Contents - Previous - Next


Chapter 6: Conclusion


From analysis to action
Driving forces
Response: Policy and technology options
Critical actions
The potential implications of these measures


From analysis to action

From analysis to action

THE PICTURE that emerges from the above analysis is clearly one of urgency and at the same time of complexity. The urgency stems from the dramatically increasing demand for livestock products and, as a result, the far-reaching changes in the structure of global livestock production. The complexity stems from livestock's use by society for multiple needs, producing in the process multiple environmental benefits and costs. Moreover, livestock-environment interactions are typically second level problems, because it is not livestock per se, but the way in which livestock are used by growing human populations that governs their impact on the environment. The purpose of livestock is determined by human needs, and technology translates these into different levels of natural resource use and sustainability. Quite clearly, livestock do not set out to destroy the environment, it is the socio-economic-political context, defined by humans, which determine livestock's effect upon their surroundings (Box 6.1).

While the analysis has focused on problem areas, let us not forget that there are large areas where livestock have remained in equilibrium with natural resources and, even more importantly, are helping to maintain ecosystem health, diversity, flexibility and societal cohesion. Livestock and the environment can achieve a balance while at the same time fulfilling humanity's food needs and contributing to sustainable economic growth.

Thus, within the complexities of livestock-environment interactions, this study shatters widely held perceptions about livestock playing only a negative role in any particular ecosystem. However, this study highlights also that there are important situations, where livestock are out of balance with the absorptive capacity of soil, water and air. Land degradation, deforestation, water pollution, greenhouse gas emission and loss of plant and animal genetic resources are the result. And in these areas urgent action is required. Following the conceptual models described in Chapter I, this chapter will summarize the analysis from the preceding chapters and recommend courses of action.

Box 6.1 Scapegoats and missed opportunities

PERHAPS IT is no coincidence that the scapegoat is an animal. From statements like: "Livestock have been criticised for damaging the environment in a number of ways (FAO, 1995) and Livestock have been charged with wholesale devastation African rangelands and irreversible destruction of soils desertification" (Winrock International Institute, 1992), it would appear that livestock themselves go out and decide to destroy or not to destroy our environment. Two centuries after the age of enlightenment we are still in need of a scapegoat, literally. Livestock do not move, produce or reproduce without us wanting them to do so. They are completely dependent upon us. Livestock do not degrade - humans do by their management of livestock. As a result of these misconceptions about livestock development institutions and governments continue to miss opportunities which would permit the livestock sector to make its full contribution to human welfare and economic growth.

Driving forces

Underlying a complex network of links between livestock and the environment, there are some strong fundamental pressures that will persist over the next decades. They are:

Strong population growth, increases in per capita income and urbanization are fueling demand for livestock products, while at the same time limiting resources for livestock production. For example, while population is expected to double by the year 2020 in Asia and Africa, demand for meat and milk is expected to triple. Livestock products have a very high incomes elasticity and, under equal income levels, urban dwellers consume more meat than rural populations (IFPRI, 1995). This dramatic increase in demand will change the structure of the global livestock sector, as the amount of grazing area is not expected to increase, and the possibilities for increased production per unit area are also limited. These forces will change the geographical distribution of production, essentially breaking its traditional links with land, as livestock production will become more industrial and crop based and, in the tropics, will move towards the more humid zones; and

Poverty and social inequality also leads to degradation of natural resources. Different levels of income, between and within countries, lead to a different valuation of environmental resources and willingness to pay for their conservation. The desperation of the poor limits what can be achieved. The situation of abject and mounting poverty because of decreasing per capita land resources in some tropical highlands, and declining cattle-people ratios in pastoral systems, simply does not allow indigenous investments in labour and capital for resource conservation or improvement.

These fundamental pressures have already disrupted, and will continue to disrupt the balance between people, livestock and natural resources. They are exacerbated by additional man-made pressures:

Inappropriate price policies and incentives. Economy-wide and sector price policies often pursue social or economic objectives outside the sector and often fail to address the environmental dimension. For the livestock sector, this often means a policy to promote the provision of cheap livestock products for the urban population, without accounting for the environmental costs involved in their production. In addition, this has led to subsidies on inputs and products, thus inducing wasteful use of natural resources, and constraining beneficial livestock-environment synergies. Subsidized concentrate feed, fuel, fertilizer and free AI-services, are some prominent examples. Protected markets and subsidies on milk and meat are others;

