Livestock background paper for World Development Report 2010: Development in a changing climate

Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi

Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi (photo by ILRI/Mann).

A paper on livestock and climate change—'The inter-linkages between rapid growth in livestock production, climate change, and the impacts on water resources, land use, and deforestation'—was prepared as a background paper to the World Bank’s acclaimed World Development Report 2010: Development in a Changing Climate. It was written by two agricultural systems analysts at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Philip Thornton and Mario Herrero.

The following is the abstract to the paper.

'Livestock systems globally are changing rapidly in response to human population growth, urbanization, and growing incomes. This paper discusses the linkages between burgeoning demand for livestock products, growth in livestock production, and the impacts this may have on natural resources, and how these may both affect and be affected by climate change in the coming decades.

'Water and land scarcity will increasingly have the potential to constrain food production growth, with adverse impacts on food security and human well-being. Climate change will exacerbate many of these trends, with direct effects on agricultural yields, water availability, and production risk.

'In the transition to a carbon-constrained economy, livestock systems will have a key role to play in mitigating future emissions. At the same time, appropriate pricing of greenhouse gas emissions will modify livestock production costs and patterns. Health and ethical considerations can also be expected to play an increasing role in modifying consumption patterns of livestock products, particularly in more developed countries.

'Livestock systems are heterogeneous, and a highly differentiated approach needs to be taken to assessing impacts and options, particularly as they affect the resource-poor and those vulnerable to global change. Development of comprehensive frameworks that can be used for assessing impacts and analyzing trade-offs at both local and regional levels is needed for identifying and targeting production practices and policies that are locally appropriate and can contribute to environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, and economic development.'

About the World Development Report 2010:
'Today's enormous development challenges are complicated by the reality of climate change─the two are inextricably linked and together demand immediate attention. Climate change threatens all countries, but particularly developing ones. Understanding what climate change means for development policy is the central aim of the World Development Report 2010.

'Estimates are that developing countries would bear some 75 to 80 percent of the costs of anticipated damages caused by the changing climate. Developing countries simply cannot afford to ignore climate change, nor can they focus on adaptation alone. So action to reduce vulnerability and lay the groundwork for a transition to low-carbon growth paths is imperative.

'The World Development Report 2010 explores how public policy can change to better help people cope with new or worsened risks, how land and water management must adapt to better protect a threatened natural environment while feeding an expanding and more prosperous population, and how energy systems will need to be transformed.

'The authors examine how to integrate development realities into climate policy─in international agreements, in instruments to generate carbon finance, and in steps to promote innovation and the diffusion of new technologies.

'The World Development Report 2010 is an urgent call for action, both for developing countries who are striving to ensure policies are adapted to the realities and dangers of a hotter planet, and for high-income countries who need to undertake ambitious mitigation while supporting developing countries efforts.

'The authors argue that a climate-smart world is within reach if we act now to tackle the substantial inertia in the climate, in infrastructure, and in behaviors and institutions; if we act together to reconcile needed growth with prudent and affordable development choices; and if we act differently by investing in the needed energy revolution and taking the steps required to adapt to a rapidly changing planet.'

Read more of ILRI livestock background paper: World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, 'The inter-linkages between rapid growth in livestock production, climate change, and the impacts on water resources, land use, and deforestation', 2010, by Philip Thornton and Mario Herrero.

Bringing climate change down to earth

Livestock graze on an island in the Niger

The New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman addresses an interesting ‘disconnect’ in America in his column this week (Want the good news first?, 27 July 2010).

”The [US] Senate’s failure to act [on climate change] is a result of many factors, but one is that the climate-energy policy debate got disconnected from average people. We need less talk about “climate” and more about how conservation saves money, renewable energy creates jobs, restoring the gulf’s marshes sustains fishermen and preserving the rainforest helps poor people. Said Glenn Prickett, vice president at the Nature Conservancy: “We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth and show how it matters in people’s everyday lives.”

Some of those working to help farmers and herders in poor countries build sustainable agricultural systems and adapt to climate change have a similar message.

