Sustainable livestock development in low- and middle-income countries: shedding light on evidence-based solutions
The livestock sector and its environmental impacts have been a subject of growing global concern, reflected in intensive public and scientific discussions. Since the publication of ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in 2006, livestock has been universally criticized for its large contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use change, soil degradation, water use and loss of biodiversity (Steinfeld et al 2006, Herrero et al 2015, Hilborn et al 2018). Widely publicized recent reports, such as the EAT-Lancet report (Willett et al 2019), prompted a wave of media outreach arguing that one of the main solutions to the climate change and human health crises, globally, is to eat no or little animal source foods (ASFs).
Global media continues to be dominated by concerns about adverse environmental and health impacts of livestock, while the coverage of livestock’s contribution to livelihoods has been declining (Marchmont Communications 2019). These negative narratives, mostly rooted in industrial livestock production systems and overconsumption of ASF in Western countries, overshadow the various complex and often positive roles livestock plays in low- and middle income countries (LMICs) in Africa, South America and South(-East) Asia. A singular focus on livestock associated environmental impacts ignores livestock’s crucial livelihood functions in smallholder systems such as nutrition, income, asset provision, insurance, and nutrient cycling (Herrero et al 2013a). Institutions such as the FAO have been working towards higher awareness of the contributions of the livestock sector to the sustainable development goals, including economic growth, poverty reduction, ending malnutrition, gender equality and ecosystem service provision (FAO 2018). For example, the cereal-based diets of poor people in LMICs regularly lack bioavailable (micro)nutrients, which are highly concentrated in livestock products. Vulnerable groups in LMICs, such as pregnant and lactating women, and children, would benefit from more, and not less, ASF consumption to improve physical and cognitive health, and reduce stunting (Gupta 2016, Adesogan et al 2020, Shapiro et al 2019). In this perspective paper, we present results from novel analysis that demonstrate the urgent need for LMIC-specific evidence on livestock and the environment to inform a more nuanced global discussion and decision-making supporting sustainable livestock development.
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