Institutional weaknesses. Missing or inadequate institutions result in ill-defined property rights and deny access to essential resources in many extensive grazing systems. Ecologically un-adapted systems are the result. In addition, institutions fail to develop and enforce regulations to protect environmental resources, such as wildlife and forest areas, surface waters or cropland, both in the developed and developing world. Furthermore, weak institutions allow uncontrolled growth of, and pollution by, urban animal production and processing. As a result, the strengthening of institutions, particularly at the local level, as well as empowerment of poor livestock holders should be a priority responsibility for governments;

Inadequate level of infrastructure. Insufficient infrastructure limits the opportunities to develop land-based livestock production and encourages the establishment of industrial systems and the concentration of large amounts of waste. It also constrains rapid destocking and restocking of arid ecosystems, and so stifles these systems' ecological optimal adaptation to prevailing erratic climatic conditions. Infrastructure development can, however, pave the way for reckless exploitation and destruction of valuable ecosystems in humid forest areas, with livestock being used to claim land titles. However, except for the humid tropics, infrastructure development and, in particular, marketing infrastructure, will be a powerful instrument to mitigate environmental impact;

Widespread ignorance and lack of know how. The public perception still is that major natural resource degradation processes are related to livestock activities, as shown by the use of terms such as "the Hamburger connection". The reality is more complex and, only now is the scientific community starting to understand the importance of ecosystem dynamics such as those of the arid lands. But much more is required. The full dynamics of crop-livestock interactions are far from well understood and this leads to poor decision making. For example, the lack of understanding of wildlife-livestock dynamics has resulted in unnecessary killing of wildlife. The persistence of the concept of desertification, as advancing deserts induced by overgrazing, has led to badly directed, and even counterproductive investments in forced settlements of pastoral peoples. Finally, the perception that farmers in the industrialized world have no concern for their environment, has led to authoritative, top-down regulation, whereas there is increasing evidence in all OECD countries that considerable reduction in land and water pollution can be obtained through grass-root education and motivation. Re-invigorated research, training, extension and public education efforts are required;

Policy void in the sector. Livestock producers, especially in South America, the EU and USA have established powerful political lobbies, which have sought to maintain subsidies and minimize environmental regulation. They have often done so under the argument that the introduction of environmental regulations puts them at a competitive disadvantage. This, in turn, has often induced them to demand import protection through either tariff or non-tariff barriers, notably exaggerating sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, in order to "level the playing field" with their competitors in lower regulation countries. Although their influence has diminished over the last decade, especially in the EU and the USA, livestock lobbies are still influential. They found themselves often at the side of powerful urban voters, who do not wish to pay the price for all environmental costs. On the other hand, some of the pastoral groups in Africa and Asia are among the most marginalized groups in their countries, with almost no influence in reversing those policies that limit their access to key resources and hence the sustainability of their ecosystem and livelihood;

Lack of information by consumers. This also plays a role in explaining why certain modes of production continue and why more stable systems are placed at an economic disadvantage in the developed countries. In the developed world, the health dangers of excessive meat and milk consumption have been extensively disseminated, whereas the links between diet and the environment have been less well covered. Those links which have been made, often departed from strong anti-livestock assumptions (Goodland, 1996).

Response: Policy and technology options

Guiding principles. To meet the food requirements of future generations and preserve the future resource base, urgent action is required of the livestock development community. As described in Chapter 1, these actions need to combine education and motivation, financial, property, zoning and regulatory instruments. First, a few general principles need to be established (Young 1996).

• As said before, policies that address the underlying causes of environmental degradation are generally more effective than those that address the symptoms. When an underlying cause can be removed, the incentive to cause the problem disappears and little monitoring or enforcement is required. For example, the removal of special tariffs on cassava meal will reduce nutrient surpluses, and hence water pollution and, in turn, the need for costly water quality monitoring.

• Policies may need to be combined to maximize effectiveness and they must be adjusted when necessary. The heterogeneity of land-based livestock systems operating in different production environments, and the varying responsiveness of people to each instrument according to their wealth, age, family needs and status, requires policies that complement and enhance each other. For example, to make arid range-livestock systems more sustainable, market pricing for livestock products needs to be accompanied by, among others, institutional changes in access to key resources and employment generation outside the sector; and

• Policies and programmes that have perverse or unintended effects on the environment should be replaced by those more precisely targeted to the prime policy objective. For example, a targeted incomes subsidy for the European farmer, especially if linked with environmental and landscape objectives, is environmentally much friendlier than the current price support practices.

The choice of policies should carefully consider the quality of local institutions, infrastructure and the level of income. Where institutions are weak, and/or the polluter or degrader is difficult to identify (i.e. non-point source pollution), regulations are difficult to enforce and more reliance has to be placed on financial instruments. Zoning and regulatory instruments fit better where the polluter or degrader can be unmistakably identified (point source pollution) and government has the financial resources to establish the infrastructure and reliable institutions to enforce environmental regulations.