Funding for climate change research in developing countries, which are expected to be hit hardest by global warming, has increased dramatically in recent years, while funding for much traditional agricultural research for development has remained stagnant. Even so, scientists working at the cross-section of agricultural development and climate change say that there is not a lot in their research portfolios that is new because of the injection of new climate change funding. Rather, much of the new funding is allowing them to expand and refine decades of research on sustainable development of smallholder agriculture.

The two billion small-scale farmers and herders these agricultural scientists serve are, after all, already among the world’s foremost experts in climate change. They and their farming ancestors have managed to wrest food and livelihoods from changing tropical landscapes since the dawn of agriculture. No one has to tell them how climate change ‘matters in people’s everyday lives’.

Conserving rainforests, wetlands and other natural resources; restoring rangelands and farmlands into productive use; exploiting renewable energy, saving money and creating jobs; helping people build livelihoods that are sustainable over the long term–these are not new ideas. People have been working in these areas for decades. The hope of many agricultural research-for-development scientists is that the intellectual as well as financial spillovers from the current world focus interest on climate change will allow them to pursue these topics more vigorously; to connect to more, and more diverse, experts; to get more refined data on developing-countries; to make faster advances in their disciplines; and to help more people escape poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.

More . . . (New York TimesWant the good news first?, 27 July 2010)

New report assessing bioenergy access and delivery in Kenya recommends, among other changes, that all family members share the burden of collecting firewood

A new approach for safer food in informal markets

Women in rural areas have a heavy workload that included delivery of food, water and fuel for household needs

New research findings on bioenergy access and delivery in Kenya are recommending greater collaboration between stakeholders to promote sustainable use of bioresources, biofuels and bioresidues.

In a socioeconomic baseline survey carried out by the eastern Africa office of Practical Action Consulting, in Kenya, between March and December 2008, researchers evaluated the bioenergy needs, gaps, status and opportunities for poor people in Kenya. The research focused on the socioeconomic links and patterns of bioenergy use, access and delivery for the poor in Kenya and generated baseline data that can guide national decision-making.

The report, ‘Bioenergy and Poverty in Kenya: Attitudes, Actors and Activities’, looks at bioenergy use and access by communities in Kenya, with information collected from Kisumu, Lodwar, Mandera, Nairobi and Nakuru.

The report says more awareness of alternative bioenergy technologies and resources is needed in Kenya’s rural and peri-urban areas. It recommends training communities in producing and using low-cost energy-saving stoves and in planting trees. The long-term impacts of firewood and charcoal use by households and institutions should be better known, the report says, and charcoal use should be matched by tree replanting.

The report also calls for a change in attitudes regarding female provision of household fuel; such provision must begin to be seen, say the researchers, as a joint responsibility of all family members. And development programs should begin to treat energy and gender as central, not peripheral, issues in development.

The full report is available at

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.’


Farming extensively: A ‘third way’ for agriculture?

Joyce Ledson

Not to be missed is an inspired, and inspiring, 20-minute TED Talk by one of America's most famous cooks, New York's Dan Barber.

How I Fell in Love with a Fish is a presentation not for the 'self-righteous goody-two-shoes foodie,' says Barber (although he immediately confesses that, as a passionate chef and environmentalist, he is one). Rather, this is an instructive tale of how he fell out of love with one fish and into love with another, and the reasons for that, plus much else about our food systems.

His second (fishy) love affair takes place in Veta La Palma, a 27,000-acre totally self-sustaining fish farm in southwestern Spain that had formerly been a beef ranch and before that a wetlands. The owners of this fish farm reflooded the land, restoring the wetlands ecosystem, and began operating in radically sustainable ways. This farm doesn't feed its animals (fish); it measures its success not by how much fish it produces but rather by the health of its predators (birds); and, as a spill-over benefit, it serves the region as a water purification plant.

This fish farm / love story is, says Barber, a recipe for the future of good food. 'What we need,' says Barber, 'is a radically new conception of agriculture, one in which the food actually tastes good.'

Jacobo Filiasi

And for those of you who may be wondering about where he stands on global food security, Barber does get to the question (which he admits he 'doesn't love'): 'But how we can feed the world'.

