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.

African meat for global tables

Mozambique, Maputo

As new channels for African exports become increasingly available, economists and policy makers are focusing more attention on how best to match producers to buyers in Europe and elsewhere, including Africa itself. A recent paper explores the potential and pitfalls of exporting African livestock products.

‘What can Africa contribute to global meat demand?’ recently appeared in Outlook on Agriculture (Vol 38 No 3, pp. 223-233, September 2009). It is authored by Karl M Rich, who works with both the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the American University in Cairo, and will move to the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo, Norway, in February 2010.

Observing that global demand and prices for meat are currently at unprecedented highs, Rich cites International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) data that project that annual per capita meat demand in Africa will double to 22 kg by 2050. This increase will necessitate corresponding rises in demand for cereals as well as livestock. Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest similar increases in demand throughout the developing world.

These increases bring new opportunities for alternative sources of supply. At first glance, it would seem that Africa would have a distinct advantage in meeting the increasing demand within the continent. However, Africa’s ability to compete with Europe, Asia and the Americas has historically been constrained by low productivity, prevalence of animal diseases and the difficulty of meeting high global standards for health and safety. These constraints must be addressed before Africa can become a major player, and Rich’s paper examines the possibilities of bringing this happy situation about.

Rich begins with an overview of Africa’s role in the global meat trade, both imports and exports. His efforts in this regard are nothing less than heroic. The data from each of Africa’s fifty-odd countries are accumulated in enormously different ways, and the most recent data for some countries are several years old. Nonetheless, the figures are important, and to date no other author has made comparable efforts to get a handle on the situation. Rich does not express a great deal of optimism for the short or medium term. He estimates, for example, that at present Africa provides only about 1% of global meat exports for beef, pork and chicken.

A comparison of regional export shares is even more daunting. Table 1, which presents FAO data, indicates that the overwhelming majority of products come from southern Africa, notably South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, while goat and pig products are sourced predominantly from East Africa. Sheep products come mainly from North Africa (mainly Sudan). Meat exports from the rest of Africa, especially Central and Western Africa, are miniscule. Eight other tables and five figures in the paper provide detailed information of the variety and amount of meat imports and exports among African countries. In the case of exports, information is provided concerning the countries importing African meat products.

Among significant competitor nations are the emerging giant economies of the developing world, especially Brazil and India. These two countries account for a huge slice of the African market, constituting the main source of beef imports—both frozen and fresh—to seven of the largest African customer countries.

Rich points out that one important advantage that India, Brazil and other Latin American countries (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) have over Africa is scale. According to the most recent data from FAO (2006), the total stock of cattle in Africa is about 232 million head. By contrast, Brazil alone has over 207 million head, while India has 180 million as well as nearly 100 million head of buffalo. The African countries with the largest stocks are Ethiopia and Sudan, but neither comes close to those of Brazil or India, and both have fewer head than Argentina.

While African exporters will not be able to compete with Brazil or India in the short to medium term, inroads to foreign markets have been made by some southern African countries to the European Union (EU). This trade is driven by preferential access to the EU brought about through the Cotonou Agreement which provides tariff reductions for African and other developing economies. But even with such international agreements in place, African countries have been unable to fill the quotas provided, largely because of the rigourous standards for compliance with EU sanitary regulations. To retain access to European markets, for example, Botswana and Namibia have had to set aside areas free from foot and mouth disease (FMD)—an expensive arrangement that precludes raising cattle by traditional African husbandry methods. Furthermore, without these preferences it is unlikely that southern African producers could compete with the likes of Brazil.

Rich concludes his paper with a section entitled The road ahead: where and how can Africa contribute to global meat demand?  Before discussing the most likely methods for improving Africa’s competiveness with other meat-exporting nations, however, he cautions that ultimately, significant improvements in productivity, breeding, infrastructure and marketing will be required over and above the options he identifies.

The author identifies five options.

