February 1997




Fourteenth Session

Rome, 7-11 April 1997, Red Room


Item 4 of the Provisional Agenda




(i) Socio-economic Contribution
(ii) Trends
(iii) Adverse Consequences
(iv) Conclusions


(i) Livestock Systems Development
(ii) A Focus for Livestock in Development


(i) Livestock Development Activities
(ii) Livestock Production Systems - Development Thrusts



1.One of the biggest challenges facing the world is how to ensure food security for a human population that is expected to reach 9.4 billion by 2050 (1) while, at the same time, sustaining its natural resource base of soil, water, air and biological diversity. Livestock is, and will remain, an important component of global agriculture. Over the past two decades (1975-1995) meat production in developing countries has increased by more than 200%, indeed faster than their cereal production which increased by 166% during the same period. Milk production also has shown substantial growth in developing countries (95%) during the past 20 years. Driven by a growing human population and increasing urbanization and disposable incomes, total meat production in these countries is expected to grow by nearly 4% a year between the early 1990s and 2010, and within this, poultry meat production even faster at more than 5% a year.

2.Livestock's contribution to the world's economies goes beyond direct food production and includes: skins, fibres, manure (fertilizer or fuel), draught power, as well as capital accumulation. They are closely associated with the social fabric and welfare of many rural societies and serve as a strategic reserve that adds stability not just to the household but to the overall farming system. Exports and import substitution both generate and save foreign exchange. Such contributions have been largely underestimated in the past and, although it is clear that the relative importance of these non-food functions will decrease, albeit not uniformly, it is certain that livestock will continue to provide for a wide range of human needs.

3.There are, however, difficult and sensitive issues that need to be addressed if livestock is to make its full contribution to meeting the challenge of feeding the world. These issues are not just environmental but have social, economic and institutional perspectives and implications. Livestock development programmes in the past, both FAO's and many member countries', which were primarily disciplinary based and had a strong ruminant emphasis, now no longer equate with the reality of what is actually happening, or required, in livestock development, especially in areas of high human population and land pressure.

4.In recognizing livestock's important contribution to development and following an internal review in 1994, the structure of FAO's livestock programme was changed from a disciplinary to a systems orientation. The three new systems based sub-programmes - Pastoral Systems, Mixed Farming Systems and Peri-urban Systems - are complemented and supported by the Policy and Information sub-programme. Sub-programmes for Animal Genetic Resources and Transboundary Animal Diseases (EMPRES) complete the livestock programme. Recent studies have been initiated aimed at categorizing livestock systems to quantify the changes taking place, although the activities of the systems' sub-programmes for the current biennium remain largely transitional as carry-over, disciplinary activities are completed and the new systems approach is developed.

5.The aim of this paper is to place into context the future direction and focus of FAO's livestock production systems sub-programmes in assisting member countries to ensure that the potential contribution of their livestock resources is fully, yet sustainably, exploited in the development process. A series of development thrusts that reflect the types of "public goods and services" where livestock make contributions are proposed as a means of providing the necessary direction and focus.


(i)Socio-economic Contribution

6.The social and economic contribution of livestock is now widely recognized as representing a key element of sustainable agricultural development and household food security (2). The role of ruminants in food security, in particular, was the subject of a comprehensive review paper submittedto the Seventeenth Session of the Committee on World Food Security (3). These key elements have been elaborated in an AGA Working Paper (4) and can be summarized as providing:

*    a "buffer" and stabilizing effect by spreading risk between combinations of different crops and animal species, not only at farm level but also at national and regional levels;

*    a viable utilization of marginal areas that have few, if any, alternative uses;

*    short-term assets that can be readily liquidated, especially smaller species such as sheep, goats and fowl, for the purchase of food, agricultural inputs and social obligations;

*    a capital reserve and hedge against inflation, particularly the larger species;

*    a source of regular, albeit often small, income through the sale of milk, eggs, small stock and services;

*    a source of protein and, importantly, micronutrients especially for vulnerable families and age groups;

*    inputs for crop production, notably draught animal power (in developing countries over 80% of all agricultural energy inputs are derived from animals) and manure;

*    transport services;

*    manure as a fuel (dried or converted to bio-gas) and building material; and

*    employment opportunities in production and processing in areas where family labour may have low or no opportunity cost, or where seasonal surpluses occur.


