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Jimmy Smith’s address to UK parliamentary group on the potential of livestock for development

Jimmy Smith presents on livestock to UK parliament

‘Animal agriculture is the Cinderella of the agricultural world’,
Jimmy Smith tells the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group
on Agriculture and Food for Development.

Presentation to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group

on Agriculture and Food for Development

The role of livestock in smallholder livelihoods

29 June 2016

by Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute

Livestock can play major roles in development. Today I’m going to talk about the diversity of the livestock sector—and the many diverse ways that livestock contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction, to food and nutritional security and to sustainable food production.

Of course, mention of the ‘livestock sector’ conjures up greatly diverse images. The intensive livestock production systems common in rich countries—with sheds housing thousands of broiler chickens, or feedlots of beef cattle, or air-conditioned pig units, or high-tech dairy milking parlours—contrast sharply with the practices of small-scale farmers raising a couple of stall-fed dairy cows, or keeping a few chickens or pigs in a backyard, or herding goats, sheep and cattle on rangelands.


Taking account of such livestock diversity to determine appropriate interventions and development opportunities is challenging. The approach taken by ILRI and its partners to assess the roles of livestock in development, particularly for smallholders, in many ways parallels the conceptual framework used by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the agricultural sector as a whole. We consider the dynamics of livestock sector growth (often underpinned by market and value chain transformation), the diversity of livestock and livestock commodities and production systems, and the implications (and opportunities) of the transition of the livestock sector on smallholder livelihoods.

We also have to take account of some peculiarities that distinguish the livestock sector from agriculture as a whole.

  • First, there are the livestock ‘bads’. These include the environmental footprints of farm animals (carbon, water, land), the public health obesity epidemic and associated ill health due to overconsumption of meat and other foods, the zoonotic diseases that livestock transmit to humans, and illnesses caused by consuming contaminated livestock foods. All of these are real challenges and must be addressed. And transformation of the world’s smallholder livestock systems can certainly help address these challenges.
  • Then there is the fact that the on-going rapid transition of small-scale livestock production systems is demand-led; it is occurring because of rapidly rising demand for animal-source foods, primarily in developing countries.
  • Finally, there is continued neglect of smallholder livestock keepers and herders by official development assistance (ODA) and national government policies and projects. While providing developing countries with some 40% of agricultural gross domestic product, for example, the livestock sector receives less than 4% of agricultural ODA (which itself makes up less than 5% of total ODA).

Developing-world livestock

And this neglect is happening while demand for livestock commodities is rising rapidly. From 2005 to 2050 it is estimated that the world’s total dairy requirement will double to almost 1 billion tonnes per year, meat demand will nearly double, from 258 to some 450 million tonnes each year, and demand for pork and poultry meat and eggs will increase at least four-fold.

Almost all of this rising demand for animal-source foods is happening in developing countries, where populations, urbanization and incomes are all increasing. But although total consumption will rise, by mid-century per capita consumption of meat in the developing world is expected to be only one-third that of the USA.

In the developing countries where this massive demand is taking place, at least 70% of the milk, meat and eggs today is being produced by smallholders, with most of the products sold in domestic and so-called ‘informal’ markets.

How will the rising demand for these foods be met tomorrow? ILRI researchers see three possible ways, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. All three will co-exist and evolve over the coming decades.


By importing: While imported animal-source foods are often cheaper than locally produced ones, imported foods place a significant demand on often scarce foreign exchange (Africa’s total food import bill [some of which was intra-regional trade] in 2013 was USD44 billion, one-fifth of which was for livestock products). And imported foods provide importing nations with no employment or livelihood opportunities.

By industrializing: Establishing large, industrial-scale production units, as has been done for pigs and poultry in China and to some extent in India, with nascent industries in many Asian and African countries, may generate some jobs and provide economies of scale and production efficiencies. But the downsides can be environmental damage, reduced animal welfare and, at times, also reduced animal health and genetic diversity.

By transforming: Helping today’s smallholders convert their livestock production systems into commercially viable operations can also help nations overcome several development challenges at once. With the fast-rising demand for meat, milk and eggs, smaller scale livestock systems are in big transition already, and these systems will continue to modify themselves over the coming decades as they work to accommodate themselves to the vibrant and growing livestock markets.

Let me illustrate some of the many development opportunities to be grasped in the smallholder livestock sector.