'Our current agro-business business plan is one in liquidation,' he cautions, because it is a business 'that is quickly eroding the ecological capital that makes that very production possible. . . . Our breadbaskets are threatened today not because of diminishing supply but because of diminishing resources.'

Barber answers the question 'How can we feed the world' with another, 'How can we create conditions for every community feeding itself?'

Elestina Kamponza

He answers, 'To do that, don't look at the agro-business model for the future. It's really old and its tired. It's high on capital, chemistry and machines. And it's never produced anything really good to eat. Look to farms that restore instead of deplete. Farms that farm extensively instead of just intensively. Farmers that are not just producers but are experts in relationships.'

To that end, we might look to many of the world's billion-plus small-scale farmers in developing countries who are ambitious to practice neither the unhealthy factory-farming of the rich nor the grinding subsistence farming of the poor.

Saulosi Tchinga

This is what scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its research, development and agricultural partners are calling a 'third way' for the future of animal agriculture and mixed crop-and-livestock farming. This is an agriculture that would manage to feed the world while helping the world's 'bottom billion' climb out of hunger and poverty. Such a 'third way' of agriculture would feed both human nutrition and ambition in ways that build their livestock and other assets while conserving, not merely extracting, the Earth's remaining, land, water, air and other natural resources.

Demetria Solomon

More . . . ('No simple solutions to livestock and climate change', opinion piece by ILRI Director General Carlos Seré published in SciDevNet, 10 November 2009)

Serengeti surely SHALL die if a proposed highway bisects its northern wilderness—and if its human neighbours remain poverty-stricken

Zebra and wildebeest in the Masai Mara Game Reserve

Zebra and wildebeest in Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve (photo credit: ILRI/Elsworth).

The New York Times and other media are reporting this week that one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth—the annual migration of nearly 2 million wildebeest and zebra from the drying savannas of the Serengeti, in Tanzania, to the wetter, greener, pastures of Kenya’s adjacent Masai Mara, and back again—is threatened by a proposed new national transit road for northern Tanzania that would cut right across the migration route of these vast herds of ungulates, likely leading to the collapse of this migration and possibly the crash of this ecosystem as a whole.

Kenya’s Masai Mara is the only year-round water source in the Greater Serengeti, and thus serves as critical dry-season grazing grounds for these vast herds of big mammals.

Just one of the problems such a road would bring is a greater disease burden to people, livestock and wildlife alike. In her extensive and useful research notes to her recent article, ‘Road Kill in the Serengeti’, in the New York Times, Olivia Judson refers readers to a scientific paper written by Eric Fevre, of the Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases research group at the University of Edinburgh, now based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya while working on a 3-year human-animal disease research project in Busia District. Fevre describes the spread of animal diseases through animal transportation in his article, ‘Animal movements and the spread of infectious diseases’ (Trends in Microbiology, 2006).

Perhaps just in time, just this month former ILRI ecologist Robin Reid, now director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, USA, began a project in Kenya that is putting radio collars on wildebeest to learn more precisely what routes the animals take in their migration. This project’s members are involving Maasai schoolchildren, who are naming the wildebeest, which they will then be able to follow. The wildebeest collars send regular tracking signals to Safaricom, which are then sent to Colorado, where the routes are posted on a web map that the schoolchildren can follow.

This year’s annual wildebeest migration has already begun. Herds are reported to have crossed the common border of Kenya/Tanzania from Northern Serengeti into Masai Mara, about 4 days ago. ‘What has been unusual about this year’s migration,’ says Paul Kirui, in the Masai Mara, ‘is that the main migration from the south arrived in the Mara early ahead of the Loita herds—the Kenyan resident herds of wildebeest—which usually migrate into the Mara from the east of the park. Normally when we start seeing them move into the park, it is a sign that the main migration from the south is on the way.’

The first population of wildebeest that Reid’s team darted and then tagged with radio collars in the Mara is the Loita group that remains resident in Kenya all year round. Or so the researchers think. The radio collars, now fixed on the first 15 wildebeest, have already started to report back and will be letting scientists, and those schoolchildren, know just where they go, and when.

