Livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’: What are the published facts?

Study for Composition VIII (The Cow), by Theo van Doesburg, c. 1918

‘Study for Composition VIII (The Cow)’, by Theo van Doesburg, c.1918, via WikiPaintings.

Yesterday’s post on this ILRI News Blog, Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act and a balanced account, highlighted the overviews and conclusions provided in a new science paper on the roles of livestock in developing countries.

The paper, written by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), also provides a wealth of research-based livestock facts little known (and less cited) in current global debates on the roles farm animals play in reducing or promoting global poverty, hunger, malnutrition, gender inequality, ill health, infectious disease and environmental harm.

The authors of the paper argue that no single, or simple, way exists to view, approach or resolve issues at the interface of livestock and these big global problems.

Consider the following facts / complicating factors cited in the new paper.

Up to 1.3 billion people globally are employed in different livestock product value chains globally (Herrero et al. 2009). Milk and meat rank as some of the agricultural commodities with the highest gross value of production (VOP) in the developing world (FAOSTAT 2011). Nearly 1 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa keep livestock (FAO 2009). More than 80% of poor Africans keep livestock and 40–66% of poor people in India and Bangladesh keep livestock (FAO 2009). Some 68% of households in the developing world earn income from livestock (Davis et al. 2007). Across the developing world, livestock contribute, on average, 33% of household income in mixed crop-livestock systems and 55% of pastoral incomes (Staal et al. 2009). The growth in demand for milk and meat, mainly driven by urban consumers in developing countries, has been increasing in the last few decades and is projected to double by 2050 (Delgado et al. 1999, Rosegrant et al. 2009).

‘Livestock contribute greatly to global food security: they directly provide highly nourishing animal-source foods; they provide scarce cash income from sales of livestock and livestock products used to purchase food; their manure and traction increase household cereal supplies; and increases in livestock production can increase access by the poor to livestock foods through lower prices of livestock products.’

  • Livestock systems in developing countries now produce about 50% of the world’s beef, as well as 41% of our milk, 72% of our lamb, 59% of our pork and 53% of our poultry future (Herrero et al. 2009); all these shares are expected to increase in future (Bruinsma 2003, Rosegrant et al. 2009).
  • Most meat and milk in the developing world comes from so-called ‘mixed’ crop-and-livestock systems [which] . . . are central to global food security, as they also produce close to 50% of the global cereal output (Herrero et al. 2009 and 2010).

‘Although livestock and fish clearly make important contributions to overall food security, there is an even more important role of animal source foods in achieving nutrition, as opposed to food, security. Animal source foods are dense and palatable sources of energy and high-quality protein, important for vulnerable groups, such as infants, children, pregnant and nursing women and people living with human immunodeficiency virus with high nutritional needs. They also provide a variety of essential micronutrients, some of which, such as vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc and various essential fatty acids, are difficult to obtain in adequate amounts from plant-based foods alone (Murphy and Allen 2003). Animal source foods provide multiple micronutrients simultaneously, which can be important in diets that are lacking in more than one nutrient: for example, vitamin A and riboflavin are both needed for iron mobilisation and haemoglobin synthesis, and supplementation with iron alone may not successfully treat anaemia if these other nutrients are deficient (Allen 2002). Micronutrients in animal source foods are also often more readily absorbed and bioavailable than those in plant-based foods (Murphy and Allen 2003).’

‘Almost two-thirds of the world’s billion poor livestock keepers are rural women (Staal et al. 2009). . . . Livestock are an important asset for women because it is often easier for women in developing countries to acquire livestock assets . . . than it is for them to purchase land or other physical assets or to control other financial assets (Rubin et al. 2010). . . . Livestock assets are generally more equitably distributed between men and women than are other assets like land (Flintan 2008). . . . Women generally play a major role in managing and caring for animals, even when they are not the owners. . . . Despite the role of women in livestock production, women have lower access to technologies and inputs than men and there are gender disparities in access to extension services, information and training throughout the developing world due to women’s long workdays, a neglect of women’s needs and circumstances when targeting extension work, and widespread female illiteracy.’

‘In developing countries, human health is inextricably linked to the livestock, which underpin the livelihoods of almost a billion people . . . . Livestock have an essential role in contributing to good health through providing animal source food, manure and draft power for plant source food, as well as income to buy food and health care. At the same time, livestock can lead to poor health if animal source foods contribute to poor diet and through providing a reservoir for diseases infectious to people (zoonoses). The relationship between livestock, human nutrition and human health are complex, with multiple synergistic and antagonistic links . . . . For example, poor livestock keepers worldwide face daily trade-offs between selling their (relatively expensive) milk, meat and eggs to increase their household income and consuming the same (high-quality) foods to increase their household nutrition. Because animal source foods are so dense in nutrients, including micronutrients that help prevent ‘hidden hunger’, decisions in these matters have potentially large implications for the nutritional and economic health of households. Livestock contributes to food security and nutrition in various ways.’

