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World Livestock 2011 – Livestock in Food Security, a recent report published by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

by ruchita last modified Jan 22, 2014 04:28 PM

Jan 10, 2012

Following the 2009 report on the State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA), this report discusses the role of livestock and explores the contribution of livestock to the food security of the poor from three perspectives - livestock and its contribution to global food security; the food security situation of livestock dependent societies, small scale mixed farmers and urban populations; and its contribution to food security in the future.

Livestock and global food security: The report mentions that over the last 40 years a steady growth has been recorded in the global production of meat, milk and eggs. Today, livestock products account for 12.9 percent of calories and 27.9 percent of proteins consumed worldwide. The fast growing poultry industry is led by the three largest emerging economies namely China, Brazil and India. China alone accounts for the production of 70 million tonnes of eggs annually, followed by 3 and 2 million tonnes by India and Brazil respectively. Similarly 15 million tonnes of meat is produced by China followed by 9 and 0.6 million tonnes by Brazil and India respectively. 

The report states that although the global availability of livestock products has increased, it is difficult to assess their contribution to food security since food security is recorded as a measure of consumption of calories, protein and critical micronutrients without distinguishing between the sources (plant or animal) of food. 

Additionally the report analyses the critical interplay between crops and livestock that also contributes to global food security. For example in mixed farming systems, livestock is a source of manure and draft power while livestock feed (forage and residues) is derived from crop production. In mixed farming systems therefore, crops and livestock add value to each other. This is in contrast to intensive rearing systems where the livestock sector consumes more human-edible protein than it provides. It is estimated that 77 million tonnes of plant protein are consumed annually to produce 58 million tonnes of livestock protein. The report attempts to understand the effect of different livestock production systems on available human edible proteins. 

This section summarizes that livestock production and marketing can help stabilize food supply, acting as a buffer to economic shocks and natural disasters provided there are minimum or no disease outbreaks.

The contribution of livestock to the food security of three different human populations: The report highlights that for livestock dependent societies, pastoralism and ranching contribute to food security in three vital ways namely by adding to the total food supply, by supporting food access by livestock owners and managers and by contributing to a positive protein balance.

For example, the rain-fed grazing system alone provides 19.2 million tonnes of ruminant meat equivalent to 19 percent of world meat production. It also provides 12 percent of the world’s milk. The report also states that productivity from extensive grazing systems is low in terms of output per animal and per labour unit but high in terms of output from limited resources of water and grain.  Livestock in this system contribute to the protein balance as they use forage resources which cannot be used for any other form of food production.

The report focuses on developing economies while discussing the role of small scale mixed farms and their contribution to food security. It highlights that in spite of limited opportunities for small scale mixed farms to expand their production, they remain important because of the large number of rural households that depend on these farms as also the supply of livestock products to urban populations by using and recycling available resources effectively. Small scale farms rearing indigenous breeds serve niche markets and though they do not earn large incomes, they will continue to be important contributors to food supply and access to food for communities, while specialized commercial farms feed into large-scale commodity markets.

The third sub-section on the linkages between livestock and urban communities, mentions that in spite of the often uneasy relationship between livestock and urban areas,  a large percentage of livestock products come from within or close to city limits. As per FAO estimates in 1990, almost 34 percent of meat production and 70 percent of egg production worldwide came from peri-urban farms.

Feeding the Future: This section reviews the drivers of the livestock revolution such as population trends, consumption patterns and production costs, and presents their implications for livestock’s contribution to food security. The report states that national livestock policies as well as national attitudes have a key implication on defining the future role of livestock in agriculture and food security. It states that livestock is under-represented in most poverty reduction strategy papers and even when it is considered it is primarily to boost national GDP rather than to alleviate poverty. The report concludes that livestock does make a positive contribution to food security, however good management practices and sound policies can aid in avoiding externalities such as inadequate animal health management practices , land degradation resulting from  overgrazing and the absence of interventions to protect and regenerate pasture-lands, loss of animal genetic resources caused due to indiscriminate cross breeding with exotic breeds and the lack of waste management practices which lead to  greenhouse gas emissions.

The report can be downloaded from the FAO website through the following link:


Contributed by - SA PPLPP Coordination Team