Critical actions


Get the decision making right
Get a correct and consistent policy framework
Get the regulations and access to resources right
Get the financial incentives right
Get the technology generation and transfer right
Get the infrastructure right


The above analysis, and the urgent need for action in redressing the policies leading to degradation or inhibiting positive synergies to take place, in turns leads to a set of recommendations for the different actors in the sector, both in the developing and industrialized world.

Get the decision making right

Current decision-making regarding the role of livestock in sustainable agriculture is hampered by lack of, or sometimes wrong, information on the type, extent and causes of current negative and positive impacts on the environment. Even more importantly, policy makers are often not aware of the expected outcome of changes in policies. And, in their defense, the complexity of livestock's interaction with other sectors imposes a formidable task at any level of decision-making. Better information to provide the basis for decision-making is therefore an urgent prerequisite. Production systems and ecosystems need to be documented with emphasis on current hot spots, future environmental hazards, and potential positive contributions. In addition, consumers should be informed on health effects of high levels of consumption of animal products. For that, there is a need to:

• monitor resource use, using geographic information systems (GIS), and low cost monitoring tools to provide more accurate information on current resource degradation and the environmental impact of technologies and policy changes. In this context, a concerted effort to document the extent and causes of environmental degradation in the arid and semi-arid systems deserves a high priority. This would eliminate some of the myths about desertification, and arrive at better policies to improve the social and environmental sustainability of some of the most marginalized peoples in one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world;

• take stock of resource endowments, technologies and policies and increase analytical skills at farming level, schools and universities, government and non-governmental institutions for environmental impact assessment and related policy analyses. The global overview and broad analysis in this study needs to be followed-up by regional and country-wide assessments of the extent and causes of degradation and the role that livestock play in these processes;

• increase awareness among decision-makers, producers and consumers of the environmental effects of different modes of production. Consumer education about environmental and health consequences of dietary choices needs to be strengthened, in particular in the industrialized world; and

• further develop economic valuation techniques for environmental resources at farming, project and national levels. This study revealed the almost total absence of any economic valuation at ecosystems level of the positive or negative effects of livestock-environment interactions. The preliminary analysis provided in Chapter III of the positive effects of livestock production in irrigated systems, was carried out in the framework of this study. No data could be found in the literature on such effects for any production system. Proper economic valuations of the environmental effects of livestock production, say in a mixed farming system, can lead to environment enhancing policies. In addition, better valuation figures on the environmental costs of industrial production systems would establish the crucial database needed, if policies of incorporating environmental costs in industrially produced meat are introduced.

Get a correct and consistent policy framework

Any sustainable livestock development strategy has to take full account of producer and consumer objectives. In many instances, environmental objectives are not the highest priority. For many livestock producers in the developing world, the first priority is household food security and family welfare. Less tangible future sustainability of resource use is often traded off against immediate food needs. On a national scale, social and economic objectives may be in conflict with environmental objectives or have different time scales. It is therefore conceptually useful to bring these different objectives, with different implications for environmental sustainability, social development and economic growth together in one "national wealth" indicator. The national wealth of any nation is composed of the natural capital (to which the sector would contribute in particular with the value of rangelands and genetic resources), the human capital (the collective of human skills and values) and produced-assets or economic capital (World Bank, 1995b). At particular stages of development, growth in any component of the total capital might be reduced to enable greater growth in another.

In addition, within the environmental objectives, policies need to be consistent. Too often, a particular policy has different effects on the different components of the natural resource base. For example, policies to provide concentrate feed to pastoral stock, under the frequently used argument that it is necessary to reduce the impact of drought, might save domestic animal genetic resources, but has a negative effect on rangelands. The devaluation of the CFA franc in West Africa reduced grazing pressure, but might have increased firewood collection because it caused cooking kerosene prices to rise. Different environmental policies might also conflict in their effect on the same environmental component, or do not go far enough. The policy to encourage pastoral settlement and individual land ownership to reduce overstocking, directly conflicts with efforts to promote livestock-wildlife integration through benefit sharing mechanisms of the income from tourism and wildlife. In this same domain, too little benefit trickles down. Finally, too often policies are changed before they can bear fruit. Specific actions in this domain are therefore:

• to set objectives - environmental, economic, social and decide on balances between these objectives over the short and the longer run. The nature of these objectives will, to a large extent, define the balance attained between different production systems (grazing, mixed and industrial), and different agro-climates; and

• to identify conflict areas between broad social and economic objectives and environmental goals, and to identify possible mitigation measures.