‘In poor countries, infectious disease still accounts for around 40% of the health burden in terms of years lost through sickness and death (WHO 2008). Livestock directly contribute to this through the foodborne diseases transmitted through animal source foods, the zoonoses transmissible between livestock and people, and human diseases emerging from livestock. A recent estimate suggests that 12% of the infectious disease burden in least developed countries is due to zoonoses, and the majority of this is transmitted to people from livestock hosts through consumption of animal source foods, vectors or direct contact (Grace et al. 2012). More indirectly, keeping of livestock affects agro-ecosystems in ways that influence their ability to provide health-provisioning services. This may be positive or negative. In some circumstances, livestock act as a buffer, for example, between trypanosomosis-carrying tsetse or malaria-carrying mosquitoes and people; in this case, livestock act as alternative hosts, effectively protecting people. In other cases, livestock are an amplifying host, for example pigs harbouring and multiplying Japanese encephalitis and thus increasing the risk it poses to people.’

  • Food-borne disease is the world’s most common illness and is most commonly manifested as gastrointestinal disease; diarrhoea is one of the top three infectious diseases in most developing countries, killing an estimated 1.4 million children a year (Black et al. 2010).
  • In countries where good data exist, zoonotic pathogens are among the most important causes of food-borne disease (Thorns 2000, Schlundt et al. 2004).
  • Animal-source food is the most risky of food commodities (Lynch et al. 2006), with meat and milk providing excellent mediums for microbial growth.
  • Most human diseases come from animals, with some 61% being ‘zoonotic’, or transmissible between animals and humans, including many of the most important causes of sickness and death.
  • Endemic zoonoses that prevail in poor countries are among the most neglected diseases.
  • Zoonoses (diseases transmissible between animals and man) and diseases recently emerged from animals (mostly human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) make up 25% of the infectious disease burden in the least developed countries (Gilbert et al. 2010).
  • Currently, one new disease is emerging every four months, and 75% of these originate in animals (Jones et al. 2008).

‘The impacts of livestock on the environment have received considerable attention as the publication of the Livestock’s Long Shadow study (Steinfeld et al. 2006). This study helped draw attention to the magnitude and scale of livestock’s impact on land use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution among others, and it created a thrust for the sector’s stakeholders to develop research agendas geared towards generating better data for the environmental assessment of global livestock systems, and to develop solutions for mitigating environmental livestock problems, and policy agendas more conducive to a greening of the sector by promoting regulation, increases in efficiency and others.’

Land: For grazing or fodder?

  • Livestock systems are one of the main users of land; livestock use some 3.4 billion ha for grazing and 0.5 million ha of cropland for the production of feeds (33% of arable land), globally (Steinfeld et al. 2006).
  • Of the world’s 3.4 billion ha of grazing lands, 2.3 million ha (67%) are in the developing world, with expansion of pastureland at the expense of natural habitats in the developing world in the order of 330 million ha in the last 40 years (FAO 2009).
  • The world will require an additional 450 million tonnes of grain to meet demand for animal products by 2050 (Rosegrant et al. 2009).

Climate change: Decrease livestock numbers or increase livestock efficiencies? (or both?)

  • Livestock are an important contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming; current estimates range from 8.5% to 18% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (O’Mara 2011), with the range reflecting methodological differences (inventories v. life cycle assessment), attribution of emissions to land use (Herrero et al. 2011, O’Mara 2011) and uncertainty in parameter values (FAO 2010).
  • Livestock in the developing world contribute 50% to 65% of the total emissions from livestock in the world. (Herrero et al. 2013).
  • The higher the productivity of farm animals, the lower the emissions per unit of their products (FAO 2010).
  • While livestock systems in general terms generate significantly more greenhouse gas emissions per kilocalorie than crops, the potential for the livestock sector to mitigate such emissions is very large (1.74 Gt CO2-eq per year, Smith et al. 2007), with land-use management practices representing over 80% of this potential (Smith et al. 2007) and with most of the mitigation potential (70%) lying in the developing world (Smith et al. 2007).

Livestock manure: Waste or resource?