7.An analysis of production data from developing countries of the main animal products over the last 20 years (1975-95) shows a trend away from livestock as a multi-faceted component in a mixed farming system towards more intensive and specialized production systems.

8.Global meat production has nearly doubled over the last two decades from 110 to 195 million tonnes, yet the contribution from developing countries has trebled from 33 to 101 million tonnes and now exceeds production from the developed world (94 million tonnes) (Table 1). Viewed from a regional perspective the changes in total meat production are more dramatic, with Asian production increasing by 293%. This phenomenal change, however, has been in poultry meat and pork which have increased by 397% and 283% respectively in developing countries, again with the growth being most dramatic in Central and Southern America (CSA) and Asia. By comparison, the growth in milk production has been less dramatic. In developed countries the overall increase was 105%, although production has declined from its peak in 1990, whereas in the developing world milk production increased by 95% over the last two decades and now accounts for 35% of total production. Globally, egg production has risen by 92% with production from developing countries (which increased by 287%) now exceeding that from the developed countries. While part of the above expansion can be explained by an increase in the overall herd and flock sizes (see Table 3) the primary reason has been substantial increases in productivity. For example, beef production increased by 22% while the global cattle herd grew by 12% from 1975 to 1995. Pork production increased by 100% while the population grew by only 32%.

Table 1 Animal Production, Developing and Developed Countries

(million tonnes)









Monogastric (5)



















Table 2 Animal Production by Developing Country Region

(million tonnes)




CSA (6)



CSA (6)



Monogastric (5)



























Table 3 Livestock Population Changes 1975-95

(million head)





































9.In 1996 the results categorising and quantifying the livestock production systems of the world were published (7). Three primary production systems were identified: pastoral based, mixed farming and peri-urban (landless) systems. The biggest growth in production has been from the peri-urban, landless systems, which are primarily demand driven and now represent 34% of total meat production and nearly 70% of egg production. In Asia landless production systems produce twice as much meat as from the rain-fed mixed-farming systems. Conversely, pastoral systems are mainly resource driven and contribute about 8-9% of the total meat production (virtually all ruminant) and about 10% of the milk. Mixed farming systems provide the majority of milk (90%), 77% of ruminant meat, 47% of pork and poultry meat, and 31% of the eggs (Table 4). Further analysis has shown a strong and positive relationship between human and livestock populations. Over two-thirds of the world's livestock population is found in areas supporting more than 150 people per km2. Furthermore, the overall character of livestock production is changing, and with it the spatial distribution of farm animals. Pastoralism is declining while the numbers of animals in mixed farming systems and peri-urban (industrial) production systems are increasing.

Table 4 Global Animal Production by Primary Production System


(million tonnes)





















* The classification system did not include milk animals in peri-urban/industrial systems.

(iii)Adverse Consequences

10.There are, however, negative aspects associated with the rapid expansion of livestock production and these are compounded by inappropriate policies and resource mismanagement with serious environmental and social consequences. These include:

*     Land degradation, which is particularly evident in the semi-arid lands of Africa and the Indian sub-continent. This is the result of a complex interaction involving restricting livestock movement, land tenure, crop encroachment and fuelwood collection. Changing land tenure, settlement and incentive policies have, in many cases, undermined traditional land use practices. Current thinking, however, suggests that earlier reports of widespread desertification and degradation exaggerated the extent of the problem, especially when viewed in terms of sustained productivity and irreversible damage. The fact that both production per head (meat/TLU (8)) and per area (meat/ha) has increased in the Sahelian region over the last 30 years clearly shows that these grazing systems are extremely resilient. Equally, it would be wrong to underestimate the problems; there is no reason for complacency.

*     Deforestation associated with commercial ranching which developed after the destruction of vast areas of rainforest, with its serious loss of biodiversity, has caught the public attention. The problem arose largely from misguided policies that allowed cattle ranch development and has been largely, but not exclusively, confined to Central and South America.

*     Involution (9) (collapse) of mixed farming in areas where high population pressures (10) have led to the fragmentation of farms to such an extent that they can no longer support sufficient animals, especially large ruminants which provide crucial inputs. The farming systems have become unsustainable and have started to disintegrate.

