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High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition launches sustainable livestock development report



A High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) is the science-policy interface of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), which is, at the global level, the foremost inclusive and evidence-based international and intergovernmental platform for food security and nutrition.

HLPE reports serve as a common, comprehensive, evidence-based starting point for intergovernmental and international multistakeholder policy debates in CFS. The HLPE draws its studies based on existing research and knowledge and organizes a scientific dialogue, built upon the diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, knowledge systems, diversity of its Steering Committee and Project Teams, and upon open electronic consultations.

HLPE reports are widely used as reference documents within and beyond CFS and the UN system, by the scientific community as well as by political decision-makers and stakeholders, at international, regional and national levels.

In October 2014, the CFS requested the HLPE to prepare a report on sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition, including the role of livestock. An important planning meeting was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at ILRI, served as one of ten members of the HLPE livestock project team members.

What follows are excerpts from the report, which was launched at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 1 Jul 2016, in Rome. ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, who the day before gave a keynote presentation at a Partnerships Forum on Livestock at the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), attended the FAO launch of the report on the role of livestock in sustainable agricultural development.

This report focuses on the livestock sector because it is:

  • a powerful engine for the development of the agriculture and food sector

  • a driver of major economic, social and environmental changes in food systems worldwide

  • a uniquely powerful entry point for understanding the issues around sustainable agricultural development as a whole

Livestock production is central to food systems’ development and is a particularly dynamic and complex agricultural subsector, with implications for animal-feed demand, for market concentration in agricultural supply chains, for the intensification of production at the farm level, for farm income, land use, and for nutrition and health. Livestock has often set the speed of change in agriculture in recent decades.

Livestock is strongly linked to the feed crop sector, generates co-products including manure and draught power, and in many countries acts as a store of wealth and a safety net. It is integral to the traditional practices, values and landscapes of many communities across the world. Livestock has significant effects on the environment, both positive and negative, particularly when indirect land-use changes and feed crop production effects are taken into account. . . .

The report offers policy-makers and other stakeholders a framework to design and implement feasible options of sustainability pathways for agricultural development. It will hopefully contribute to sustainable food systems and to food security and nutrition for all, and more broadly to the 2030 Agenda, now and in the future. . . .

As reflected in its title, this report is focused on livestock because of the importance and complexity of its roles and contribution to sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition. . . .


‘Livestock has often set the speed of change in agriculture in recent decades. Livestock is the largest user of land resources; permanent meadows and pastures represent 26 percent of global land area and feed crops account for one-third of global arable land. Livestock is strongly linked to the feed crop sector, generates co-products including manure and draught power, and in many economies acts as a store of wealth and a safety net. It is integral to the cultural identity, traditional practices, values and landscapes of many communities across the world. Livestock has profound effects on the environment, particularly when indirect land-use changes and feed crop production effects are taken into account.

‘Livestock production takes place in a wide range of farming systems: extensive (e.g. grazing in the case of ruminant livestock or foraging in the case of poultry and pigs); intensive (in which thousands of animals are fed with concentrated feed rations in confined facilities); and in the many intermediate systems that exist between the two. . . . [T]o value and address this diversity of farming systems and their distinct challenges, the report considers four broad classes of livestock rearing: smallholder mixed farming; pastoral; commercial grazing; and intensive livestock systems. . . .

‘While food security concerns historically focused on total calorie intake, today they encompass the so-called “triple burden” of malnutrition: hunger (deficiencies in dietary energy intake), estimated by FAO to affect some 792 million people worldwide; micronutrient deficiencies (such as iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc), which, according WHO, affect some two billion people; and increasing overnutrition that now affects more people than hunger does. In 2014, WHO estimated more than 1.9 billion (39 percent) adults, aged 18 years and over, were overweight, of which over 600 million (13 percent) were obese. The relationships between food systems and nutrition will be explored in depth in a forthcoming HLPE report (2017).