  • Livestock wastes—considered a serious problem in the developed world—are a critical agricultural resource in large parts of Africa, where soils are inherently poor (Petersen et al. 2007, Rufino et al. 2007).
  • Manure contributes between 12% and 24% of the nitrogen input in nitrogen cycles in cropland in the developing world (Liu et al. 2010).
  • Recycling of animal manures is practiced in most mixed crop-livestock systems, although efficiencies are rarely close to those of the developed world (Rufino et al. 2006).
  • Synthetic fertilizers are unaffordable for most small-scale farmers, who depend on the (poor) fertility of their soils to produce food crops, or on livestock to concentrate nutrients from the relatively large grazing lands (Herrero et al. 2013).
  • In many farming systems, the production of food crops directly relies on animal manures to increase effectiveness of fertilizers applied to cropland (Vanlauwe and Giller 2006).
  • Although animal manure can be a very effective soil amendment, its availability at the farm level is often very limited, so designing technologies for soil fertility restoration only around the use of animal manure is unrealistic.

Payments for environmental services: Exclude or include livestock keepers?

  • Despite the fact that livestock is widely distributed in virtually all agro-ecosystems of the developing world, few ‘payment for environmental services’ schemes have targeted livestock keepers; most have focused on such services as climate, water and wildlife (Landell-Mills and Porras 2002, Wunder 2005).
  • Enhancing the role that rangelands play in maintaining ecosystem services through improved rangeland management could be of essential importance for enhancing global green water cycles (Rockström et al. 2007).
  • In Africa, where close to half of the pastoralists earn less than US$1/day, it’s estimated that even modest improvements in natural resource management in the drylands may yield gains of 0.5 t C/ha per year, which translates into US$50/year, bringing about a 14% increase in income for the pastoralist (Reid et al. 2004).

Read the whole paper
The roles of livestock in developing countries, by ILRI authors Mario Herrero, Delia Grace, Jemimah Njuki, Nancy Johnson, Dolapo Enahoro, Silvi Silvestri and Mariana Rufino, Animal (2013), 7:s1, pp 3–18 & The Animal Consortium 2012, doi:10.1017/S1751731112001954

Read related articles
Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act—and a balanced account, 3 Apr 2012
Taking the long livestock view, 23 Jan 2013
Greening the livestock sector, 22 Jan 2013
Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond meat, milk and eggs, 8 Jan 2013
A fine balancing act will be needed for livestock development in a changing world, 7 Dec 2012
Fewer, better fed, animals good for the world’s climate and the world’s poor, 22 Nov 2012
Scientific assessments needed by a global livestock sector facing increasingly hard trade-offs, 12 Jul 2013.
A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012
Sharing the space: Seven livestock leaders speak out on a global agenda, 20 Mar 2012
Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector, 15 Mar 2012
Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012

This paper is an ILRI output of two CGIAR Research Programs: Livestock and Fish and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act–and a balanced account

Worldmapper: Meat consumed

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide meat consumption that occurs there (map by Worldmapper). Meat consumption per person is highest in Western Europe, with nine of the top ten meat-consuming populations living in Western Europe (the tenth in this ranking is New Zealand). The most meat is consumed in China, where a fifth of the world population lives.

Authors of a new paper setting out the roles of livestock in developing countries argue that although providing a ‘balanced account’ of livestock’s roles entails something of a ‘balancing act’, we had better get on with it if we want to build global food, economic and environmental security.

‘The importance of this paper lies in providing a balanced account [for] . . .  the often, ill-informed or generalized discussion on the . . .  roles of livestock. Only by understanding the nuances in these roles will we be able to design more sustainable solutions for the sector.

‘We are at a moment in time where our actions could be decisive for the resilience of the world food system, the environment and a billion poor people in the developing world . . . . At the same time, . . . the demand for livestock products is increasing, . . . adding additional pressures on the world natural resources.

Not surprisingly, the world is asking a big question: what should we do about livestock?

The paper, by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), provides ‘a sophisticated and disaggregated answer’.

‘The sector is large. There are 17 billion animals in the world eating, excreting and using substantial amounts of natural resources, mostly in the developing world, where most of the growth of the sector will occur. The roles of livestock in the developing world are many . . . . [L]ivestock can be polluters in one place, whereas in another they provide vital nutrients for supporting crop production.’

The picture is complex. Whether for its positive or negative roles, livestock are in the spotlight. . . . [M]aking broad generalizations about the livestock sector [is] useless (and dangerous) for informing the current global debates on food security and the environment.

So what are these ‘nuanced, scientifically informed messages about livestock’s roles’ that the authors say are essential? Well, here are a few, but it is recommended that interested readers read the paper itself to get a sense of the whole, complicated, picture.

In a nutshell (taken from the paper’s conclusion), the authors say that ‘weighing the roles that livestock play in the developing world’ is a ‘complex balancing act’.

On the one hand, we acknowledge that livestock is an important contributor to the economies of developing nations, to the incomes and livelihoods of millions of poor and vulnerable producers and consumers, and it is an important source of nourishment. On the other side of the equation, the sector [is a] . . . large user of land and water, [a] notorious GHG [greenhouse gas] emitter, a reservoir of disease, [and a] source of nutrients at times, polluter at others . . . .