Reid’s return gave ILRI cause to revisit two remarkable films about her ILRI research in the Mara. Counting in a Disappearing Land (ILRI, 11 minutes, 2007) describes Reid’s project with a Maasai community that has traditionally herded their livestock in Kenya’s wildlife-rich Masai Mara region. This ILRI project was looking to find ways of balancing the needs of people, lands and wildlife. In The Great Migration (CBS ’60 Minutes’, 15 minutes, October 2009), Scott Pelley interviews Reid about the threats to this natural spectacle and the part local Masai are playing to address these threats.

Collaborative conservation may indeed be the answer to saving the Serengeti ecosystem. Protecting majestic wild places and the wildlife they support, places that instill wonder in us, matters, of course, but so does protecting millions of people from severe poverty, chronic hunger and the afflictions that come in their wake: disease and untimely death.

With a large percentage of its land area under protection, Tanzania is a world leader in biodiversity conservation. It is also very, very poor. How this tug at resources—whether the Serengeti Plains will be used for wildlife tourism or other kinds of commerce—will play out may depend on how much the local communities living in poverty near the wildlife benefit from saving this, the last of the great migrations of big mammals on Earth.

More . . . (New York Times, 15 June 2010)

An alternative, southern road in Tanzania is discussed on a webpage of the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

See Paul Kirui’s blog on 17 June 2010 the migration on Masai Mara Updates.

Collective action ‘in action’ for African agriculture

Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi

Collaborative agricultural research in Africa gets a welcome boost; village farm household in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

In recent months, an,  initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) called the Regional Plan for Collective Action in Eastern & Southern Africa (now simply called the ‘Regional Collective Action’) updated its ‘CGIAR Ongoing Research Projects in Africa Map’: This collaborative and interactive map will be launched in the coming weeks through fliers, displays and presentations at agricultural, research and development meetings that have Africa as a focus. Although much of Africa’s agricultural research information has yet to be captured in this map, 14 centres supported by the CGIAR have already posted a total of 193 research projects and much more is being prepared for posting.

The newsletter of the Regional Collective Action—Collective Action News: Updates of agricultural research in Africa—continues to elicit considerable interest and feedback. Recent issues reported on the CGIAR reform process (November 2009) and agriculture and rural development at the recent climate change talks in Copenhagen (December 2009). The January 2010 issue reflects on the achievements of the Regional Collective Action since its inception three years ago ( Action News January 2010.pdf).

Several high-profile African networks, including the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), are helping to disseminate the newsletter of the Regional Collective Action as well as information about its consolidated multi-institutional research map. Coordinators have now been appointed to lead each of four flagship programs of the Regional Collective Action.

Flagship 1 conducts collaborative work on integrated natural resource management issues and is coordinated by Frank Place at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
Flagship 2 conducts research on agricultural markets and institutions and is led by Steve Staal of ILRI.
Flagship 3 conducts research on agricultural and related biodiversity and is led by Wilson Marandu of Bioversity International with support from Richard Jones of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Flagship 4 conducts research on agriculturally related issues in disaster preparedness and response and is led by Kate Longley and Richard Jones of ICRISAT.

These four flagships programs of the Regional Collective Action are expected to play crucial roles in advancing collaborative discussions and activities in the new CGIAR, which is transforming itself to better link its agricultural research to development outcomes. ILRI’s Director of Partnerships and Communications, Bruce Scott, represented the CGIAR Centres at the December Meeting of the ASARECA Board of Trustees.

‘ASARECA continues to value the work of the CGIAR Centres in this region and welcome the Regional Collective Action,’ Scott said. With the four Flagship Programs off and running, the interactive Regional Research Map live on the web, and Collective Action News reporting on regional agricultural issues regularly, collaborative agricultural science for development in Africa appears to have got a welcome boost.

Livestock use of water in Nile Basin: Huge opportunities to use water resources more effectively

Principal investigators undertaking research on livestock use of water in the Nile River Basin met at ILRI in Ethiopia on 11 and 12 November 2009.

Representatives from Sudan’s Agricultural Economics and Policy Research Center, Makerere University in Kampala, and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research shared experiences of promising technologies and policy innovations that can enable millions of poor livestock keepers and farmers to enhance food production and livelihoods and reverse land degradation throughout vast Nile region.

Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda are very different countries but together they exemplify the major and diverse cropping and livestock keeping practices found in the Nile region. Rainfed crop and livestock production are dominant, but irrigation is locally important.

In all cases, the researchers concluded that there are huge opportunities to use water resources more effectively and productive for agricultural production. The key appears to be integrated inter-institutional collaboration with coherent policy aimed at increasing livestock water productivity through use of water efficient animal feeds, water conservation, adoption of state-of-the-art and available animal science knowledge.

Application of off-the-shelf science based outputs potentially enables environmentally sustainable increases in food production, improved domestic water, and better livelihoods. Much of the water required to achieve these benefits can come from rainfall that currently does not enter the Nile’s lakes and water course and does not sustain the natural environment. In other words, this is water for which there is often relatively little competition among diverse water users.

The researchers are synthesizing results from investigation undertaken in the basin.

It was supported by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (

Report by Don Peden, ILRI

American TV show ’60 Minutes’ features ILRI research in Masai Mara


The work of ecologist Robin Reid, who spent 15 years conducting pastoral research at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and is now Director for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, is featured in a current segment of the American television program ’60 Minutes’, which aired last Sunday, 3 October 2009. You can view the segment on the 60 Minutes website here:

This story of the great annual wildebeest migration, the last such spectacle of big mammals on the move, focuses on two things—the danger that destruction of Kenya’s Mau Forest presents to the Mara River, the artery that keeps the wildlife and livestock in the Masai Mara region alive, and the hope for sustaining both wildlife populations and the Maasai’s pastoral livelihoods presented by new public-private initiatives called wildlife conservancies.

Poverty reduction lies behind both the danger and the hope.

Kenyan governments have allowed poor farmers to inhabit the Mau Forest, high above the Mara Game Reserve, which provides the waters for the Mara River. These farmers fell the trees to grow crops and make a living. The current government has recently acted to evict these communities to protect this important watershed.

Downstream, meanwhile, Maasai livestock herders, who have provided stewardship for the wildlife populations they live amongst for centuries, are bearing the brunt of the declining water in the Mara River, which threatens both their livestock livelihoods and the populations of big mammals and other wildlife that have made the Mara Game Reserve famous worldwide. Robin Reid says that should the Mara River disappear entirely, some experts estimate some 400,000 animals would likely perish in the very first week.

The new wildlife conservancies being developed in the lands adjacent to the Reserve are also about poverty reduction. They are an ambitious attempt by the local Maasai and private conservation and tourist companies to serve the needs both of the local livestock herders and the many people wanting to conserve resources for the wildlife. The conservancies are paying the Maasai to leave some of their lands open for wildlife. They appear to be working well, with the full support of the local Maasai. Dickson ole Kaelo, who is leading the conservancy effort, was recently a partner in an ILRI research project called Reto-o-Reto, a Maasai term meaning ‘I help you, you help me’. Dickson was a science communicator in that 3-year project, which found ways to help both the human and wildlife populations of this region. In his new role as developer of conservancies, Dickson and his community have managed to bring nearly 300 square miles of Mara rangelands under management by the conservancies, which pay equal attention to people and animals.

The long-term participatory science behind this story is demonstrable proof that, difficult as they are to find and develop, ways to help both people and wildlife, both public and private goods, exist, if all stakeholders come together and if the political will and policy support are forthcoming.

In other, drier, rangelands of Kenya, now experiencing a great drought that is killing half the livestock herds of pastoralists, some experts are predicting an end to pastoral ways of life. Other experts are predicting the end of big game in Kenya. Both, ILRI’s research indicates, are tied to one another. It appears unlikely that either will be saved without the other.

Livestock production an effective use of water in developing countries – new study

New study indicates that livestock production has high potential for effective, productive and profitable use of water in agriculture.

Contrary to widely held views that livestock production is a wasteful use of water and is destructive to water catchments, a new study asserts that livestock production has a high unrecognized potential for effective, productive and profitable use of water in agriculture. 

Animal production, particularly production of grain feeds and forages, is one of the world’s largest uses of agricultural water. If properly targeted for reform, this sub-sector may well hold the key to improved water productivity in agriculture. Livestock scientists are arguing that by reviewing the sourcing of livestock feed, increasing animal productivity, and improving grazing and watering practices, water productivity in agriculture could increase dramatically.

