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A major presentation on ‘the power of livestock’ to transform today’s resource-scarce agricultural lands

Delgado Slide01

A major presentation was made at a special side event at the Borlaug Dialogue, in Iowa, on 15 Oct 2014. The side event was hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) as part of a series marking ILRI’s 40-year anniversary this year. The presentation was made by Chris Delgado, who in 1999 led ground-breaking studies showing that a ‘Livestock Revolution’ was taking place in the global South.

Welcome to the special ILRI side session
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda,
board chair of ILRI and chief executive officer and head of diplomatic mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), welcomed dignitaries and friends of ILRI to the two-hour evening event.

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, ILRI board chair and CEO and head of diplomatic mission of FANRPAN (photo on Flickr by Borlaug Dialogue/World Food Prize).

Sibanda, who is an animal scientist by training and breeds livestock in her native Zimbabwe, began by telling a personal livestock story.

I love my middle name. ‘Majele’ means jail. This is how I got that name. When my grandmother was pregnant with my father, six cows strayed into a neighbour’s field and my grandmother was taken into policy custody. The police tried to find my grandfather, who always got up in the morning, like all good African men, to go and socialize while my grandmother did all the hard work. My grandfather couldn’t be found. So my poor grandmother ended up in jail. So my dad was named ‘Majele’. And I’m the only other family member who has carried that name. So I am ‘Lindiwe, whose cattle strayed into a neighbour’s field and could not pay the fine’.

‘This event is being convened in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are honoured to have senior representatives here from the foundation: Pamela Anderson, director of agricultural development work, and Sam Thevasagayam, who leads the foundation’s livestock initiatives.

‘ILRI, a not-for-profit institute established in 1994 by combining two centres, ILCA [International Livestock Centre for Africa], established in 1974, and ILRAD [International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases], established in 1973. This marriage between ILRAD and ILCA arose out of a CGIAR endorsement for a unified global livestock research institute.

ILRI is 20 years old, but was built on 20 years of ILRAD and 20 years of ILCA work. So, it’s a big, big, big birthday party for all of us.

‘To mark four decades of research by ILRI, its predecessors ILRAD and ILCA, and its partners, ILRI board and management and staff and partners are marking the occasion with a series of events in different countries to highlight the importance of livestock and the research-based technologies that will make sure that livestock are a viable resource for lifting people out of poverty and for more — for economic gain, for better nutrition and for improved livelihoods.

Bill Gates, board chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is joining us virtually today to say a few words.

Please check back to view the video clip and to read the remarks made by Bill Gates for ILRI’s session at the Borlaug Dialogue. These will be posted on this blog in the week of 4 Nov 2014, when ILRI hosts a two-day conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (6–7 Nov 2014), to mark its anniversary.

‘Our keynote address this evening is delivered by Christopher Delgado, of the World Resources Institute, based in Washington, DC, where he coordinates the land-use section of a multi-institute New Climate Economy flagship project. He previously served as policy advisor in the agriculture department of the World Bank, working on responses to the food crisis of 2007 to 2012. Before that, he spent 26 years at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), including three years on joint appointment with ILRI. Chris, who holds a PhD in economics and is a former Peace Corps volunteer, research and part-time teacher, is a friend of ILRI and part of the family.’

Chris Delgado

Chris Delgado, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, where he coordinates the Land Use topic of the multi-institutional New Climate Economy project.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the slide presentation Chris Delgado made at the ILRI’s special event at the Borlaug Symposium 2014.

Livestock in the natural resource context

There are really two punch lines. The first is that we can’t consider livestock in a vacuum.

The livestock sector is very dynamic and changed by human behaviour, both on the demand side — the well-known Livestock Revolution— but also on the production side.

Livestock is really part of a natural resource context — that we’re running out of land and water. In a sense, anything that affects those natural resources is going to affect livestock and vice versa. The solutions, since this talk is on the transformative role of livestock going forward, are going to take that into account in ways they may not have always done before.

Animals are competing users of natural resources, as are crops, forests, lots of things. All land use is a trade off. There is no more free land a water, or not much.