*     Pollution which occurs where waste products, notably manure and associated effluents, exceed either the absorptive capacity of the land or the available infrastructure for its safe disposal. Many of these problems are associated with industrial production systems in the developed world. However, similar problems also exist in developing countries and are expected to increase and be exacerbated by the lack of environmental regulations, or their enforcement.

*    Animals are associated with the "global warming" issue. Domesticated livestock (along with many agricultural crops - notably paddy rice) produce carbon-dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) along with small quantities of ozone (O3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) - the so-called "greenhouse gases", both directly as the result of fibre digestion in ruminants or indirectly from manure, grass burning, etc. Technologies are available that can limit emissions per unit of product provided that appropriate incentives for their use are put in place. The key is to increase productivity through improved nutrition that reduces emissions per unit of product. Conversely, the extensive pastoral and agro-forestry areas also absorb large quantities of CO2 and provide an important "sink" in the carbon cycle.

*    Loss of biodiversity is an issue with some 600 breeds of domestic animals risking extinction and further erosion of many traditional and locally adapted breeds. The consequence is an increasing dependency on a narrowing genetic resource base facilitated by biotechnologies, such as artificial insemination (AI), which allow easy transfer of genetic material across international borders.


11.A number of important conclusions can be drawn, summarized as follows:

*    an increase in intensive monogastric production with a corresponding demand for cereals, agro-industrial by-products and recycled edible waste;

*    a shift from resource-driven to demand driven-production systems;

*    a shift from low input, multi-facet production systems to more intensive, specialized systems of production;

*    a substantial growth in production from developing countries, particularly in poultry meat, eggs and pork, responding to the growing demand from an expanding human population with increasing disposable incomes;

*    substantial growth in production from the humid and sub-humid zones;

*    the growth in production has been derived not only from stock expansion but also increases in productivity;

*    a strong relationship between livestock and human population densities; and

*    the importance of Asia both as a producer and consumer of animal and cereal products.

12.The socio-economic contribution of livestock in development will continue to be important in many regions for the foreseeable future - notably, but not exclusively, in Africa. The dynamics of what is actually happening provides the basis for the future development of animal agriculture.


(i)Livestock Systems Development

13.Livestock production systems can be placed on a continuum from extensive to intensive; from low to high rainfall; from resource to demand driven; and from low to high human population density. The three primary production systems defined by FAO are discrete, but there are important strategic interactions between them.

14. Pastoral Systems. Historically, livestock production developed in a pastoral context, with man following his animals. Pastoral and extensive grazing systems are invaluable since they often offer the only viable land use, but generally speaking have limited potential for expansion or substantive increases in productivity.

*    In the arid zones the potential for intensification is extremely limited and it has been shown that management of these resources are best left to the traditional systems. Where interventions have occurred, such as water and infrastructure development and subsidized feed grains, the natural balance has been adversely interfered with and has often led to degradation.

*    In the semi-arid zones there is scope for intensification and transition to a mixed farming system, since these areas have some potential for cropping. Such areas also have a comparative advantage in providing "feeder" stock that can be finished/fattened on crop residues and industrial by-products closer to the demand centres.

15.There are three possible consequences for the grazing systems:

*a continued non-equilibrium;

*    transition to a mixed farming system; or

*    decline and possible collapse as a result of resource degradation, especially in areas of increasing human density in the semi-arid and sub-humid zones.

16. Mixed Farming Systems. Based on diversification and a balance between crops and livestock such systems are largely self-sustaining. In developing countries they are primarily family operations and often operate close to subsistence levels. In many areas mixed farming systems are coming under increasing pressure and two major features emerge:

*    Specialization: Market forces and the ensuing technological requirements force mixed farming systems to specialize in one or more enterprises. Improved technology can be more efficiently employed through economies of scale and market-oriented production. With increasing specialization the on-farm integration of crops and livestock declines but is replaced by a greater reliance on the trade in production resources within a broader mixed farming system.

*    Involution (decreasing complexity and collapse): Rural areas with relatively high human population densities, such as in the tropical highlands, are traditionally sustained by complex, mixed farming systems. Population pressures may decrease farm sizes to a point where they are no longer viable. Livestock, especially large ruminants which provide inputs crucial to the sustainability of these systems but can no longer be maintained on the smaller farms, with a resulting breakdown of the nutrient and energy balances leading to further natural resource degradation.

