Food security and livestock - Keys to poverty alleviation

Food availability and human population growth

More than a billion people around the world live in extreme poverty, and the number is rising. There have been marked increases in hunger and as of 2009, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 1.02 billion people are undernourished (FAO, 2009). Most of these people are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South and East Asia. Throughout the developing world poverty is linked to hunger and every other person in sub-Saharan Africa is considered poor, i.e., lives on less than one US dollar a day. It is estimated that 30% or more of children under 5 years of age are malnourished in many parts of this region (see

Availability of affordable food of livestock origin would contribute to alleviating this catastrophe. However, the challenge of adequately feeding people in the future is exacerbated by the fact that the global population increases by some 90 million people annually. This means that the world’s farmers will have to increase their production by 50% to feed about 2 billion more people in the next 35 years (Watson, 2001).

The increasing disparity between population growth and food production in sub-Saharan Africa is also illustrated in Figure 1 (CGIAR, 1999). Unless constraints to higher yields are overcomed, one-third of the population in this region will not have sufficient food by 2010.


Figure 1. Trends in human population growth and food production in sub-Saharan Africa.

Source: CGIAR (1999).

The overall objective of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations (UN, 2004) is to reduce the proportion of people who are extremely poor and hungry by 50% by 2015. Two of the specific MDGs targets are: i) child mortality rate to be reduced by two-thirds for children under 5 years of age; and ii) environmental sustainability should be ensured. However, according to the Progress Report of the MDGs (UN, 2004), the sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and western Asia regions still lag behind in terms of the set targets in most of the eight goals. The incidents of extreme poverty are still very high, universal education is behind and child mortality rates remain high with no significant changes taking place. In addition, HIV/AIDS is still ravaging many populations and environmental sustainability is declining. In each of the goals, development and sustainable use of livestock, especially if targeted to the poor, provides a pathway to achieving the goals (ILRI, 2003).

The per capita availability of food of animal origin is much lower in the developing than in the developed world (Table 1). However, it has improved in developing countries as a whole, but large discrepancies exist between regions. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa the per capita food supply decreased slightly between 1990 and 2003.

Table 1. Per capita daily supply of animal products in calories and gram protein for 1990 and 2003. Source: FAO (2002; 2009)







Protein (g)


Protein (g)

Developed world





Developing world





Sub-Saharan Africa





    The international food crisis in 2007–2008, caused by the competition between the use of agricultural products for food and fuel, underpinned by the international financial crisis, have further worsened the situation. A lowered intake of calories, and an even greater decrease in animal protein intake, has followed among poor people in sub-Saharan Africa. The demands for increased livestock productivity are further emphasized by the increase in human population size, urbanization and a general increase in demand for livestock sourced foods.

    The human population numbers in 1990, 2000 and 2008 for the different regions of the world are shown in Figure 2.


    Figure 2. The world human population in 1990, 2000 and 2008.
    Source: UN Population Division (2009).

    The meat and milk produced during the same period are shown in Figures 3 and 4 respectively. Africa and Asia have the largest population growth (Figure 2). The increases in meat (Figure 3) and milk (Figure 4) production, however, have occurred in the developing and not in the developed countries. For the two products, Asia had the highest increases (Figures 3 and 4).

    Figure 3.
    Total world meat production by region in 1990 and 2007.

    Source: FAO (2009).

    Figure 4.
    Total world milk production by region in 1990 and 2007.

    Source: FAO (2009).

    Enhanced food security is a key factor for poverty alleviation. The overwhelming challenge to improve the well-being of people in developing countries is therefore highly dependent on the realization of increased food production, and access to food of animal origin, in the coming decades. If the global population increase could be curtailed at the same time the level of increased food production required might decrease to something that may be more realistically attainable.