“In Africa we could double water productivity of livestock with little difficulty – maybe increase it four times” asserts Don Peden, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Livestock scientists are further challenging comparisons often made between livestock and crop water productivity. “Most comparisons focus on fresh weights of human foods; yet the water content of diverse foods such as meat, milk, potatoes and grains varies widely from about 10 to 80 percent, making such comparisons virtually meaningless,” says Peden. “Much criticism of high water use by livestock has emphasized grain-fed beef production, but livestock in developing countries consume very little grain, depending almost entirely on grass and crop residues and byproducts”.

Arising from evaluations of water use in livestock production systems as a part of a wider Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, scientists say greater use of crop residues and by-products to feed livestock, a widespread practice in developing countries, could obviate the need for huge amounts of water now used to produce grains and other animal feeds in developed countries.

“One entry point for improving global agricultural water productivity is strategic sourcing of animal feeds such as grains, crop residues and by-products, pastures, fodder and forage crops. This issue has been largely ignored in 50 years of research on both livestock and water management,” says Peden.

Equally important is the need to improve animal productivity through better breeding, animal health and nutrition. Research suggests that livestock in Africa’s pastoral areas achieve only about one-third of their genetic production potential. Also needed are improved watering and grazing practices that reduce run-off, flooding, degradation and contamination of water resources.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are two of the most important livestock production areas in developing regions. In Africa, 500 million people live in livestock-producing areas, half of them below the poverty line. In South Asia, 1.2 billion people are involved in livestock production, 40 percent living on less than a dollar a day.  In these two regions, per capita meat consumption is about one-seventh of that in developed countries. The poor in these developing regions often suffer from lack of dietary protein, vitamins A and B12, zinc, iron and selenium.

In poor countries where most people subsist on starchy diets, animal foods constitute one of the best options for supplying these nutrients and helping to eliminate anemia, strengthen immune systems, and overcome malnutrition, as well as enhancing cognitive development in children. The contribution livestock make to the world’s poor is thus critical to their survival and development.  Far from being a wasteful use of water, scientists argue that livestock production in developing countries must be seen as both essential and an opportunity to increase water use efficiency.

To maximize the productivity of water, livestock experts recommend factoring in the water requirements for livestock and feed production in mainstream water planning, management and development. Evidence is mounting that integration of animal production into investments in agricultural water development results in more sustainable and profitable livelihoods for farmers and herders alike.

Conversion of pastures to croplands is big climate change threat

New study results are warning that the conversion of pasturelands to croplands will be the major contributor to global warming in East Africa.

Climate change threat

Climate change is a real and current threat to households and communities already struggling to survive in east Africa. Global climate modelling results indicate that the region will experience wetter and warmer conditions as well as decreases in agricultural productivity. However, results just released by the Climate Land Interaction Project (CLIP) forecast that there will be a high degree of variability within the region with some areas becoming wetter and others drier. This research provides evidence of the complex connection between regional changes in climate and changes in land cover and land use. The results forecast the conversion of vast amounts of land from grasslands to croplands over the next 40 years, with serious consequences for the environment.

Climate Land Interaction Project (CLIP)
CLIP is a joint research project of Michigan State University (MSU) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), exploring important linkages between land use/cover changes and climatic changes in east Africa.

CLIP researchers, together with the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, organised a workshop to present CLIP modelling results to key decision-makers in Kenya. The workshop, held in Nairobi, highlighted the policy and technical implications and options for climate change adaptations in Kenya.

CLIP researcher and professor at MSU, Jeffrey Andresen, warns that the erosion of east African grazing lands is a major threat facing Kenya and other east African countries. ‘Results of running these models indicate that the greatest amount of contribution to global warming in the east Africa region is not going to be motor vehicles or methane emissions from livestock or conversions of forests to pastures but rather conversion of pasturelands to croplands’ says Andresen.

Projected climate and land use changes in northern Kenya
Based on climate change scenarios (CLIP analysis and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts) northern Kenya will experience significant changes in rainfall and temperatures with some places becoming wetter and others drier. These changes will have dramatic impacts on ground cover and vegetation, especially the distribution and composition of grass species that form pastures for livestock and on which many people depend for their livelihoods.

