Advocacy / Agriculture / Climate Change / COVID19 / Directorate / Environment / Event Report / Food Security / Food Systems / ILRI / Livestock / Livestock Systems

COVID-19 and the livestock sector: A wake-up call to optimize sustainable livestock production


Written by Cynthia Mugo

How do we optimize livestock production systems to meet a growing global demand for food and nutritional security in economic, social and environmentally sustainable ways?  

This question was asked of participants who attended a virtual meeting for anglophone Africa livestock stakeholders convened by the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 2 and 3 September 2020. The eight regional and one global GASL virtual meetings held this year between 31 August and 18 September 2020 focused on ‘Lessons from COVID-19 for building back a better future through sustainable livestock.’ With a multi-stakeholder approach, the meetings sought to identify the pandemic’s impacts on the livestock sector, how different stakeholder groups (public sector, academics, non-governmental organizations, and public sector etc.) are addressing these challenges and strategize stakeholder responses worldwide to build forward a more sustainable future from the livestock sector.

First of all, a caveat. The question was rhetorical; it was meant to bring awareness to the challenge of optimizing livestock production systems and the need for a combination of solutions—from a wide range of stakeholders (policymakers, scientists, activists, and private sector etc—that highlight optimal pathways that inspire new policies and increased financial support to the sector. Nonetheless, the anglophone Africa meeting disclosed important findings relevant to this wider debate of how best to optimize livestock production systems: the need for strong commitment to partnership and cooperation. The breadth of knowledge, experience and expertise required to optimize livestock production systems implies mobilizing a broad range of competences and participation. Multiple stakeholder processes would seek to build consensus on sustainable solutions and catalyse change through dialogue, consultations and joint analysis.

GASL’s anglophone Africa workshop began with a series of presentations and group discussions on the impacts of COVID-19 in four sustainability domains—food and nutrition security, livelihoods and economic growth, animal health and welfare, and climate and natural resource use—and how sustainable livestock systems can address these. It was clear that the livestock sector has been severely hit by measures and restrictions on movement adopted by governments, economic slowdowns and commitments of healthy people (especially women) to care for others. There also have been unexpected positive effects generated by the pandemic, for instance, potentially, the reduced impact of livestock activities on climate and natural resources, growth in local food supply chains, as well as new opportunities opened by Africa’s accelerating digital and technical transformation.

The over 100 participants also identified the contributions academics, donors, public- and private-sector actors, and staff of non-governmental organizations and social movements would make to help build forward better through sustainable livestock.

Three priority themes emerged from the discussions.

  • Strengthen and broaden multi-stakeholder coordination and collaborations. Researchers, policymakers, private-sector actors, development partners and civil society spokespeople are struggling to get the livestock agenda heard in the fog that COVID-19 brings, yet it is critical to protect the livestock sector, given its central importance to inclusive economic growth, food and nutritional security/healthy diets, and social stability.
  • Champion multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral views of food systems that allow for open and inclusive solutions that address potential synergies, trade-offs and co-benefits that underpin sustainable livestock production.
  • Leverage the current COVID-19 emergency as an opportunity to coalesce diverse stakeholders at all levels around One Health approaches—uniting animal, human and environment expertise— that place food systems at their centre.

One overarching objective for the regional and global multi-stakeholder platform meetings was to prepare inputs for the World Food System Summit to be convened by the United Nations Secretary General in 2021. Hundreds (if not thousands) of institutions around the world are seeking to increase the productivity, income, sustainability and resilience of Africa’s millions of smallholder crop-livestock farmers. But as COVID-19 responses have underscored, coordination of work by global, regional, national and local initiatives is often ineffective, or absent entirely. Most institutions and initiatives keep working in silos, despite their increasing need to work more closely together to tackle, together and in well-coordinated fashion, global problems such as disease pandemics, climate disasters and malnourished communities. The Food System Summit offers the platform for participants to agree on practical arrangements for greater coordination of all the ongoing work to improve the resilience, sustainability, and productivity of world’s food systems, including its many diverse livestock systems.

Please click here for the workshop summary report, presentations and recording of the meeting.

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