‘Against this dichotomy, [this] is a sector that could improve its environmental performance significantly . . . .’

This paper argues that we will help ensure poor decision-making in the livestock sector if we do the following.

Continue to ignore the inequities inherent
in the debate on whether or not to eat meat
‘This debate translates into poor food choices v. the food choices of the poor [and remains] dominated by the concerns of the developed world, [whose over-consumers of livestock and other foods] . . . should reduce the consumption of animal products as a health measure. However, the debate needs to increase in sophistication so that the poor and undernourished are not the victims of generalisations that may translate into policies or reduced support for the livestock sector in parts of the world where the multiple benefits of livestock outweigh the problems it causes.’

Take as given the projected trajectories of animal
consumption proposed by the ‘livestock revolution’
These trajectories ‘are not inevitable. Part of our responsibility is to challenge these future trajectories, and ensure that we identify levels of consumption and nutritional diversity for different parts of the world that will achieve the best compromise between a healthy diet that includes livestock products (or not), economic growth, livelihoods and livestock’s impacts on the environment. No mean feat, but certainly a crucial area of research.’

Continue to promote large-scale consolidated farms over efficient
and market-oriented smallholders as engines for feeding the world
‘Advocates of large-scale farming argue in favour of the higher efficiencies of resource use often found in these systems and how simple it is to disseminate technology and effect technological change. True, when the market economy is working.’ Not true when the market economy is not working. Investment in developing efficient value chains is essential ‘to create incentives for smallholders to integrate in the market economy, formal or informal.’

Continue to hurt the competitiveness
of the smallholder livestock sector
‘Formal and informal markets will need to ensure the supply of cheaper, locally produced, safe livestock products to adequately compete. This implies a significant reduction in transaction costs for the provision of inputs, increased resource use efficiencies, and very responsive, innovative and supporting institutions for the livestock sector in developing countries (FAO, 2009).

Continue to give lip service to paying for environmental services—
and continue to ignore livestock keepers as targets of these services
‘Proofs of concept that test how these schemes could operate in very fragmented systems, with multiple users of the land or in communal pastoral areas, are necessary. Research on fair, equitable and robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks and mechanisms for effecting payments schemes that work under these conditions is necessary. The promise of PES [payment for environmental services] schemes as a means to . . . produce food while protecting the world’s ecosystems is yet to be seen on a large scale.’

Don’t help small-scale livestock farmers and herders
adapt to climate change or help mitigate global warming
In a low carbon economy, and as the global food system prepares to become part of the climate change negotiations, ‘it will be essential that the livestock sector mitigate GHG [greenhouse gas emissions] effectively in relation to other sectors. Demonstrating that these options are real, with tangible examples, is essential . . . .’

Don’t modify institutions and markets to reach smallholders—
and continue to ignore women livestock producers
‘Underinvestment in extension systems and other support services has rendered poor producers disenfranchised to access support systems necessary for increasing productivity and efficiency’ or safety nets. Increased public investment in innovation and support platforms to link the poor, and especially women, to markets is essential.

Continue to protect global environmental goods
at the expense of local livelihoods of the poor
‘. . . [S]tern public opinion in favour of protecting global environmental goods, instead of local livelihoods, could create an investment climate’ that hurts smallholder farmers. The informal and formal retail sectors must ‘gain consumers trust as safe providers of livestock products for urban and rural consumers’.

Bottom line: Need for nuanced information / narratives / approaches
The authors conclude their paper with a plea for greater tolerance for ambiguity and diversity rather than fixed ideas, and a greater appetite for accurate and location-specific information rather than simplistic generalities.

Balancing the multiple roles of livestock in the developing world and contrasting them with those in the developed world is not simple.

‘The disaggregated evidence by region, species, production system, value chain, etc. needs to be generated. Messages need to be well distilled, backed by scientific evidence and well articulated to avoid making generalisations that more often than not confuse the picture and ill-inform policy. Livestock’s roles are simply not the same everywhere.

The roles, whether good or bad, need to be accepted by the scientific community.

‘Research agendas need to use the livestock bads as opportunities for improvement, while continuing to foster the positive aspects. These are essential ingredients for society to make better-informed choices about the future roles of livestock in sustainable food production, economic growth and poverty alleviation.’

Access the full paper
The roles of livestock in developing countries, by ILRI authors Mario Herrero, Delia Grace, Jemimah Njuki, Nancy Johnson, Dolapo Enahoro, Silvi Silvestri and Mariana Rufino, Animal (2013), 7:s1, pp 3–18.

