions could serve not only to sequester more carbon but also to provide smallholders farmers and herders with payments for the services their local ecosystems provide the wider community.

7 Provide incentives to adopt mitigation strategies, particularly for poor communities

Finally, successful implementation of livestock mitigation strategies, particularly in poor countries with scarce resources, inadequate rural and peri-urban infrastructure, and inappropriate agricultural policies, will demand a series of smart and equitable incentive systems that encourage people to adopt mitigation strategies and practices. Success in these countries will also depend on developing new kinds of links among institutions that have not formerly worked together, on reforming livestock and agricultural policies, on inventing techniques for monitoring carbon stocks, and on developing appropriate and easy-to-use protocols for verifying greenhouse gas emissions. But the lesson ILRI researchers have learned from their pastoral research may prove to be most relevant here: mitigation activities have the greatest chance of success in poor and hungry communities when they build on traditional institutions and knowledge while building up food security.

This is Chapter three of the ILRI Corporate report 2008–09: Download the full report

Putting livestock on the climate change table

New options should focus on helping hungry animals and people adapt to climate change while mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions of small-scale livestock production systems.

Farm animals have been providing the world with an uncommon array of benefits since before the dawn of agriculture. Indeed, most small-scale farming even today would be impossible without them. But it is the world’s poorest people—some one billion of them—who depend on cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and other domestic animals the most. Livestock keeping helps them sustain their herding cultures or small-scale farming (e.g., animal manure fertilizes croplands; cattle and buffalo pull ploughs and transport farm produce to markets). Livestock provide them with a rare means of earning and saving an income (people can sell milk, eggs, manure or surplus stock, or they can find jobs in dairy or related businesses). Livestock foods feed hungry people (families can consume the milk, meat and eggs their stock produce or sell these high-quality foods to buy cheaper starchy foods). And livestock are a last hedge to protect households against the shocks common to the rural poor—from drought, flood or disease that destroys food crops in the field, to market distortions that make farm produce worthless, to civil unrest that makes people flee their homes, and, finally now, to a warmer world with increasingly unpredictable weather and extreme weather events.

But the inexorable rise of human populations, along with the aspirations and appetites of their growing middle classes, have led also to global livestock populations of increasing numbers and increasingly intensive livestock production practices. While overconsumption of red meat and other livestock foods is damaging the health of many people of the North, under-consumption of these nourishing foods is hurting, and killing, many people of the South. In terms of the environment, livestock production globally causes up to 18% of the human-generated greenhouse gases that are warming our planet. Livestock do this both directly (methane, for example, is produced in the rumination processes of cud-chewing animals) and indirectly (such as the felling of forests to make room for fodder crops and ranching). The factory farms of industrialized countries not only can treat animals inhumanely but also can pollute air and water and threaten human as well as animal health. The herding and farming families of developing countries, on the other hand, typically maintain their ruminant animals on poor-quality feeds that make conversion of feed to milk and meat inefficient and environmentally damaging—skinny ruminants on poor diets, while not competing with people for grain, produce much more methane per unit of livestock product than do well-fed cattle, sheep and goats.

Just one hundred years ago, the principles and practices of animal husbandry were pretty similar across all the regions of the world where it was practiced (which pretty much meant all the regions of the world). But as schisms have opened up between the livestock production systems and peoples of today’s rich and poor worlds, we must now start from a new understanding—an understanding based on decades of livestock and systems research—that ‘local context’ is everything.

In the North, we need to focus on mitigating the impacts of livestock production and consumption on climate change. We already have many workable and alternative ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental and health ‘bads’ of intensive livestock production systems. We need to get them implemented and to begin monitoring our reductions in livestock-produced greenhouse gases as we begin to build more sustainable and healthy food systems.

In the South, where most of the world’s poor live, work and are fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers and herders, the impacts of climate change will be greatest—and typically experienced at first hand. These farmers and herders include the largely rainfed crop-and-livestock farming communities that, unknown to many, have become the world’s biggest source of staple foods for the poor as well as many of the world’s most renowned herding cultures.

In the rural South, there are few ways of making a living other than by producing food from the land. Therefore, while we need to encourage people to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions generated by their livestock enterprises, we need to focus most urgently on helping these people and communities to adapt their production systems to climate change. New incentives and technology and policy instruments should allow them to continue to provide the foods, jobs, livelihoods and environmental services that their livestock make possible and doing so in increasingly more efficient and sustainable ways.

With a perfect storm of food, water and energy shortages fast approaching—and 1 billion livestock livelihoods at the very centre of a nexus of human, climate and environmental vulnerabilities—the time for helping developing countries and communities to transform their livestock sectors has come.

As we move further into a 21st century characterized by depleted natural resources and the projected ‘human tsunami’ that is expected to peak by mid-century with a population of more than 9 billion, those of us in research for development need to focus our energy and attention on the little- as well as well-known levers that drive big change.

Across the developing regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the raising and selling of farm animals, and the increasing consumption of milk, meat and eggs, together represent one of those ‘big-change’ levers. The ubiquitous small-scale livestock enterprises found in every country of the developing world can represent pathways out of poverty and hunger. They can also promote climate change. Livestock researchers are acutely aware that they are working at these critically important crossroads.

This is Chapter One of the ILRI Corporate Report 2008–09: Download the full report