Capacity Development Portal
Good Practices

Livestock production systems management

  1. Livestock and the Environment
  2. Pro-poor livestock policy work

Identifying and reducing the negative consequences for the environment of livestock production practices

What problem did it address, where?

FAO has developed considerable expertise addressing livestock-associated environmental problems, including:

Land degradation of semi-arid lands in Africa and Asia, caused by a complex set of factors involving man and his stock, crop encroachment in marginal areas and fuelwood collection. Land tenure, settlement and incentive policies have undermined traditional land use practices and contributed to degradation through overgrazing.

Livestock follows deforestation where ranching pushes into the remaining rainforest frontiers. This is the case in Central and South America, and, to a very limited extent, in Central Africa and South-East Asia. Policies in which the expedient use of ranching to obtain land titles and fiscal incentives have encouraged extensive grazing and large-scale clearance of forest. Significant biodiversity losses and gas emissions are associated with such deforestation.

In parts of Europe and the USA, and densely populated areas of East Asia, animal waste production can exceed the absorptive capacity of land and water. Continuous nutrient import results in over-saturation of nutrients with a series of negative implications on the environment, including biodiversity losses, groundwater contamination, and soil pollution.

In many highland areas of the tropics, high human population densities are traditionally sustained by complex mixed farming systems. Continuing human population pressures lead to decreasing farm sizes. Livestock, often large ruminants, can no longer be maintained on the farm. The nutrient and farm power balance runs into a widening deficit and disinvestment occurs as natural resources degrade.

Mainly in developing countries, slaughterhouses release large amounts of waste into the environment, polluting land and surface waters as well as posing a serious human health risk. Because of weak infrastructure, slaughterhouses often operate in urban settings where the discharge of blood, offal and other waste products is uncontrolled.


Practical FAO interventions in these areas have involved data gathering and analysis, project formulation and execution. To illustrate, examples include

  • Integrated Animal Waste Management in Wannian County, Jiangxi Province, China to develop environmentally sound pig production
  • Regional GEF-funded projects in East Asia to reduce pollution from run off of nutrient and waste from pig and poultry production facilities into coastal waters
  • Promoting environmentally-friendly contract farming options for milk and poultry production in India
  • Developing policy options to manage livestock-wildlife interactions in Tanzania (addressing competition for resources, land use planning,wildlife reservoirs of disease)

Where next?

Environmental factors may need to be addressed wherever intensification of livestock production is underway, or where changes in livestock production practices are implemented.

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