Read related articles
Taking the long livestock view, 23 Jan 2013
Greening the livestock sector, 22 Jan 2013
Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond meat, milk and eggs, 8 Jan 2013
A fine balancing act will be needed for livestock development in a changing world, 7 Dec 2012
Fewer, better fed, animals good for the world’s climate and the world’s poor, 22 Nov 2012
Scientific assessments needed by a global livestock sector facing increasingly hard trade-offs, 12 Jul 2013.
A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012
Sharing the space: Seven livestock leaders speak out on a global agenda, 20 Mar 2012
Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector, 15 Mar 2012
Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012

This paper is an ILRI output of two CGIAR Research Programs: Livestock and Fish and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Planet under pressure / Where’s the beef?

Curious Cows

‘The children of the corn’ (photo on Flickr by Andrés Thor).

Conspicuous by its absence at the recent Planet Under Pressure (PUP) conference in London (26–29 Mar 2012) was the topic of livestock production. While several presenters, panel members and other delegates did mention in passing the need to cut back on meat consumption to save the planet from the emissions of greenhouse gases generated in the production of meat, there was scarce mention of the 1.3 billion people who rely on livestock for their livelihoods or the nearly 1 billion people who are undernourished, or the fact that livestock production contributes up to 50 per cent of the gross domestic product of poor countries, or that global meat demand is expected to far outstrip that of grain, growing by 40 per cent by 2025.

Livestock are the backbone of small-scale agriculture and economic development throughout the developing world, helping poor households and communities endure shocks such as drought and price fluctuations; and providing them with manure to fertilize soils and traction to pull ploughs; high-quality foods they can either consume or sell; rural and peri-urban jobs and livelihoods; and a regular cash income from sales of milk and eggs and surplus stock with which to pay for medical bills, children’s school fees and other essentials.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that raising and selling livestock also carries risks and causes harm. Here, for example, is a statement from Livestock’s Long Shadow, the rather famous (in agricultural development circles) report of a study published in 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):

The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.’ — Livestock’s Long Shadow, FAO, 2006.

Despite livestock issues having been at the centre of public debates about livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, especially since Livestock’s Long Shadow came out, with its report that livestock production comprises 18 per cent of the greenhouse gasses generated by humankind, the problematic (and often impassioned) livestock topic was hardly raised at PUP. (One panel session was scheduled for this topic, but an emergency prevented some of the panel members from attending the conference and the session was cancelled.) That’s a shame, since many of PUP’s nearly 3,000 delegates have the kind of scientific training to have tackled global livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ with dispassion, evidence and credibility.

It will be interesting to see if this topic is seen to merit attention at the, much larger, Rio+20 sustainable development conference this June.

What do you think? Are livestock issues of sufficient import to justify their inclusion in presentations and discussions at Rio+20? Please post your thoughts in the Comments box.

To read some of ILRI’s views on the livestock goods and bads debates, visit this Pinterest page, where several ILRI articles on the subject are posted.

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

Planet under pressure / A numbers game–but which numbers are the numbers that matter?, 26 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / Food security policy brief, 27 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / ‘Get out of the nerd loop’–NYT environmental reporter, 27 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / Agriculture (finally) at the global change table, 28 Mar 2012.

Planet under pressure / Navigating the Anthropocene, 29 Mar 2012.

Livestock and climate change: Towards credible figures

Cow in Rajasthan, India

Profile of a cow kept by the Rajasthani agro-pastoralists who have inhabited India’s state of Rajasthan (‘land of kings’ or ‘colours’), from the Great Thar Desert in the northwest to the better-watered regions of the southeast, since parts of it formed the great trading and urban Indus Valley (3000-500 BC) and Harappan (1,000 BC) civilizations (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We know that livestock produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Just how much remains somewhat contentious, with the estimated contributions of livestock to global greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 10 to 51%, depending on who is doing the analyses, and how.

A new commentary, published in a special ‘animal feed’ issue of the scientific journal Animal Feed and Technology, examines the main discrepancies between well known and documented studies such as FAO’s Livestock Long Shadow report (FAO 2006) and some more recent estimates. The authors of the commentary advocate for better documentation of assumptions and methodologies for estimating emissions and the need for greater scientific debate, discussion and scrutiny in this area.

The authors of the new article, ‘Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right,’ are a distinguished group of experts from diverse institutions working in this area, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, Rome), Wageningen University and Research Centre (Netherlands), the Food Climate Research Network at the Centre for Environmental Strategy (FCRN, University of Surrey), the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (JRC, Italy), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL, Bilthoven), Aarhus University’s Department of Agroecology and Environment (Denmark), New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Wellington), the Institute Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique (France), the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada group at Lethbridge Research Centre (Alberta) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, Nairobi).

This group of international scientists presents the case of one recent argument as follows.

‘In 2006, the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report (FAO, 2006), using well documented and rigorous life cycle analyses, estimated that global livestock contributes to 18% of global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. According to the study the main contributors to GHG from livestock systems are land use change (carbon dioxide, CO2), enteric fermentation from ruminants (methane, CH4) and manure management (nitrous oxide, N2O).