Simulation models predict that areas in the remote northeast around Wajir, for example, will have greater vegetation cover and become much bushier than at present. Grazing lands are already scarce and the increasing encroachment of bush into grazing areas will create further problems for livestock keepers.

The quantity and quality of water will also be affected by the forecast changes in rainfall patterns and temperature regimes. These changes will not only affect water availability for humans and livestock but also accelerate the rate of vegetation change in different and opposite ways for different places. The ratio of tall to short grass species and closed to open vegetation, for example, depend partially on soil moisture content. It is likely that the anticipated climatic changes will greatly alter the grass ratios and these changes will then exert adverse effects on feed resources for livestock and significantly modify herd composition. In addition, traditional land management interventions, such as the use of fires and overgrazing may increase the scale, intensity and speed of these impacts.

CLIP researcher and ILRI scientist, Joseph Mworia Maitima concludes ‘Many millions of Kenyans already face severe poverty and constraints in pursuing a livelihood. But, with these projected increasing environmental stresses, they are going to become even more vulnerable.

‘It’s crucial that we now start talking about the technical and policy

Download CLIP brief

CLIP Brief: Policy implications of land climate interactions, June 2008

Related information:

Severe weather coming: Experts (Daily Nation, 13 August 2008)

Kenya: Severe weather coming – Experts (All Africa, 13 August 2008)


Joseph M. Maitima
International Livestock Research Institute
Nairobi, Kenya

Livestock in Asia: The challenges and opportunities

300 million poor people in Asia depend on livestock. ILRI's regional representative in Asia outlines the challenges and opportunities and provides an overview of some of ILRI's current activities

Iain Wright took over the post of ILRI’s regional representative in Asia in October 2006, based in ILRI’s office in New Delhi, India. ‘The geographical scope of ILRI’s operations has expanded, especially in Asia and particularly South Asia. There are several reasons behind ILRI’s increasing presence in Asia, and its focus on South Asia, explains Wright. ‘Notably, Asia is home to almost half of the world’s poor livestock keepers, with about two-thirds of those in South Asia.’

Iain Wright, ILRI’s regional representative in Asia

Asia: Historic progress, but progress uneven
Asia is undergoing a phenomenal transformation with some countries progressing at an unprecedented rate – yet many countries and provinces are being left behind.
According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) latest indicators, South Asia is home to 47% of the world's poor living on less than $1 a day. India has reduced its poverty rate by 5-10% since 1990; most other countries registered reductions in poverty over the period, except for Pakistan, where poverty has stagnated at around 33% (using national poverty lines). Source:


What is the real extent of poverty in Asia?

A special chapter, which focused on poverty estimates and measures, contained in an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, considered the real extent of poverty in Asia.

‘Despite experiencing impressive reductions in poverty, Asia region remains host to unacceptably high levels of poverty.  There is considerable diversity across Asia and the Pacific in both poverty incidence and poverty reduction trends. For example, while in 2002 around 233 million fewer people lived in poverty than in 1990, a large majority of this reduction is explained by dramatic poverty reductions in the People’s Republic of China, with Southeast Asia also contributing significantly. In comparison, progress was much slower in South Asia, where around 434 million people were still poor in 2002—a figure only some 14 million lower than in 1990.’

The rural poor and South Asia most vulnerable
The chapter highlights three main findings:
1. Rural poverty often accounts for two thirds or more of total poverty.
2. There is a great deal of diversity in the incidence of poverty with South Asia being extremely poor:
A high incidence of US$1 a day poverty and a large population mean that South Asia was home to almost two thirds of Asia’s extremely poor in 2002.
3. Poverty remains a problem even where the incidence of extreme poverty is low.
The authors suggest that if a move were made to a slightly higher poverty line such as $2 a day (a poverty line close to that found in low middle-income countries) a majority of most ADB developing member countries populations are poor.
The incidence rate of $2 a day poverty in Indonesia, for example, is almost seven times that of $1 a day poverty and reveals, among other things, the vulnerability of those who have escaped $1 a day poverty.