If you believe the most recent FAO figures, there’s only about 9% of land that’s not accounted for by agriculture or forests or pastures or cities, etc. Most of that is in Africa and it is grassland. But its exact status and suitability for either forests or crops or even livestock, for that matter, is a matter of debate. Things are getting tighter, for sure.

Plus there’s a carbon budget. As the world worries about carbon, as it must, livestock gets into the sights of lots of people that aren’t as friendly to the sector as we are in this room.

When you have 800 million people that go to bed hungry, when you have unmet nutritional needs, which is a slightly separate issue, that’s got to be the first priority for drawing on natural resource use, for drawing on fiscal budgets.

You also have the rising demand for animal protein, which is a separate issue. That’s driven by money and by developing countries.

You have a rising awareness of greenhouse gases. In the general populace in many countries now, that’s now a big deal and it affects consumer behaviour.

You have timber and pulp demand — this is one of the real surprises for me.

I won’t talk about biofuels and food loss and waste, which are big topics. But anything that takes away from what natural resources produce is also on the debit side of the column, and makes it harder for everything else. So it’s all inter-related.

Most people here know about the so-called Livestock Revolution. But as recently as the early 1980s, the developing countries produced less than a third of the meat and a quarter of the milk in the world. Now they produce more than two-thirds of the meat (it’s probably more like 70%) and more than half of the milk. That’s all driven primarily by the emerging developing countries. It’s driven by urbanization once incomes get over incomes of $2 a day.

Delgado Slide05

This chart [below] distinguishes food commodities by value. Red is livestock; green is crops. The share of livestock is increasing. You see it’s really driven by Asia. That’s because there are so many emerging countries in Asia.

Delgado Slide06

So that raises the question, Can we continue to meet this kind of demand? Doubling the amount of dairy. Doubling the amount of meat, at least. Are the resources there? At the same time, all these other demands are coming.

Delgado Slide07

Let’s look at another industry — the timber industry. Demand for pulp is going down as newspapers are closing. Demand for timber even is going down. But locally, timber demand is soaring. Primarily because of the emerging developing countries. All the packaging in China, the packaging needed by factories, gives you an idea. By volume, timber demand locally will go up by a factor of six, we think, by 2050; by volume, that’s six times the amount of food that will go up.

Delgado Slide08

This resource crunch is real. I don’t think the world is yet internalizing how serious this is.

Agricultural production growth has been keeping up over the last 40 years really only at the expense of clearing more land. I think that is well known. It’s remarkable that for the major cereals, the annual increment — it’s a steady linear growth— is about 42 kilos per year.

If you believe these projections by FAO [the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations], which are as good as any, you would have to get about one-third more growth than that linearly to get a projected mean without clearing more land.

Ergo, we’re going to clear a lot more land. There’s just no way around it right now. The figures don’t look good.

And you’ve got pasture degradation. You’ve got the increased worry about greenhouse gas emissions. And livestock gets a big rap, and basically a very unfair one, for deforestation.

Probably the single greatest agricultural problem in the developing world, in fact in the world, is degradation. FAO’s 2010 figures show a third of all land is degraded, most of it severely degraded, so it can’t really provide ecosystem services, including growing crops in any kind of significant yields.

Delgado Slide10

And that degradation is growing annually; we don’t even know how much. I’ve seen the figure of 50 million hectares a year, but I don’t think that’s substantiated. You can’t observe degraded soil by satellite, as far as I know. (You can observe cut trees but you can’t observe degraded soil.)

Overgrazing is a major factor in many cases, which adds to hostility against the livestock sector. Careful studies have been done by the OECD and others that show that this leads to a loss of 3–7% of total agricultural production; that sounds conservative to me.

Greenhouse gas emissions
Agriculture and land-use change, essentially cutting trees, accounted for a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

Livestock get a big rap on this because they cause 30% of direct agricultural emissions, or 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, if you don’t count land-use change.

It you blame deforestation on livestock, as most environmentalists do, incorrectly, livestock cause 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Ruminants cause 80% of livestock-generated greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a fact, as far as I know, that beef produces 6 times as much greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein as chicken, eggs or pork. So ruminants are immediately in the crosshairs.