17.Both specialization and involution lead to a reduction and separation of different components and possible pathways for the mixed farming system are the following:

*    a transition into more specialized enterprises based on segregated components within a broader mixed farming system;

*    continuation of systems encompassing multiple activities and enterprises often, but not necessarily, operating close to subsistence levels;

*    a collapse with decreasing herd sizes, nutrient deficits and irreversible resource degradation.

18. Landless (industrial) systems. Industrial, market driven, production systems are detached from their original land base, are commercially orientated and specialize in specific product(s). These are generally associated with large-scale enterprises, yet in developing countries small-scale urban based production units are also important. Rising incomes, urbanization and changing consumer habits in developing countries are increasing the demand for animal products (eggs, milk and meat). Traditional land-based production and supply systems, however, have been unable to keep pace with demand, and the gap is increasingly being filled by intensive production systems.

19.Despite higher feed conversion efficiencies the arguments against landless, industrial systems in developing countries include low direct employment opportunities, need for more highly trained staff, need for capital, dependence on imported technology and breeds, environmental concerns and high fossil fuel requirements. Crop-livestock interactions, however, are important but, rather than concentrating on integration at a farm level, integration needs to be developed between more specialized units within the wider farming context. This would allow for individual enterprises to operate separately while maintaining the synergy and complementarity through trade and exchange of commodities and services - a concept now referred to as "area wide crop-livestock integration".

20.For these intensive, landless systems, there are also three possible pathways:

*    the further (unsustainable) development of industrial systems in increasingly urban situations, where infrastructure and environmental regulations remain weak and lead to greater public health and pollution hazards;

*    to modify (de-industrialize) industrial livestock production systems through greater utilization of local resources and to develop crop-livestock integration on a regional basis;

*    the development of industrial systems where the appropriate infrastructure and regulations exist.

21.For the three main production systems, the pathways are shown graphically in Figure 1.


Figure 1 Livestock Development Pathways

(ii)A Focus for Livestock in Development

22.Interventions in livestock development can have two distinct foci:

*    a development focus that aims at increased food security (in its widest sense) by encouraging producers to increase food supply through improved production efficiencies and resource utilization, and leads to increasing intensification and specialization; and

*    a sustaining focus that aims at sustainable development mitigating against the detrimental consequences of livestock production and at stabilizing fragile agricultural systems.

23.FAO's primary, but not exclusive, focus for its production systems sub-programmes would be on sustainable food security by promoting the potential that livestock offer for income generation and food production through sustainable use of natural resources. Such a focus would be achieved through:

*    a sustainable "production systems" approach taking a holistic view of livestock production systems both within the individual farm unit and in the wider farming system or agro-ecological context;

*    a recognition of the importance of integration throughout the production chain from the basic resources to producer and on to consumer, especially given the perishable nature of animal products;

*    an inter-disciplinary rather than a disciplinary approach;

*    a recognition of the socio-economic contribution livestock make to development;

*    a technology perspective aiming at overcoming major constraints in production, clinical and sub-clinical disease, processing and distribution through more efficient resource utilization; and

*    providing member countries with a rational basis for planning livestock development through access to improved information and guidelines on policy and technology development.


24.Priorities need to be set, both by FAO and its members, to ensure that scarce resources (human, financial and natural) are utilized efficiently and sustainably. A prerequisite to priority setting is to have a clear development objective. The broad objective of livestock systems development is to "develop sustainable livestock production systems and link to the demand for animal products through improved production efficiency, appropriate processing and resource utilization".

(i)Livestock Development Activities

25.FAO assists member countries to achieve their livestock development objectives through regular programme and field programme activities. Activities of the Livestock Production Systems sub-programmes are appropriately linked with the EMPRES and Animal Genetic Resources sub-programmes.

26.The Livestock Production Systems programme activities have a global perspective aimed at providing members with a rational basis for monitoring and planning the development of their livestock sectors. Such activities are supported primarily by the regular programme and will include:

*    systems characterization and monitoring, utilizing data from remote sensing, existing and newly established data sources, combined with existing GIS techniques and ground verification;

*    collection, analysis and dissemination of information pertaining to the livestock sector;

*    preparation, validation and dissemination of technical guidelines for extension and training services;

*    preparation, validation and dissemination of guidelines concerning livestock related public health and environmental issues;

*    advice in establishing, maintaining and updating international standards and quality controls concerning animals and animal products; and

*    preparation, evaluation and dissemination of guidelines for policy and strategy formulation related to livestock sector development.