‘In a context of increasing resource scarcity, and with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change, numerous studies have identified livestock as a key area for action. Resource efficiency in livestock production will have to be improved in order to: maintain production systems within critical planetary limits; preserve the ecosystem services on which agricultural production relies; and reduce land degradation, biodiversity loss and pressure on water use and quality.

‘As a driver of deforestation, demand for feed, and transportation and processing infrastructure, the livestock sector is directly and indirectly responsible for 14.5 percent of GHG emissions. At the same time, some livestock systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change (particularly those in dry areas) and to new environment-related emerging diseases. These challenges are huge but the livestock sector also has huge potential for improvement, if the best existing practices in a given system and region can be shared and learned from more widely.

‘Livestock plays a crucial economic role in many food systems: providing income, wealth and employment; buffering price shocks; adding value to feedstuffs; providing a source of fertilizer and draught power. Agricultural markets face three challenges: (i) imperfect competition, due to lack of information, barriers to market entry, infrastructure constraints; (ii) externalities that create significant costs not borne by producers; and (iii) market distortions arising from poor public policies, including subsidies and taxes that reward unsustainable practices.

‘More specifically, agricultural markets are subject to unpredictable forces, such as the weather, and to time lags averse unless they are supported by safety nets. International trade has introduced opportunities but also new challenges, including an increased potential for diseases to spread. International trade has also been accompanied by a growing role for multinational private actors in making investment decisions in agricultural systems. Concentrated corporate control of agriculture has also increased in the face of uneven access to market information and technologies, undermining competition.

‘Different livestock systems face different economic risks and opportunities in this more general context. Determining factors include: the degree of integration into international markets and urban distribution systems; the level of dependence on external inputs (such as feed); and the degree of concentration in the markets upstream and downstream from livestock producers. . . .


‘[G]lobal challenges concern the different livestock systems to various degrees. Each system is also confronted with specific challenges.

  1. Smallholder mixed farming systems face limited access to resources, markets and services, variable resource efficiency and big yield gaps, and have little capacity to adapt to deep and rapid structural transformation in the agriculture sector and in the wider economy.
  2. Pastoral systems: in addition to the challenges they share with smallholders, pastoral systems must cope with conflicts for land and water, economic and political exclusion, social (including gender) inequity, poor animal health and high risks of zoonotic diseases.
  3. Commercial grazing systems face the degradation of the natural grasslands they depend upon, conflicts with other sectors over land and resource use, poor conditions for workers and, in some cases, technical inefficiencies.
  4. Intensive livestock systems face environmental challenges resulting from intensification (land and water use; water, soil and air pollution); the harm to human and animal health created by antimicrobial resistance, the emergence of new diseases; the social consequences of intensification (rural abandonment, poor working conditions, low wages, vulnerability of migrant labour, occupational hazards); and economic risks in the form of dependence on external inputs, including feed and energy, market concentration, price volatility, inequitable distribution of value added, as well as the difficulty of internalizing externalities in price signals. . . .

‘[T]hree interlinked principles help shape those pathways towards sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition:

‘Improve resource efficiency. Considerable potential exists to improve resource efficiency through the transfer and adoption of best available practices and technologies in a given context and through the adoption of diverse approaches (including “sustainable intensification”, “save and grow”, “ecological intensification”, and “agro-ecology”), all with a growing emphasis on ecosystem services. This would make it possible to simultaneously increase productivity, to preserve and make better use of limited resources, and to reduce GHG emissions. Resource efficiency can be improved through different technical means including: improving livestock management, careful breeding, health and feed efficiency; closing the nutrient cycle; and reducing food losses and waste.

‘Strengthen resilience. To address changing risks and shocks, whether environmental, economic, financial, or related to human and animal health, requires building resilience in livestock systems. The diversification of production and integration of crops and livestock at all levels – from farm to landscape, community, territory and region – will contribute to strengthen resilience and improve resource efficiency.