‘A . . . non-peer reviewed report published by the Worldwatch Institute (Goodland and Anhang 2009) contested these figures and argued that GHG emissions from livestock could be closer to 51% of global GHG emissions. In our view, this report has oversimplified the issue with respect to livestock production. It has emphasised the negative impacts without highlighting the positives and, in doing so, has used a methodological approach which we believe to be flawed.’

Mario Herrero, lead author of the Animal Feed and Technology paper, is a systems analyst and climate change specialist working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Herrero argues that Goodland and Anhang, while claiming in the non-scientifically peer-reviewed World Watch Magazine (which is published by Worldwatch Institute) that livestock generate 51% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions rather than the 18% reported by FAO in 2007, fail to detail the methodologies they used to come up with this new figure, fail to use those methods consistently across different sectors, and fail to follow global guidelines for assessing emissions set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol.

Furthermore, Hererro says, the World Watch authors’ solution to livestock’s contribution to global warming—’to eat less animal products, or better still, none at all’—could push some 1 billion livestock keepers and consumers living on little more than a dollar a day into even greater poverty (small livestock enterprises are the mainstay of many poor people) and severe malnourishment (milk is among the few high-quality foods readily available to many poor people, with consumption of modest quantities of dairy making the difference between health and illness, especially in children and women of child-bearing ages).

Goodland and Anhang also fail to enlarge on any counterfactuals, such as what a world without domesticated livestock would look like.

Over a billion people make a living from livestock, says ILRI director general Carlos Seré. Most of them are among the poorest of the poor. What, other than livestock keeping, would most African and Indian farming households turn to in order to meet their needs for scarce protein, fertilizer, employment, income, traction, means of saving, and insurance against crop failure?

While many of us may find the factory farming of animals in rich countries objectionable on several grounds, Seré says, we must be responsible not to conflate industrial grain-fed livestock systems of rich producers with the family farming and herding practices of hundreds of millions of poor producers, most of whom still maintain their animals not on grain but on pasture grass and other crop wastes not edible by humans.

The biggest concern of many experts regarding livestock in developing countries, Seré says, is not their impact on climate change but rather the impact of climate change on livestock production.

The hotter and more extreme tropical environments being predicted threaten not only up to a billion livelihoods based on livestock but also supplies of milk, meat and eggs among hungry communities that need these nourishing foods most. For people living in absolute poverty and chronic hunger, the solution is not to rid the world of livestock, but rather to find ways to farm animals more efficiently and profitably, as well as sustainably.

Tara Garnett, a co-author of the new paper and a research fellow at the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, in the UK, investigates issues around livestock and greenhouse gas emissions in her highly credible and readable publication Cooking up a Storm: Food, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Our Changing Climate (2008). Garnett, who also runs the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), which brings together nearly 2,000 individuals from a broad variety of disciplines to share information on issues relating to food and climate change, agrees with Seré on this.

By 2050, on current projections, Garnett reports, the developing world will still, on average, be eating less than half as much meat as people do in the rich world, and only a third of the milk. There is a long way to go before they catch up with developed world levels.

While there is an increasingly urgent need to reduce demand for meat and dairy products among consumers in developed countries, and also to moderate rapid growth in demand for these foods in emerging, rapidly industrializing, countries, for the world’s poorest people, small-scale livestock enterprises can increase household incomes and improve livelihoods. Greater consumption of meat and dairy products—in addition to a more diverse range of plant-based foods—can play a critical role in combatting malnutrition and enhancing nutritional status.’

Herrero and Garnett and their other co-authors conclude that ‘Livestock undoubtedly need to be a priority focus of attention as the global community seeks to address the challenge of climate change. The magnitude of the discrepancy between the Goodland and Anhang paper (2009) and widely recognized estimates of GHG from livestock (FAO, 2006), illustrates the need to provide the climate change community and policy makers with accurate emissions estimates and information about the link between agriculture and climate.

‘Improving the global estimates of GHG attributed to livestock systems is of paramount importance. This is not only because we need to define the magnitude of the impact of livestock on climate change, but also because we need to understand their contribution relative to other sources. Such information will enable effective mitigation options to be designed to reduce emissions and improve the sustainability of the livestock sector while continuing to provide livelihoods and food for a wide range of people, especially the poor. We need to understand where livestock can help and where they hinder the goals of resilient global ecosystems and a sustainable, equitable future for future generations.

‘We believe these efforts need to be part of an ongoing process, but one that is to be conducted through transparent, well established methodologies, rigorous science and open scientific debate. Only in this way will we be able to advance the debate on livestock and climate change and inform policy, climate change negotiations and public opinion more accurately.’