27.FAO's operational activities have primarily a national focus aimed at assisting members to develop the potential of their livestock resources in a sustainable manner. Such activities are supported primarily by the field programme and include:

*    livestock sector reviews, preparation of issue and options papers, and assistance in preparing livestock development plans and strategies;

*    facilitating the transfer of resource enhancing technologies aimed at making such resources more productive, e.g. improved use of work animals, prophylaxis, treatment of crop residues, introduction of fodder trees, etc.;

*    facilitating the transfer of resource saving technologies aimed at improving the efficiency with which existing resources are used, e.g. improved feed conversion ratios through balanced nutrition, improved animal health, and improved digestibility, etc.;

*    facilitating the transfer of technologies that reduce environmental damage such as: integrated programmes for tick and tsetse control, balanced nutrition to reduce methane emissions and recycling of crop residues, by-products (crop and animal) and waste;

*    facilitating the transfer of technologies that improve processing and enhance "value added" both on and off-farm;

*    assistance in preparing training and extension material, and training of trainers; and

*    institutional development notably in livestock marketing, processing and the efficient provision of input and services, as well as promotion of producer associations.

28.There is no clear cut-off point between normative and operational activities which is represented more by a continuum between the two. The balance between normative and operational activities across the three existing "systems" sub-programmes consequently will vary. Normative activities will be more important in the landless systems, especially as production systems become increasingly commercial and independent, and in the very extensive systems where monitoring will be a major activity. Operational activities will largely focus on production systems in transition and particularly the mixed farming systems. Assisting livestock keepers make the first steps to increase productionefficiency - to get them on the development pathway - and to break out of subsistence-orientated systems will be an important operational activity.

(ii)Livestock Production Systems - Development Thrusts

29.To achieve its objectives the Livestock Production Systems sub-programmes' activities need to be further refined and focused into a series of prioritized Development Thrusts. Members are primarily concerned with the provision of "public goods and services" and the Thrusts would reflect those where livestock make a contribution, i.e. food production; poverty alleviation; resource conservation; and public health. Each Development Thrust will be inter-disciplinary and task- orientated and will draw on expertise and skills both from within the Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) and elsewhere in the Organization, notably AGP (Plant Production and Protection Division), AGS (Agriculture Support Systems Division), TCA (Policy Assistance Division), and SDR (Research, Extension and Training Division), as well as the relevant departmental groups and the branches or units at decentralized locations. Each Thrust will have a Thrust Manager and will consist of one or more specific projects each with its own set of objectives, rationale, activities, benefits and a specific timeframe.

30.The project approach will allow for more specific targeting on a particular issue; agro-ecological zone or area(s) of crucial concern. Project Leaders would be responsible for ensuring the agreed workplans are effectively undertaken.

31.The Thrusts would cut across and complement the existing livestock systems sub-programmes and link normative and operational activities under a common set of objectives. It is also envisaged that some specific projects would be well placed to attract extra-budgetary funding where they meet the particular priorities and interests of the major international donors.

32.The Committee's guidance is sought on the indicative proposals for both Thrusts and Projects outlined in Table 5 and how these will align with members' own objectives.

Table 5. Proposed Development Thrusts and Projects for Livestock Production Systems Development


33.The Committee on Agriculture is asked to assess the recent trends in global animal production and their relevance in orientating FAO's programme to assist members in the sustainable exploitation of their livestock related resources.

34.The Committee's advice is sought on the proposed focus, priorities and direction of FAO's programme for livestock production systems and, especially, the concept of prioritized Development Thrusts encompassing more specific activities undertaken within a project framework.




(1) World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision, Population Division, United Nations, New York, October 1996.

(2) 75th Session of the Programme Committee, September 1996.

(3) The Role of Ruminants in Food Security in Developing Countries, Committee on World Food Security, 17th Session, 1992.

(4) Livestock - A Driving Force for Food Security and Sustainable Development. AGA, September 1994.

(5) Pig and poultry.

(6) Central and Southern America.

(7) World Livestock Production Systems, Seré and Steinfeld, FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 127, 1996.

(8) TLU = Tropical Livestock Unit.

(9) Decreasing Complexity.

(10) Eastern and central highlands of Africa, Java, Nepal.