    Climate change affects food availability

    We are facing climate change and the demands for food have to be taken into concern. Expected changes would prompt food prices to increase due to a slowing expansion of global food supply relative to growth in global food demand (IPCC, 2001). It is feared that climate change would lower incomes of already vulnerable populations and increase the absolute number of people at risk of hunger. It is further anticipated that climate change, mainly through increased extremes and temporal/spatial shifts, will worsen food security, especially in Africa where the relative increase in food demand is greatest. Such considerations pose considerable challenges for development, food security and poverty alleviation and raise many questions (Nardone et al., 2008).

    The impacts of climate change on AnGR will have both indirect and direct consequences. The direct impacts on livestock will most probably be an increase in catastrophic events and weather changes such as increase in drought, floods and cyclones, epidemic diseases, productivity losses and physiological stress. Droughts and floods may cause epidemic diseases to appear more frequently, which might lead to the loss of local and rare breeds. The indirect impacts from the climate change will most probably cause a change in fodder quality and quantity, and in the interactions between the host animal and the pathogen. With an increase in temperature parasites and vectors might change. These types of disease pressure to the animals will favour genotypes that are resistant or tolerant.

    For countries in the tropics climate change may also mean that it will not be possible to produce enough of the grain and pasture necessary for the livestock. To solve this, livestock need to be adapted to be productive even under more harsh conditions. Less grain and pasture will lead to less human food and livestock feed. The challenges for livestock production are great. Livestock need to meet climate change and be genetically competitive even with the increased temperature and changes in flora. They also still need to meet the increased demand for food. Losses of large populations or breeds due to e.g. severe droughts emphasize the issues related to restocking of livestock, including choice of species and breeds, for future production.

    Animal genetic resources for improved food security

    A study by ILRI’s Livestock Policy Programme examined the food security and marketed surplus effects of intensified dairying in a peri-urban area of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a market-oriented dairy production system using supplementary feed and management technologies for increased production had been introduced for smallholders. Results show that women in households with access to crossbred cows earn nearly seven times more dairy income than women in households with local breed cows for the same division of work (Mohammed et al., 2002). The women with access to crossbred cows also have greater opportunities with the increased output and income. They consume on, average, 22% more milk and 30% more calories per day and can afford 36% higher food expenditures, leading to the intake of a more nutritious diet.

    In India, investment in research and extension in support of cross-breeding of cattle has yielded a return rate of 55% annually from the date of investment, with the primary beneficiaries being the livestock producers (Anjani-Kumar et al., 2003). For example, in Kerala State, 40 years of a dairy livestock-based development programme, in which a synthetic breed (Sunandini) was developed by crossing local cattle with different exotic dairy breeds (Brown Swiss, Friesian and Jersey), followed by stabilization of the crosses through selection within the crossbred population, has resulted in great success. For example, daily milk consumption per person increased from 20 g per day to 280 g per day, through an improved daily milk yield per cow from just more than 1 litre to 6-8 litres (Kerala Livestock Development Board, 2003) [CS1.40 by Chako]. The increased consumption of milk per person is reported to have had a significant positive effect on child nutrition and health, and to have had huge impacts on the livelihoods of the people.

    A community based dairy goat cross-breeding and animal health care programme in the Meru area of the Eastern highlands of Kenya demonstrated similar results (Ahuya et al., 2004, 2005) [CS 1.41by Ojango et al.]. Improved goat genotypes accompanied by improved husbandry practices were adopted by hitherto very poor farmers whose livelihood was well below one US dollar per head per day. Currently the same group, comprising of 3450 members, keeps improved goats each producing between 1.5 and 4 litres of milk per day. The group produces about 3500 litres of milk daily, and is processing and packaging some of this for sale. Besides the primary producers, goat milk and meat traders, and those employed along the production–to–consumption chains are also benefiting. Studies by Krishna et al. (2004), however, clearly indicate that loss of livestock assets through sales to pay for hospital bills for protracted sickness associated with HIV/AIDS and other diseases and costs associated with deaths may lead families to abject poverty. Ways out of poverty were consequently partly associated with the possession of livestock, starting with poultry and small ruminants, and at later stages with cattle. Similar results were obtained for rural communities in western Kenya (Kristjanson et al., 2004) and in different village types in Peru (Kristjanson et al., 2007).