Once the objectives have been set, it is necessary to assess how current policies and operational measures support or act against these objectives. Three categories of policies can be identified.

In the first category are those which make neither economic nor environmental sense (what may be called a lose-lose situation). These are poorly informed, formulated or simply misguided policies, or the result of the domination of certain interest groups. Examples are land titling through ranching in South America or the beef and milk tariff policies under the Common Agricultural Policy in the KU, after the initial post-war justification of food security became irrelevant. With growing trade liberalization and reduced public expenditure these are, in many cases, being corrected. Political will must exist to accept possible negative public reaction from the beneficiaries of those policies. This political will is particularly important in countries with strong livestock interest groups.

The second category are those, which make economic sense mainly in the short term, but have negative environmental effects in the long term. They may be called win-lose policies. An example is road construction in tropical forest areas, where land requirements and development needs may be in direct conflict with conservation objectives. Here, it is necessary to formulate local and specific complementary measures (i.e. protected areas, institutional developments) to minimize the trade-off. As has been shown, the majority of negative livestock impacts on the environment falls into this category.

A third set of policies are those that make both economic and environmental sense, but often do not pay off in the short term. These win-win situations are, for example, the reduction of methane emissions through increased animal productivity, livestock-wildlife integration and the use of slaughter waste for alternative feed or energy sources. Two, often inter-related, problems usually emerge: time frame and initial investment costs. Further problems often occur because benefits that accrue to common goods are only slightly or not at all of tangible interest to the farmer producing these benefits. A new set of mechanisms with novel financing approaches needs to be designed for the protection of these global commons. There is, therefore, an urgent need to:

• target policies carefully and as directly as possible, avoiding blanket coverage arrangements, for cost-effectiveness and better effect. The subsidy for conserving unique habitats, and other income subsidies, which have replaced price subsidies for milk and meat in the EU and USA fall in this category;

• correct policies which are misguiding resource use or which have perverse effects. Many examples have been given in this study; and

• look for support to finance accelerated adoption of win-win solutions such as benefit sharing through national and international arrangements. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) provides such mechanisms, but other sources (for example, levies on international trade in meat, milk and especially semen and embryo trade to preserve domestic animal genetic resources), could, and probably need to be identified.

Get the regulations and access to resources right

To optimize livestock's role in development, there must be an appropriate legal basis for resource use, with well-defined and enforceable rules, and institutions to implement them. In fact, a major underlying cause for important externalities is the insufficiently defined access to resources, such as open access grazing land for pastoral systems or the use of surface water for the uncontrolled discharge of waste of industrial production systems or processing units. To a certain extent this restricts private behaviour, sometimes resulting in pressure against which the political will has to resist. Institutional development requires:

The establishment of regulatory frameworks:

• to establish clear access rights to land. Clear rights of access to land, adapted to the agro-ecological conditions, is a necessary, although not always sufficient, condition to provide the economic and social incentives for people to protect and improve resources. It becomes more important as the pressure on land increases, especially in mixed farming systems. In the pastoral system, access to "key resources" is a condition for the survival of those systems. For other arid rangelands, flexibility, with "fuzzy" boundaries is required;

• to establish protected areas for fragile ecosystems, with due attention to local capacity to enforce the protection. The policy here should be less but better, and the enforcement should be entrusted to independent agencies. Line-agencies, depending on ministries are politically too sensitive;

• to establish zoning for industrial production systems;

• to bring animal densities in line with the absorptive capacity of land and water, through quota systems, as already imposed in many parts of the world; and

• to prescribe regulations for waste control from processing and industrial production units, and use of noxious substances, management practices, labelling;

Empowerment of formal and informal institutions:

Where the regulatory framework is available but insufficiently respected or enforced, mandates and support to formal and informal institutions can be provided. For pastoral grazing systems, this study advocates the principles of "subsidiarity", whereby land rights are established in a participatory fashion within the local administrative capability, delegating to local groups, those public administrative powers that undermine or duplicate traditional governance structures (Swift, 1995). For more intensive systems, regulation is clearly a public sector function although, here also, interesting results have been obtained with grassroots level environmental cooperatives;

Use of participatory approaches in strategy formulation and planning. Grassroots participation has been shown to be an essential element in strategic planning. Many techniques are available (World Bank, 1995c and IIED, 1994).

