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A changing world
The role of livestock in this changing world
The implications for global natural resources

A changing world

A changing world

ONE OF THE great challenges facing the world over the next decades is to preserve its natural resources while at the same time producing sufficient food to satisfy the demands of a growing human population. World population is expected to grow from 5.5 billion now to about 8 billion in the year 2020. Incomes also continue to grow, especially in the developing world and future projections estimate an annual per capita income growth ranging from about 3 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America to about 6 percent in Asia. Furthermore, there is a strong population move from the rural to the urban areas, again primarily in the developing world. By the year 2000, approximately 44 percent of the world's population is expected to reside in urban areas, up from 30 percent in 1980 (IFPRI, 1995). These trends will have immense consequences on the volume and composition of global food demand, especially in the developing world. Specialists of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimate that the current demand of 1.7 billion tons of cereals and 206 million tons of meat, may rise by the year 2020 to 2.5 to 2.8 billion tons of cereals and at least 275 to 310 million tons of meat.

At the same time, alarming symptoms of deterioration of the resource base are being observed world-wide:

Land degradation. Although there is substantial discussion on the extent of the problem, between 700 million (Oldeman et al., 1991) and three billion hectares of land (Dregne et al., 1991) are reported degraded because of human activities.

Water scarcity and pollution. Twenty-two countries suffer severe water scarcity (less than 1000 cubic metres per capita per year) and a further eighteen countries have dangerously low levels (less than 2000 cubic metres per capita per year) (World Bank, 1992). In addition, much of the global fresh water supply is unsafe because of pathogens and industrial pollutants.

Global warming. Global temperatures have risen by 0.3 C to 0.6C over the last century, together with a 26 percent increase in carbon dioxide and 115 percent rise in methane levels of the atmosphere (World Bank, 1992). A further increase of the global temperature by 1.8C is foreseen over the next 35 years (International Panel on Climate Change, 1990).

Diminishing biodiversity. About 160 bird and 100 mammalian species are known to have become extinct over the last three centuries and the rate of extinction is increasing (World Bank, 1992). The rate of losses in other animal and plant species may be higher. McNeely et al., (1990) estimates that more than 3,000 plant species and more than 500 animal species are in immediate danger of extinction.

The role of livestock in this changing world

The way livestock are kept and milk and meat is produced will be a key factor in the future health of the planet. Animal agriculture is one of the most important components of global agriculture and livestock is one of the main users of the natural resource base:

• livestock use 3.4 billion hectares of grazing land (Sere and Steinfeld, 1996) and the production from about one-quarter of the world's croplands. In total, livestock make use of more than two-thirds of the world's surface under agriculture, and one-third of the total global land area;

• livestock raising is the sole source of livelihood for at least 20 million pastoral families, and an important, often the main, source of income for at least 200 million smallholder farmer families in Asia, Africa and Latin America;

• livestock provide the power to cultivate at least 320 million hectares of land (FAO, 1994), or one-quarter of the total global cropped area. This would otherwise would have to be cultivated by hand tools resulting in harsh drudgery, especially for women, or by tractor power with an inevitable drain on foreign exchange;

• livestock provide the plant nutrients for large areas of cropland. For example, estimates carried out under this study (Jensen and de Wit, 1996) showed that, for the tropical irrigated areas, manure provides nutrients of an estimated value of US$ 800 million per year;

• finally, livestock are an important asset for investment and insurance for hundreds of millions of rural poor, in situations where banks are often too remote and the banking systems too unreliable for safeguarding any savings a smallholder might accumulate.

Table 1.1: Regional consumption levels of meat and milk (kg capita/year, 1990).

Source: FAO, 1995.

Table 1.2: Regional growth estimates (5) of demand for meat & cereals over the period 1990-2020.





60- 93











Latin America



West Asia & North Africa



Rest of Asia



Source: IFPRI, 1995.

The importance of livestock production can be expected to increase over the next decades. While, in the industrial world, demand for meat and milk will probably plateau, or even decline, in the developing world, income growth and urbanization will fuel a strong increase in demand. Current levels of meat and milk consumption in the developing world are only about one-fifth of those in the industrial world (Table 1.1). The surge in demand from present levels of 206 million tons to 275-310 million tons or more per year by 2020, will be especially strong in Asia and Africa where the demand for meat is expected to triple (Table 1.2).

The implications for global natural resources

The challenge will be to satisfy this substantial rise in demand for livestock products at a technological level which the natural resource base can sustain. The pressure will be heavy. Agriculture, including livestock production, already contributes, to a greater or lesser extent, to the degradation and erosion of these resources. Livestock production may specifically contribute to land degradation, the decline and pollution of water resources, the emission of greenhouse gases and the erosion of biodiversity. However, as this paper demonstrates, the negative role attributed to livestock is frequently a result of other pressures and distorted policies. These pressures and distortions should be addressed.

With good management, livestock production can also make a positive contribution to the natural resource base by enhancing soil quality, increasing plant and animal biodiversity and substituting for scarce, nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels. Wherever possible these win-win (economically and environmentally attractive) scenarios should be promoted, and policies and technologies which do so should be identified. However, as the expected increase in demand referred to above is to be met, it is likely that negative effects of livestock production will continue to emerge. The challenge is thus to identify policies and technologies which mitigate any negative environmental impact but which, at the same time, satisfy the considerable demand for livestock products.

This document takes up the challenge. To maintain a strong focus, it will deal only with some of the socio-ethical issues related to production and livestock products as they affect the natural resource base (Box 1.1).

The document will first provide the analytical framework for this study, by briefly presenting a classification of the main production systems as the key building blocks for understanding livestock-environment interactions. The different potential growth patterns of these production systems will then be analyzed and their environmental impact summarized. Subsequently the organizing principles for the analysis will be described. The major part of this document will consist of an assessment of the main environmental challenges presented by each production system and by those factors which cut across production systems, such as the cultivation of livestock feeds, domestic animal resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and processing waste. Finally, the main conclusions will be presented, and major constraints to their application ("the policy void") described.

Box 1.1 Document framework.

THIS DOCUMENT focuses on livestock-environment interactions. In doing so, it deliberately omits a number of issues related to the subject from the discussion:

Concern for animal welfare. Often strongly reflected in a parallel concern for the natural resource base, this issue involves, however, a completely different set of standards and mitigating measures and is therefore outside the scope of this paper.

Indigenous knowledge. This is often regarded as an environmental resource. In this study, although it is used extensively in the search for more sustainable systems, especially in the marginal areas, it is not reviewed as an environmental resource in its own right. This is because the institutional and policy framework to preserve such knowledge was considered outside the scope of this paper.

Consumption levels of animal products. For the majority of the global population, particularly in the developing countries, animal products are, and will remain, desired foods because of their taste and nutritional value. Respecting this, and the developing needs of the majority of countries, this study does not adopt an ego-centric approach but takes an anthropocentric approach to development and to the use and preservation of the environment. For the industrialized world, where consumption of meat and other livestock products causes medical problems such as cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, attention is given to education to reduce consumption as one option of mitigating the negative aspects of livestock production.

The implications for global natural resources

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