Inclusive and sustainable growth
Livestock enhance the economic and social wellbeing of people in the developing world, providing highly nutritious foods, income streams, assets against which to borrow, a primary source of organic fertilizer, energy for cultivation and transport, and a host of social functions. Animals are a key asset in mitigating the many risks farmers face, especially in rainfed and pastoral areas. In 2010, there were 752 million livestock keepers living on less than USD2 per day, so increasing livestock productivity and resilience can help many people lift themselves (and their communities) out of poverty. Investing in livestock-dependent women benefits whole households (women in poor countries are far more likely to own animals than land). Enhancing equitable market participation also helps women and young people to professionalize their livestock enterprises. And then there are the many more people who derive indirect benefits from livestock through, for example, livestock trading and supplying inputs for livestock production, marketing and processing. These people as well as livestock producers and consumers are benefiting from new ways to improve livestock breeding, feeding and veterinary care.

Food and nutritional security
Livestock contribute to better nutrition for the poor. Development of new or improved livestock vaccines and ways to ensure appropriate drug use help to control the emergence of antimicrobial resistance and are important for human as well as animal health. And management practices that reduce food safety risks continue to be important as the sector grows. Even consuming very modest amounts of meat, milk and eggs enhances diets of the poor, thereby enhancing inter-uterine growth, reducing child stunting and improving the cognitive development of children. The few empirical studies of the relationship between increased livestock production and productivity and greater consumption of animal-source foods show both direct and indirect benefits for better household nutrition.

Environmentally sustainable food production
Small-scale systems are also strategic from an environmental perspective. Smallholder systems, which dominate where most domesticated animals are found, are usually inefficient, and thus are strong candidates for improvements to make animal agriculture environmentally sound. For example, improving production efficiency in smallholder livestock systems could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. Similar livestock opportunities exist for better waste and water management and for better conservation of biodiversity.

Enhancing three smallholder livestock trajectories

To prioritize and target livestock research-for-development efforts, we need to be able to take into account the vast diversity of livestock systems in use in the world, particularly the dynamic transitions taking place in the world’s smallholder livestock systems. ILRI is working to help transform three probable trajectories of livestock systems in developing countries.

In drylands and other regions of the South where the growth of livestock systems is fragile, livestock productivity can be severely limited by harsh climates and scarce resources, often occurring in tandem with weak institutions, poor infrastructure and limited market access. ILRI’s work has shown that losing livestock assets is the most significant factor in causing pastoral families to fall into poverty and to require aid. Heavy livestock losses also have major national economic implications: Droughts between 2008 and 2011, for example, cost Kenya an estimated USD3.3 billion in the livestock sector.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Increasing rangeland carbon storage: As rangelands that support livestock grazing systems take up about one-third of the earth’s ice-free surface, they are central to environmental stewardship. Recent data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that improved grazing management and enriching pastures could enable the world’s grasslands to safely store about 600 mega tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, nearly matching the amount of carbon—some 700 mega tonnes CO2 equivalent—that is annually spewed out by all the world’s air travel. ILRI research funded by the UK’s Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) and conducted in collaboration with UK institutions has helped to identify incentives and management practices that support such carbon sequestration on rangelands while not harming pastoral livelihoods.

Providing livestock drought insurance: Because insuring individual animals herded across vast and often remote drylands is challenging, ILRI has worked with partners to devise a way of using satellite images of rangelands to determine when drought has reduced the available forage to such an extent that livestock are likely to die in great numbers. ILRI then got private insurance and reinsurance companies to sell the ‘index-based’ insurance policies, which can be purchased for any number of animals. Those insured receive payouts not when their animals die but rather when the satellite-derived predictions of feed availability fall below a certain level. Aid agencies have found that funding or subsidizing this novel insurance is a better investment in pastoral resilience than only responding to drought emergencies, which is more costly and unpredictable. Preliminary results indicate that the livestock keepers who buy the index-based livestock insurance are less likely during severe droughts to sell their animals in distress sales (36%), to reduce their meal intakes (25%) and to depend on food aid (33%). This insurance project has been piloted in the pastoral areas of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia and the team is now exploring a number of IT-based approaches to collect relevant information from pastoralists, to ground-truth forage availability and to sell the insurance products. They have also identified areas of West and southern Africa where this kind of livestock insurance could be extended. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has generously funded some of this insurance work.

In this transition, many small-scale livestock producers in low-productive systems will exit the sector and fewer households will be raising more productive animals in more efficient and intensive production systems linked to markets. Such systems are likely to grow fastest in the coming decades. Most of this growth will occur in mixed crop-livestock systems, but some strong growth will also occur in rangeland systems where appropriate market connections and sustainable productivity increases can be achieved.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Smallholder dairying:
Award-winning smallholder dairy research partly funded over many years by the UK and conducted by ILRI with the Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and others continues to provide lasting benefits to the poor, including more than USD33 million worth of benefits to Kenya each year. This work has trained and certified small-scale traders of unpasteurized milk, ensuring safer milk and supporting thousands of people to enter the commercial dairy value chain. Some 6.5 million people in Kenya and in Assam, India, now have safer milk and 700,000 people in Kenya have been able to maintain their dairy livelihoods and incomes.