Read the whole post-print paper by Mario Herrero, P Gerber, T Vellinga, T Garnett, A Leip, C Opio, HJ Westhoek, PK Thornton, J Olesen, N Hutchings, H Montgomery, J-F Soussana, H Steinfeld and TA McAllister: Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right, a special issue on ‘Greenhouse Gases in Animal Agriculture—Finding a Balance between Food and Emissions’ published this month in 2011 in Animal Feed Science and Technology 166–167: 779–782 (doi: 10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2011.04.083).

Read the Goodland and Anhang article in World Watch Magazine: Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens? November/December 2009.

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.’


Livestock goods and bads … have our views changed?

Livestock, the good the bad and the ugly” was the theme for the annual staff meeting of the International Livestock Research Institute in April of this year.

As an organization we have tended to focus on the positive aspects of livestock production in developing countries and this bias is evident in our strap-line: Better Lives through Livestock. At the same time the global media regularly present a very different view of livestock as “polluters of the planet”.

We felt it time to address this issue head on and consider both the negative and positive elements of livestock production and how these differ in the developed north and the developing south.

In the run-up to our meeting we conducted a quick survey to get participants thinking about the issues. At the meeting itself we engaged in an extended dialogue on livestock goods and bads using a range of formats. We repeated the survey after the meeting.

Survey results were reasonably consistent before and after the meeting although some of the opinions did change. For example the perception that in global terms livestock are a pathway out of poverty was significantly eroded following the meeting. There was also a tendency for increased awareness of zoonotic disease as a livestock bad. We also saw a reduction in those responding “don’t know” suggesting that our deliberations did increase understanding on livestock goods and bads.

Although the results were interesting, the survey was also a useful process for getting people thinking about livestock goods and bads and the high response rate (almost half of participants completed the first survey round) suggest that it was a useful exercise. See a summary of the survey results.




This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

Livestock goods and bads: Filmed highlights of ILRI’s 2010 Annual Program Meeting

At the 2010 Annual Program Meeting (APM) of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), held in April in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, several hundred participants debated and discussed the challenges facing the global livestock industry. ILRI and its partners are investigating ways to promote smallholder participation in livestock markets, more sustainable ways for livestock keepers to use natural resources, and ways to improve livestock pathways out of poverty.

Some of the presentations made during the meeting on the theme of 'Livestock: the Good, the Bad and the Gaps' were captured on film. We share three of those below.

The first film is a presentation by ILRI agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero on the important place of livestock for smallholder farmers in developing economies. Herrero highlights the many benefits livestock bring to the rural poor and argues that the rapidly expanding sector will need to be better managed and to reduce the environmental risks it poses if it is to continue to be productive. Herrero argues for an integrated assessment of the effects of the global livestock industry on various agro-ecosystems important to the poor.

In the second film, ILRI veterinary and food safety researcher Delia Grace discusses the human health risks associated with livestock keeping. Grace notes that zoonotic diseases (those transmitted between animals and people) and emerging infectious diseases (such as bird flu) are two of the well-known risks associated with livestock. But she says that animals provide a means of regulating diseases because they can serve as sentinels that lets communities and public health officials know of disease outbreaks before the diseases can affect humans. She makes the case for more research to address the many common misconceptions that exist about livestock and human health.

In the third film, Narayan Hedge, of India's BAIF Development Research Foundation, highlights the important role livestock play in providing a livelihood for nearly 700 million people in India. He makes an appeal for better livestock technologies, better infrastructure, and more efficient management of the industry so that more smallholder farmers can use livestock to escape poverty.

Livestock goods and bads: Background and evidence

On Thursday 15 April, ILRI staff, Board members and partners gather in Addis Ababa for the first day of the annual program meeting. The first major plenary session mobilizes a range of speakers on different dimensions of the ‘goods and bads’ issue. The presentations are online:

See a short video interview with IFPRI’s David Spielman in livestock research priorities.

We also asked leaders of ILRI research groups to briefly present what each is doing in terms of livestock goods and bads, and which research gaps need to be filled.

This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

Livestock goods and bads: Two European views

On 10 April, we interviewed ILRI Board Chair Knut Hove, from Norway, and Program Chair Jim Dargie, from the UK.

HOVE: In the last year media attention on livestock ‘bads’ has gone away in Norway. It has not had an impact on meat production in Norway. My country’s strategy to use the whole country, and we are located so far north, with such large grasslands, that ruminants will always have a place there.

DARGIE: In the UK, people are still questioning why so much of our crop area should be used for producing food for livestock. They have concerns about using so much energy for this in this era of climate change. Questions are being raised by the government about what should be its appropriate response to meet the rising meat requirements. There is going to be greater emphasis on home-grown food production to lessen the greenhouse gas emissions due to transporting foods. Bear in mind that people in our countries are overfed, and in that context, meat production is often seen as a public bad.