Get the financial incentives right

Ideally, commodity prices should include all direct and indirect environmental costs in order to give market signals that embody the proper valuation of environmental goods. Prices should encourage efficient resource use and guide technologies to anticipated future scarcities. They should promote waste recycling and resource enhancing technologies. This study argues that environmentally the most appropriate balance between different areas and different needs would be established, if all environmental costs were internalized, and adequate benefit sharing mechanisms introduced for common goods. Astute pricing is an especially powerful tool and the instrument of choice where institutions are weak and where the financial or social costs of control become unreasonable, as is the case in many developing countries. In particular, intensive production depends on inputs that often contain a high component of natural resources not reflected in their market price. These should be priced higher by abolishing subsidies or, in some situations, introducing taxation. This, in addition to a quantitative effect, will induce a more efficient use of natural resources, with both environmental and economic gains. Correspondingly, subsidies or tax relief can be provided where natural resources are saved or tutored, such as renewable energy, greenhouse gas sequestration or biodiversity management. Incentive policies are the instrument of choice in a situation of non-point source pollution and weak institutions. Drawbacks are that the internalization of environmental costs, if implemented unilaterally in one country, places national producers at disadvantage vis--vis foreign competitors where such policies are not in place. Furthermore, there exists a high level of uncertainty associated with valuing important environmental resources such as biodiversity and, hence, immense difficulties to internalize these costs in market prices. However, for the well-being of future generations, this is the direction to move in, and therefore, this study argues to:

• eliminate subsidies or even to tax inputs such as water, concentrate feed, fossil fuel, fertilizer;

• introduce cost recovery for communal water and grazing for livestock, and charge cost-prices for "private goods" such as AI, and clinical treatments through public services provided to the producers (Umali et al., 1992);

• abolish price support for livestock products (and directly support farmers' incomes if that is socially or economically desirable);

• introduce levies or taxes for waste disposal;

• create price incentives for methane use and other nonrenewable resource saving technologies;

• remove advantages for commodities or types of enterprise where this is not warranted by public food concerns;

• introduce equitable benefit sharing mechanisms for social and environmental goods; and

• move towards a full internalization of all environmental costs and benefits into product prices.

Get the technology generation and transfer right

First, as seen in several systems, much more is now known about how to manage livestock in an environmentally benign way. This study demonstrates that currently available technologies can already significantly increase efficiencies, enhance resources in use and recycle waste at various stages of the production process. The case histories on intensive, temperate grazing and mixed farming systems, and the enormous impact that improvements in feed efficiency can have on grain needs and nutrient emissions in the industrial system, clearly demonstrate this point. Livestock production is still an inefficient process in terms of converting nitrogen and energy into food, with overall only 10-30 percent retained. Increased efficiency will reduce resource requirements and waste emission. Second, "leveling the playing field" often leads to the need for a different set of technologies. This new set will respond, to a higher degree, to true scarcities as they incorporate the value of environmental goods. This process needs to be facilitated and accelerated. Technology adoption can be facilitated by:

Research, training, education and extension:

Many research gaps have been already provided in this study. The debate on livestock-environment interactions is seriously handicapped by two obvious gaps. First the lack of proper economic valuation data of livestock-environment interactions and second the rather timid attempts to move research from a pure incremental focus, i.e. more product, to the primary focus which should be on the sustainability of production. It is important to design technologies that anticipate future resource constraints based on current intrinsic scarcities. There is, however, an apparent lack of institutional capacity in the livestock research community to do so. Multi-disciplinary research teams, which include natural resource economists and environmentalists need to be created, and the result transmitted through education, training and extension to all different actors in the sector. This could be assisted by:

• the provision of credit where high investment costs constitute an impediment, for example, methane digesters or waste treatment facilities; and

• financial support for accelerated adoption of win-win solutions, through direct subsidies or more equitable benefit sharing arrangements.

Get the infrastructure right

Often infrastructure is the key, in particular for establishing a better balance between livestock and land resources. Infrastructure development is often a prerequisite for technology uptake and resource access but it is a two edged sword in that not only does it alleviate pressure on natural resources, but it may also make them accessible to uncontrolled exploitation and destruction of ecosystems as in the case of some tropical rainforests. It is therefore necessary to:

• construct, or facilitate the construction of slaughterhouses, dairies and cold chain facilities in the vicinity of producing areas in order to avoid waste accumulation in sensitive and urban areas. Some concentration may still be necessary, in order to capture economies of scale in treatment. Infrastructure is also particularly important for rapid de-stocking when drought threatens in arid and semi-arid grazing systems; and

• facilitate the establishment of markets, transport and communication while nevertheless considering the balance between increased road and transport infrastructure and biodiversity conservation.


Contents - Previous - Next