Why we focus on livestock

Livestock breeding is a key activity in the world’s dry areas and is indispensable in tackling issues of global concern. As livestock systems occupy about 30% of Earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface, they form a significant global asset. The demand for livestock products is increasing worldwide, in particular in developing countries. In drylands, pastoralism acts as an important buffer to cope with climate risk.

  • Global food security: Livestock contribute an important share to global food security: 13% of global calories and 28% of protein stems directly from livestock products. Furthermore, livestock are employed as draught animals and contribute to crop production through the provision of manure.
  • Income source: Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco are considered livestock-dependent societies. According to an FAO definition, this means that at least 90% of the total value of farm production comes from livestock and more than 90% of dry matter fed to animals comes from rangelands, pastures and annual forages. Ethiopia’s livestock, for instance, contributes ‘in important ways both to its domestic food security and its export incomes’ (Abbink et al. 2014, p. 21).
  • Viable land use? Pastoralism is of high concern in recent debates. On the one hand, it is advocated as a highly adapted land use practice in these fluctuating environments with recurrent droughts, and as a time-tested strategy to attain an efficient use of grazing resources while avoiding environmental degradation. On the other hand, it is considered not viable under on-going processes of global change.
  • Sociological feature of stability: Livestock production is not only crucial for national economies and local livelihoods, but also contributes to social stability.
  • Biodiversity: Pastoralism plays an essential role in the protection of biodiversity since it is ‘not only critical for maintaining forest areas, but also wildlife populations and the savannah lands they inhabit’ (Abbink et al. 2014, p. 6).
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: Livestock production contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions and may lead to global environmental threats.