Delgado Slide11

Here’s an example [below] of livestock blamed as a driver of deforestation. That was true in the 1980s and 1990s: people actually cut down trees to have access to land for grazing, because livestock prices at the time justified it and because wood wasn’t such a scare thing.

Delgado Slide12

People still cut down trees, but now it’s actually for something else.

First let’s clarify terms. In FAO terminology, the standard one used, deforestation does not mean cutting down trees. Deforestation refers to land that was administered by the forest department and is now administered by some other department, typically the agriculture department.

Degradation means the trees are cut down.

And in fact, we have a lot of trees being cut down. Satellites tell us losses are up to 20 million hectares of trees per year.

Here [below], the same people that brought you the graph [above] of the drivers of deforestation show that livestock play very little role in the cutting of trees. In Africa, trees are cut down primarily for charcoal, as indicated, and in Latin America and Asia, tree cutting is primarily for timber.

Delgado Slide14

This is a key thing to understand. What’s driving the cutting of trees is wood. Then there’s a separate decision of whether you let the forest regenerate, and wait 20 years, or use it for something else, like livestock or oil palm production. And this is all being played out in legislation and governments. This is a big issue going forward.

Some livestock-based solutions
This pretty picture [below] is from China. It’s of a famous project—a watershed rehabilitation project that lasted 10 years as a World Bank project but has continued purely by the Government of China.

Delgado Slide15

The Chinese viewed this project as something to solve the silting of the Yellow River, which was causing all kinds of problems. And the World Bank thought it might be an agricultural development project. But it actually turned out to be a livestock development project.

Now I’ll tell you my other takeaway. It’s about incorporating the power of livestock. Productive landscapes are good for everybody. But there’s the ‘collective good’ problem — not everyone collects.

But livestock does. It is the one thing that can be relied on to give something to the individual farmer: the returns are individual; they’re tangible.

So from a project design perspective, if you’re going to do a landscape preservation project, you want to make sure there’s a livestock component in there.

You probably don’t want it to be free-range goats. You probably want it to be confined dairy cattle or Kashmir sheep, or whatever you can do that makes money and requires feed that a restored landscape can provide without degrading the environment.

Delgado Slide16

You’re going to need to do all the things on the list [above] if you really want to incorporate the power of livestock.

It is the power of livestock that will get you cooperation of the people you are serving.

Many livestock investments are needed. Many are well known. On the health side, it gets tricky. That is a big issue; it’s no doubt ILRI’s leadership is vital here.

Delgado Slide17

Greenhouse gas emissions
This [below] is actually the amount of greenhouse gas emission, or CO2 equivalent, per unit of beef production in different parts of the world. You see Eastern Europe is the champ at 14. South Asia is the loser at 77. And of course it depends on how productive your system is.

Delgado Slide18

This slide makes several points. One is that that technology, primarily feeding and pasture improvement, can vastly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of ruminants. As can better herd management: One of the problems of South Asia is you’ve got so many unproductive animals, and this increases the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product.

Protect forests
If you make livestock more profitable and you don’t have enough land and you’re next to a forest, that forest is going to have problems. So if you intensify agriculture, whether it’s crops or livestock, you’ve got to protect forests.

Delgado Slide19

Brazil has understood this. Brazil has done a huge amount using satellite remote sensing. Nowadays you can sign up on the Internet for an alert of any deforestation within the last month on 25 hectares or larger areas.

Another solution is to restore 150 million hectares of degraded agricultural landscapes. That doesn’t sound like so much, but it’s essential to get started on this.

Delgado Slide20

You saw that nice picture on the right [below]. On the left is what China’s Loess Plateau looked like in 1990. It had been cultivated for thousands of years. The soils weren’t bad but it was totally eroded and it was stripped of any vegetation by human beings, You had free-ranging of goats, with the goats climbing on the steep slopes, and so forth.

Delgado Slide21

The project was capital-intensive, skills intensive, governance intensive. It really did wonderful things. The original project design didn’t have that much livestock. But the farmers demanded it. It ended up that the significant increase in return to the farmers was from introducing dairy cattle and cut-and carry practices and Kashmir sheep, a new introduction. The rate of return from livestock was the highest of all, and it was returned to individual farmers — a huge incentive. The project also managed to do all the other good stuff it was supposed to do.