  1. Commodity-based trade. Diseases such as FMD persist in developing countries, limiting market access from developing markets to lucrative ones in the developed world. Commodity-based approaches focus on attributes of a product such as quality and safety rather than the disease status of its place of origin. It is argued that deboned and properly matured beef, for example, poses virtually no threat of transmission of diseases such as FMD. While commodity-based approaches could pave the way for increased trade from Africa, a number of gaps remain. In particular, will African countries be the major winners? If not, what further constrains Africa’s market access? A recent report by Karl Rich and Brian Perry to the UK Department for International Development explores this option further.
  2. Certification programs and disease-free compartments. Africa can raise its profile in global markets by demonstrating compliance with SPS standards. A compartment is a network of micro-level disease-free areas linked to each other and maintained through high levels of monitoring. A good example of this option is discussed in the paper mentioned in the box item above, a USAID-funded program currently under way in Ethiopia.
  3. Branded niche products. This option focuses on the strengths that Africa can offer global buyers by building and encouraging trade associations and marketing organizations. The author cites several examples—Farmer’s Choice of Kenya, Farm Assured Namibian Meat, the Kalahari Kid Corporation, the Namibian Meat Board, the South African Meat Industry Company and the National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation. These associations promote local products, engage in branding and quality assurance and build the capacity of emerging farmers.
  4. Regional integration and trade. Rich points out that despite the existence of regional cooperation agreements, barriers between member countries continue to hamper trade. Reducing these barriers will be crucial if Africa is to develop and harness the scale necessary to compete in international markets and lower costs. Investments in marketing and promotion among regional partners will be required for countries to enter and sustain effective trading in high-value markets.
  5. Domestic markets. Both formal and informal channels for meat products have been developed within each African country over the past several years. Because domestic prices in fact frequently exceed international prices, finding ways to deliver local products at competitive prices is an option with good potential, though these products will increasingly compete with low-cost imports. Competing effectively on price will be crucial for African producers to be successful in such channels.

The abstract of the paper can be accessed online.
For additional information, contact Karl Rich at

Explosion in livestock products and livestock feed

An 'explosion' in milk and meat consumption in developing countries is being predicted, which will, in turn, lead to an 'explosion' in demand for nutritious livestock feed. ILRI Director and economist Christopher Delgado, addressing 1,500 scientists at the 20th International Grassland Congress conference in Dublin this month, predicted an “explosion” in consumption of milk and meat in developing countries over the next 15 years, which, he says, is already causing a “livestock revolution”. Irish Times (Ireland) news article, 28 June 2005 - Explosion forecast in consumption in developing world This, ‘explosion’ will, in turn, create an ‘explosion’ in the demand for livestock feed in developing countries. Imports of livestock feeds are expected to grow exponentially to meet this demand, but it also presents opportunities for poor farmers to explore markets for ‘home-grown’ forages. ILRI researchers are assisting in the identification of grasses and legumes for tropical climates that have the greatest potential as nutritious feeds. Poor-quality feed and fluctuating feed supplies place huge constraints on livestock productivity in developing countries. Nutritious grasses, that are readily accessible and affordable, can play a key role in alleviating poverty. But, knowing which grasses best suit the particular climate and conditions is a prerequisite. At the Grassland Conference, ILRI and partners launched a new interactive decision support tool which will help growers in developing countries select the best forage grasses for their local environments. The new decision support tool has captured 50 years of documented knowledge on grasses and legumes for livestock food, suitable for tropical and subtropical climates. But this is not just a collection of papers. It has also captured decades of tacit knowledge – expertise and know-how – garnered from the world’s most experienced scientists in tropical forages, and made this available as a public resource. According to ILRI’s Forage Diversity Project Leader, Dr Jean Hanson “There are a diverse range of grasses that could be grown as new forage resources for livestock in the tropics. Growers need to know which grasses are going to be the most productive and most nutritious in relation to their particular environment and livestock. To a great extent, this software has removed much of the trial and error as it will help select the ‘best-bet’ options. Ultimately, this is going to be of great benefit to thousands of small farmers in developing countries." Tropical Forages Decision Support Tool Tropical Forages Decision Support Tool The Tropical Forages Decision Support Tool has been developed by an international team of forage experts led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization/Queensland Department of Primary Industry/University of Queensland, Australia, the Centro Internacional Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with financial support from ACIAR (the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research), BMZ (Germany), DFID (UK). The new information and selection tool is available online at: ILRI undertakes a host of forage diversity activities, with the purpose of identifying tropical grasses and legumes that have greatest potential as nutritious livestock feed in developing countries. ILRI Briefing Note - Forage diversity activities at ILRI

Blue Revolution follows Livestock Revolution

ILRI director and economist Christopher Delgado says that Asia's abundance of labour makes aquaculture attractive for the region, where farmers are raising fish in abandoned ponds and ditches to sell at markets, thus earning them an income as well as helping them to feed their families. ILRI director and economist Christopher Delgado is quoted in the Des Moines Register newspaper this June. Dr. Delgado leads research on both fish and ruminant livestock revolutions at ILRI and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in Washington DC.


Des Moines Register (USA) article, 11 June 2005 – Indian scientist wins food prize