‘Improve social equity/responsibility outcomes. The failure to protect social equity and cultural integrity raises some of the most wide-ranging and politically sensitive challenges for sustainability. The norms, practices and priorities of social equity/responsibility, the property rights and land tenure laws and customs, all differ across countries and communities and change over time. Working conditions need to be improved at all levels of food value chains. In line with the SDGs, national SAD strategies will have to prioritize the needs and interests of the most vulnerable populations (which typically include women, children, migrants, and indigenous peoples). . . .


In addition to these more general principles, orientations and actions, each category of livestock system has some priority areas of intervention that better take into account its specificities.

For smallholder mixed farming systems, the priorities include: ensure better access to markets and more choice of markets; secure tenure rights and equitable access to land; design feasible growth pathways taking into consideration available resources; recognize, empower and enable the role of women; improve animal health management; encourage the use of local, more resistant, breeds; implement appropriate, tailored and participatory programmes that respond to farmers’ needs; facilitate smallholders’ participation in political processes; provide good quality training programmes and information; and redirect development policies and tax incentives towards the design of diversified and resilient farming and food systems.

For pastoral systems, the priorities include: improve governance and security by involving pastoral societies in participatory governance mechanisms; improve connections to markets and market choices; provide and protect access to public services, including for animal and human health, and access to pastoral resources (water and land); implement a fairer taxation system to enhance value-added activities through the processing and marketing of pastoral products; better target emergency assistance; and devise development strategies that take into account the specific needs of pastoral systems, including mobility.

For commercial grazing systems the priorities include: the maintenance and improvement of grassland management practices to improve resource efficiency and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation; the development of integrated crop–livestock–forestry systems that enable several kinds of production on the same land and allow synergies between those productions; and the protection of native forests from deforestation.

For intensive livestock systems, the priorities include: investment in R&D along the complete food chain to strike a balance between increasing production and reducing environmental harm, including food losses and waste; the expansion of precision livestock farming; action to reduce the prophylactic use of antibiotics in animal care and to improve animal welfare; policies to reduce the environmental impact of intensive systems including systems that promote more recycling of animal waste to promote efficiency and reduce the harm caused by unbalanced nutrient cycles (too much depletion where the feed crops are grown and too much addition where livestock are raised and fed); and increase the sustainable production of feed while improving the ratio of feed to animal conversion. . . .


The following recommendations have been elaborated building upon the main findings of the report on Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? They aim to strengthen the contributions of the livestock sector to sustainable agricultural development (SAD) for food security and nutrition (FSN). They are directed at different categories of stakeholders as appropriate: states, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), the private sector and civil society organizations, and other stakeholders. They should:

  • Elaborate context-specific pathways to sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition
  • Strengthen integration of livestock in national sustainable agricultural development strategies
  • Foster coherence between sectoral policies and programs
  • Develop gender-sensitive livestock policies and interventions
  • Better integrate sustainable agricultural development issues for food security and nutrition in trade policies
  • Limit and manage excess price volatility
  • Protect, preserve and facilitate the sharing of livestock genetic resources
  • Improve surveillance and control of livestock diseases
  • Promote research and development
  • Review and improve indicators and methodology and identify data gaps

Recommendations related to specific livestock systems:

  • Recognize the importance of smallholder mixed farming systems for food security and nutrition and support them
  • Recognize and support the unique role of pastoral systems
  • Promote the sustainability of commercial grazing systems
  • Address the specific challenges of intensive livestock systems

Read the whole report:
HLPE. 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: What roles for livestock? A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome, 139 pp.

Read the report’s Summary and Recommendations, 12 pp.

Read related recent news:
Balancing the plate: Jimmy Smith opens ‘Private Sector Mechanism Partnerships Forum on Livestock’, ILRI News blog, 6 Jul 2016.

Jimmy Smith’s address to UK parliamentary group on the potential of livestock for development, ILRI News blog, 4 Jul 2016.

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