Delgado Slide22

A more large-scale approach was taken in Niger, where you have 5 million hectares basically being restored by regeneration and in some cases by the planting of nitrogen-fixing trees. The costs were minimal. Basically, the farmers did it themselves. Of course, it took a lot of pushing and shoving; it took legislative change to secure the farmers’ rights to trees. (It’s a long story.)

My institute estimates there is potential for restoring 300 million hectares in Africa. The returns have now been measured, I believe by IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development], at $180 per hectare per year.

Delgado Slide24

So Niger shows the way. See [above] the before and after photos. I was there in the 1970s and ’80s quite frequently, and the photo on top is what it looked like. I would never in my wildest dreams have envisaged the possibility of such change on such scale.

Livestock trade
We can also improve the contribution of livestock through trade. The global meat trade has actually grown 40% in the last decade. It’s still only one-tenth of production, compared to fish, which is over 30%. But the supply chain for meat is heavily concentrated, with the top ten suppliers earning $200 billion in revue and at least half of them headquartered in the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China].

Delgado Slide25

High-value market access of course now depends on sanitary compliance. When I began this chapter, neither Brazil nor the United States could ship beef to China. Now Brazil can. (I think the US is still out.) So sanitary compliance is a big deal.

The future is ‘low-emission beef’
In future, maybe not tomorrow but in the future, greenhouse gas reduction — low-emission beef — is also going to be a selling point for some value chains.


(1) There is a critical global need to restore productive landscapes. The world cannot feed itself without them. Livestock issues have to be part of this restoration because of the many potentially negative externalities of livestock (e.g. your animals will run onto someone else’s field, as Lindiwe Majele Sibanda noted, or cause pollution or emit greenhouse gases.)

(2) But livestock are also one of the very few robust growing income sources for smallholder farmers. That means livestock assets have to be made more secure. (As someone here noted, those billions of dollars of assets shouldn’t be roaming landscapes unprotected!)

(3) We need sustainable transformation of farming as a whole, with livestock interventions taking landscape approaches.

(4) In non- and low-market economies, people can improve their nutrition by consuming more diversified foods. And the more diversified a productive landscape is, the more nutritional solutions it can offer.

(5) Rapid changes in the global livestock sector have been driven by the global South for the last 20 years; changes in the sector will continue to be driven by the South over the next several decades.

For further information

View the whole of Chris Delgado’s slide presentation here: The transformative role of livestock in the developing world, 15 Oct 2014:

Visit to find out about the other ILRI@40 events.

Follow #ilri40 on Twitter.

Read recent blog posts about ILRI@40:

In Des Moines for the World Food Prize? Join the special BMGF-ILRI livestock roundtable this evening, 15 Oct 2014

ILRI turns 40: Nairobi headquarters marks the anniversary, 6 Oct 2014

This week ILRI hosts a major conference in Nairobi on livestock-based options for development, 29 Sep 2014

Livestock innovation systems: Research contributions from ILRI over the decades, 23 Sep 2014

Natural resources: Abundant or scarce? (That would depend on just how ‘natural’ we think human resources are), 18 Sep 2014

Livestock options to meet development goals: ILRI side event at Tropentag Conference in Prague, 17 Sep

ILRI@tropentag 2014: Livestock-based options for sustainable food and nutritional security and healthy lives, 16 Sep 2014

The International Livestock Research Institute turns 40–Join us at an ILRI@40 event!, 4 July 2014


One thought on “A major presentation on ‘the power of livestock’ to transform today’s resource-scarce agricultural lands

  1. Ethiopia is a country that can not use the man power in a hand. cos there are alot of veterinary Doctor’s are jobless including me, but on media they said the was shortage of DVM but they will not volanteer to employed veterinarians even if their were alot of
    vacants. In amhara region their were more than 400 vacancy in the woreda collected by the livestock agency at oct 2014, but in the region their is only not more than 200 DVM’s so look the gapes b/n it.

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