HOVE: On the other hand, in our countries diets like the Atkins are very popular, which encourage you to eat more protein and less carbohydrates. In Norway, the focus of most people’s concerns are the high levels of methane produced by industrial livestock production practices and the treatment of animals in these intensive systems, such as raising battery chickens and using feedlots for beef cattle. In the Scandinavian countries, we haven’t reached this industrial level yet—we tend to have small, family run farms that make use of grazing and grass production. We have strict controls on how many chickens or cows a farmer may raise. Norwegians are given many incentives for practicing small-scale sustainable agriculture.

DARGIE: This was the European Union’s response to overproduction of livestock foods—the milk mountains and so on. Governments rather than farmers have been paying for the environmental costs of agriculture in Europe. HOVE: The rising human populations need to be fed and they need to be fed efficiently. And that is the hard problem we face. As long as we have this wealth of fossil energy, we in Europe have been able to scale up, scale up, scale up, to mechanize our agriculture, with most of us having left the farm. (In the seventeenth century, everybody was producing food here.)

DARGIE: What’s going to suit one country is not going to suit many others. Many rich countries have turned food production into big business—they are producing food to sell elsewhere. And this is depressing incentives for sustainable agriculture elsewhere. The question is, if we include the costs of environmental services, are these rich food producers really efficient? One of the problems at the moment is putting a dollar sign in front of environmental services, or environmental bads. That is a big big issue. And how we cost factors will vary enormously from one country to another.

HOVE: Many researchers are working to get these figures. We in the developed world have lived on polluting and we have had strong economic growth. Now we have to pay for that. Now we have to pay for our wealth by cleaning up. That’s the chance for developing countries.

This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

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 …


New study injects new life into the livestock 'goods' and 'bads' controversy

A new two-volume report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape, released in March 2010, makes the case that the livestock sector 'is a major environmental contributor' as well as a major livelihood of the world's poor.

The report's co-editor, biologist Harold Mooney, says: 'We want to protect those on the margins who are dependent on a handful of livestock for their livelihood. . . . On the other side, we want people engaged in the livestock industry to look closely at the report and determine what improvements they can make.' Among the key findings in the report are:

  • More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth's land.
  • Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of total arable land.
  • Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.
  • The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
  • About 1 billion poor people worldwide derive at least some part of their livelihood from domesticated animals

While overconsumption of animal-source foods – particularly meat, milk and eggs – has been linked to heart disease and other chronic conditions, these foods remain a vital source of protein and nutrient nutrition throughout the developing world, the report said. The authors cited a recent study of Kenyan children that found a positive association between meat intake and physical growth, cognitive function and school performance. Published this year by Island Press, Livestock in a Changing Landscape is a collaboration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Swiss College of Agriculture (SHL), Woods Institute for the Environment, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD), and Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative (LEAD). Other editors of the report are Laurie E. Neville (Stanford University), Pierre Gerber (FAO), Jeroen Dijkman (FAO), Shirley Tarawali (ILRI) and Cees de Haan (World Bank). Initial funding for the project was provided by a 2004 Environmental Venture Projects grant from the Woods Institute. Here is a presentation made by ILRI Director Shirley Tarawali at the launch of the publication and workshop of the way forward 4-5 March 2010 in Switzerland.

View more presentations from ILRI CGIAR.

ILRI’s Alan Duncan on livestock and poor people in Ethiopia

In October 2009, Danielle Nierenberg of the Worldwatch Institute’s ‘Nourishing the Planet‘ project began a visit to Africa to document agricultural innovations. Her aim: “to tell stories of hope and success in food production from all over Africa.”

Early in the trip she visited the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa; she has subsequently been in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa … reporting on the project blog. This month, Danielle’s blog includes a profile of ILRI’s Alan Duncan, member of the project’s advisory group.

Responding to a question on the association between livestock production and climate change and other negative environmental impacts, Alan argues that “the blanket condemnation of livestock as ‘polluters of the planet’ misses the nuances of differences between livestock’s role in the rich North and the poor South. Limiting intensive livestock production which oversupplies protein to those in developed countries is probably good for the planet. But in places like Ethiopia, livestock are a crucial element of poor people’s livelihoods and their nutrition. They utilize byproducts of cereal production (straw) and turn them into high-quality protein (meat and milk) for hungry people. They also serve as a source of security in marginal environments, acting as a buffer against disaster in drought-prone environments. Reducing livestock numbers in Africa would have a relatively minor effect on global GHG emissions but would have many negative consequences for the world’s poorest.”

Read more … (Nourishing the Planet Blog)

Follow Danielle on the the Nourishing the Planet project blog

Alan Duncan’s Blog