Source: Key Indicators 2004: Poverty in Asia: Measurement, Estimates, and Prospects

Millions of rural poor in Asia dependent on livestock
‘Despite high levels of economic growth and rising demand for livestock products there are still large numbers of rural poor in Asia who depend to a greater or less extent on livestock for their livelihoods.  The challenge is to ensure that they have the means to access markets and the ability to produce products in the quantity and of the quality required.’ says Wright.

Population growth, urbanisation, increasing incomes, and changes in diet preferences are creating a massive growth in demand for animal products, with rapid growth in total milk and meat production, especially pork and poultry. However, these trends have resulted in the following:
• Greater pressure on the natural resource base
• Intensification of animal systems
• Need for improved efficiency in use of feed resources
• Higher concentration of animals in urban and peri-urban areas
• Increased disease risk, pollution and human health issues

Against this backdrop, poor farmers face a diverse set of animal production problems caused by disease, inadequate nutrition, resource degradation and a changing trade and policy environment.

Highlights of ILRI research in Asia
ILRI is currently active in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Indonesia is one of the world’s poorest countries and has the world’s biggest avian influenza problem. ILRI and partners are pioneering a new community approach, known as ‘participatory epidemiology’, and enlisting villagers help in controlling bird flu in Indonesia through local knowledge.

India has made remarkable progress in poverty reduction. Here, livestock production is growing faster than arable agriculture. It is predicted that livestock will contribute more than half of the total agricultural output in the next 25–30 years. One of the biggest impediments to growth of the livestock sector in India is the large-scale prevalence of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). ILRI and partners have recently formulated a global ‘roadmap’ for controlling FMD focusing on the special research needs of the poor in endemic FMD settings.

ILRI is also working in North East India with the Directorate of Dairy Development (DDD) of the Government of Assam, undertaking a comprehensive study to identify opportunities to boost the milk sector and improve the livelihoods of smallholder producers. A new strategy for pro-poor dairy development in Assam has been prepared and the Action Plan will be released shortly.

China has recorded extraordinary poverty reductions over the last two decades, with over 400 million fewer people living in extreme poverty. This emerging giant has demonstrated the importance of agricultural and rural development in poverty reduction. It has also been praised for its potential to become the world’s next science superpower. ILRI has established a molecular genetics laboratory with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing. The joint CAAS/ILRI molecular genetics laboratory focuses on characterization of the huge wealth of livestock and forage genetic resources in the country as well as providing a focal point for training scientists from throughout Asia in modern genetic techniques.

CAAS ILRI Beijing Lab brief

Important lessons to be learned from Asia
Wright believes that there are many important lessons to be learned from Asian countries’ experiences: ‘By studying the rapidly changing economies of South East Asia and the way in which livestock both contribute to, and livestock keepers benefit from the economic growth, lessons can be learned for the livestock sectors in South Asia and Africa.’

‘There are both positive and negative lessons. On the one hand, some countries, such as China, have made massive strides in poverty reduction, including among rural livestock keepers, but on the other hand, intensification of parts of the livestock sector has resulted in massive environmental problems. Livestock research and development in other parts of the world can learn a lot from analyzing these changes.

ILRI is facilitating an e-consultation for the development of an Action Plan for Pro-Poor Livestock Research for Sustainable Development in South Asia and South East Asia.

‘There is concern that much past livestock research has not contributed to poverty reduction in many parts of Asia. We are encouraging stakeholders from all areas of livestock research and development to get involved in the forthcoming e-consultation.

‘Now is the time to take a fresh look at how livestock research can contribute to poverty reduction in Asia’ concludes Wright.

Further information:
ILRI Research in South East Asia: ILRI’s collaborative projects in South East Asia are summarized in a brief.

ILRI and Livestock Research in South East Asia brief.

ILRI’s representative in Asia: Iain Wright, whose background is in livestock systems, joined ILRI from the Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, UK, where he worked for 25 years, managing a number of research programmes, and more recently was Head of Business Development and Chief Executive of the Macaulay Institute’s commercial research and consultancy company.  Although based in the UK, he worked extensively on livestock research and development projects in Asia.