What Works: Improving Food Production from Livestock

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By Matt Styslinger

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Demand for animal foods in developing countries is projected to double over the next 20 years (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

For most poor people in the world meat is a luxury—the average person in the developing world eats just over 30 kilograms of meat a year. But with global population expected to reach over nine billion by 2050 and demand for animal foods in developing countries projected to double over the next 20 years, livestock production is becoming agriculture’s most economically important subsector. Meeting protein demands, while also adapting to climate change, will require livestock keepers to come up with creative, sustainable ways to adapt their production practices.

The development of teams of community-based animal health workers is a promising innovation in many poor livestock-keeping communities. Vaccines that allow disease control officers to “differentiate infected from vaccinated animals”—known as DIVA vaccines—and traditional knowledge has improved disease surveillance. Somali and Maasai herders in East Africa, for example, are accurately recognizing symptoms of Rift Valley fever, such as high abortion rates.

Herders in Kenya’s arid north can now purchase insurance policies for their livestock, based on a new program that anticipates—through satellite imagery of grass and other vegetation—whether drought will put their animals at risk of starvation. Payments to livestock herders and others for environmental services—such as maintaining populations of wild animals and other forms of biodiversity or storing carbon—represent major opportunities to help poor households diversify their livelihoods and increase their income.

Innovations in the use of feed are helping farmers raise livestock more sustainably. Feed blocks made from crop residues and agro-industrial byproducts are becoming more widely available among poor farmers in Africa. In India, farmers are trying improving the quality of their feed—by using grass, sorghum stover, and bran, for example—to produce more milk with fewer animals.

These are just a few of the ways that livestock keepers are innovating to sustainably adapt to rapid changes in demand, climate, and resource availability. Many more innovations are out there. Do you know of any initiatives that are helping to improve food production from livestock?

Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email me at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

To read more about ‘What Works,’ see: What Works: Feeding Cities, What works: Connecting Farmers to Market, For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?, and For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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