Improved livestock feeds: DFID has long supported ILRI and partner research on livestock feeds. Better feeds, and better use of locally available resources for smarter animal feeding, could as much as double milk production of smallholder farmers without any addition of concentrates while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to two factors: (1) the need to keep fewer (higher-producing) milking animals and (2) better-fed cows emit less methane gas. New research by ILRI is determining, for the very first time, exactly how much and what kind of greenhouse gases are being emitted by tropical animals consuming tropical feed. Preliminary results on livestock waste indicate that African livestock are emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases than are now being used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess emission levels.

Improved livestock breeds: Having the right livestock breeds is also important. An important new collaboration between ILRI, Roslin Institute, Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh brings high-end genomics to bear on improvements to livestock productivity while reducing livestock’s environmental impacts by means of genetic improvement. The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health that this collaboration with the UK has created is studying the uniquely adapted and diverse indigenous livestock in the developing world. It is applying state-of-the-art genetic technologies to understand and make better use of such desired tropical livestock adaptations as resistance to infectious disease and heat tolerance.

The on-going intensification of smallholder animal production in developing countries brings risks as well as benefits. Today’s dynamic livestock markets are driving rapid changes that can damage the environment and expose communities to increased public health risks. At the same time, ensuring participation by the poorest livestock keepers and other livestock value chain actors in these new markets requires appropriate incentives, technologies, policies, strategies and innovations.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Improved food safety and disease control: Research by ILRI and UK partners is working to ensure that meat, milk and eggs sold in the ubiquitous ‘informal’ markets of poor countries is safe to consume and that diseases are not transmitted from animals to people. Some examples of this work are the following.

  • Urban Zoo project: Understanding the emergence of pathogens in dense urban settings with a view to reduce public health risks, conducted by ILRI with the universities of Edinburgh and Liverpool and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and with funding from the UK’s Environmental and Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases (ESEI), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Research Councils UK (RCUK).
  • ZELS ZoolinK project: Developing and deploying surveillance systems at the human-animal interface in intensifying agricultural systems, conducted by ILRI in western Kenya with the universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Nottingham and RVC and with funding from DFID and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), MRC, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The evidence obtained is advancing understanding and anticipation of changes in zoonotic disease burdens and effective interventions.
  • Antimicrobial resistance: Evaluating and using new evidence to inform solutions to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in intensifying systems conducted by ILRI with Edinburgh, London and Oxford universities and funded by DFID. This research is investigating the biological, economic and health consequences of use of antimicrobials under different trajectories, on farms and in clinics. The results of a DFID-commissioned report by ILRI in 2015 and ILRI’s own observations in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam suggest that there is considerable under-estimation of antibiotic use in developing countries, which face the dual problem of lack of access to antimicrobials among smallholders and over-use in the intensive sector.
  • Disease emergence: Understanding land-use changes underlying disease patterns and driving disease emergence, conducted by ILRI within a UK-based Dynamic Drivers of Diseases in Africa Consortium (DDDAC) and including the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Cambridge University and University College London (UCL).
  • Food safety: Facilitating enabling policy environments for the informal milk sector with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and working on food safety in informal markets with RVC and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
  • Agriculture for public health: ILRI is co-leading with LSHTM a new flagship on agriculture for improving public health that will be part of the forthcoming second phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (CRP A4NH).

Livestock vaccines and diagnostics: ILRI receives generous UK funding and works closely with many UK bioscientists to develop vaccines for important livestock diseases, including East Coast fever, with the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), Jenner Institute, Oxford University, Roslin Institute, RVC and University of Edinburgh; African swine fever, with Pirbright Institute; Rift Valley fever, with Jenner Institute, Oxford University and Pirbright Institute; and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, with GALVmed.

UK investments, resources and collaborations

As can be seen, UK investments, resources and collaborations have been key to fulfilling ILRI”s agenda. Today, ILRI has 13 projects funded wholly or partly by UK organizations, amounting to a total value of more than £14 million (USD18 million). ILRI employs 19 scientists from the UK, a number of whom on joint appointments with UK institutions. And since 2010, 15 students from the UK have undertaken PhD or MSc work with ILRI supervision.

Some of ILRI’s current UK collaborators and funders

The full slide presentation by Jimmy Smith is here.

You’ll find all of Jimmy Smith’s ILRI slide presentations on a Pinterest Board here.

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