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FAO Agri-Environmental Indicators Update: Livestock Patterns

Rome, 24 April 2019 - FAO releases today the update 1961-2017 of the Agri-environmental Indicators domain: Livestock Patterns

The indicators in the FAOSTAT domain “Livestock Patterns” (FAO, 2019) offer insights into the relationships between livestock sector dynamics and the environment. For the period 1961-2017, the domain computes and disseminates animal stocks expressed in livestock units (LSU), a normalized form which allows for combining livestock numbers of different species, prepared following FAO Guidelines (2011). These statistics are the base for two indicators:

i)                    Share of livestock species to total stock (%); and

ii)                   Livestock units per agricultural land area (LSU ha-1).

Trends in these indicators at country, regional and global level help users to understand the dynamics in the use of land resources for livestock production and their environmental impact. In particular, the second indicator provides a proxy for livestock pressure on land—for example through grazing and trampling and manure excretion.

When expressed in absolute animal numbers, in 2017 there were nearly 1.5 billion heads of cattle and 1 billion heads of pigs; almost 23 billion of chicken birds and over 2 billion heads of sheep and goats. When normalized in LSU, the world total population of livestock was about 1.9 billion livestock units (in LSU: 970 million cattle; 240 million pigs; 230 million chickens; 220 million sheep and goats). In terms of the FAOSTAT indicator, more than half were cattle (52%); and similar contributions by pigs (13%); chickens (12%); sheep and goats 12%.  

Over the last two decades, i.e., compared to the year 2000 (Fig. 1), the contribution of cattle decreased slightly (-5%), consistently with an increase contribution of chickens (+35%) and goats (+ 18%). 

In 2017, Asia (0.46 LSU ha-1), the Americas (0.44 LSU ha-1) and Europe (0.4 LSU ha-1) had the highest regional density of overall livestock units per agricultural area, followed by Africa (0.28 LSU ha-1), and Oceania (0.12 LSU ha-1).

Over the same period, the highest average rates of livestock units per agricultural land area were computed for small countries with relatively high numbers of livestock and small agricultural areas, i.e., Singapore (40.7 LSU/ha), Brunei Darussalam (11.7 LSU/ha) and China, Hong Kong (10 LSU/ha). Netherlands and Malta were also high in density, for similar reasons (4 and 3.6 LSU/ha respectively). These high densities reflect food systems where animals are mostly reared in intensive production systems, with limited grazing and thus high imports of feed.

Global and regional trends in livestock density were computed over the entire time series since 1961 to present. The global average LSU value increased by almost 50% since the 1960s, compared to the current decade, i.e., from about 0.25 to 0.35 LSU ha-1.  It more than doubled in Africa, as a result of the largest and steady LSU increase (120%, i.e., from 0.1 to 0.25 LSU ha-1) over this period. Sustained growth was also seen for the Americas (40%, i.e., from 0.3 to 0.45 LSU ha-1), Asia (35%, i.e., from 0.35 to 0.45 LSU ha-1) and Oceania (20%, i.e., from 0.1 to 0.12 LSU ha-1). Conversely, Europe saw a sustained growth from the 1960s to the 1990s (+40%), in fact reaching the world’s highest density in the 1990s (i.e., above 0.5 LSU ha-1). Specific policy regulations implemented since the 1990s contributed to decrease livestock numbers significantly since then, to the current value of about 0.45 LSU ha-1, or -13% from the 1990’s.


Figure 1. Shares of total livestock units (in %) by species, in 2000 and 2017




Figure 2. Regional trends in livestock units per agricultural land area (averages 1961–1970; 1991–2000; and 2008–2017)


FAO, 2019. FAOSTAT Agri-environmental Indicators, Livestock Patterns domain, , downloaded Apr 19 2019.

FAO, 2011. Guidelines for the preparation of livestock sector reviews. Animal Production and Health Guidelines No. 5; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO]: Rome, 2011. Available at: