Billions of people across the world consume livestock products. Demand for meat, dairy and leather in developing countries will double over the coming decades. This offers millions of farmers an income and many more a nutritious diet.

Why? Transformative Potential

Livestock systems take up nearly 80% of all agricultural areas worldwide and are worth around $1.4 trillion. The sector employs 1.3 billion people globally and directly supports the livelihoods of 600 million poor smallholder farmers in the developing world.

  • Meat

    There is increasing demand for animal protein and, as a result, world meat consumption is set to double by 2050. Most meat comes from domesticated animals such as cattle, pigs and poultry as well as buffaloes, sheep and goats. In some regions camels, yaks, horses, ostriches and game animals are also eaten.

    Current global meat consumption stands at 238 million tonnes per year, with Americans consuming an average of 120 kilograms  per person per year and people in the UK around 85 kilograms per person per year. In the last 50 years, India has tripled its meat production  while China’s production has risen astronomically, growing 30 times.

    For millennia, poultry have supplied us with meat and eggs, cattle, sheep and goats have provided meat and milk. Pork is currently the most widely eaten meat in the world (36%), followed by poultry and beef (33% and 24%, respectively).

  • Leather & Fats

    Leather (read more about our leather programme) and animal fats are important by-products of livestock production. The leather industry uses hides and skins which would otherwise create an enormous waste disposal problem. On average we have at least four leather items on us at any one time, such as shoes, belts and wallets.

    Leather is used in a wide range of products from children's shoes to oil seals in aircraft. Annual global production is around 6 million tonnes with a market value over $50 billion.

    Butter is the best known animal fat with a high economic value. Tallow from cattle and lard from pigs have many uses, such as an ingredient in soap, as cooking fat and increasingly as biofuel. The importance of animal fats in the world of oils is diminishing, but it still represents 15% of the world oils markets. World production is around 25 million tonnes.

Challenges Damage to people & the environment

Population growth, urbanisation, and increasing incomes all lead to rapidly increasing for demand for beef, pork, and poultry. The changing livestock sector puts great stress on natural resources and the livelihoods of millions of farmers.

  • People

    Threats to food security & public health

    Increased competition for natural resources has led to the steady decrease of income a family can earn from animal husbandry in the developing world. While world demand is increasing, many farming families depending on livestock production see their access to proteins being reduced.

    Due to poor access to capital, limited disposable income as well as a lack of inputs and infrastructure, these families face almost insurmountable hurdles in their attempts to improve their meagre returns. Working conditions in the sector are harsh and slaughterhouses accidents are frequent.

    Increasing production at an industrial scale has put additional strain on the public health systems with more and frequent outbreaks of diseases like mad cow disease, avian flu and swine pest.

  • Environment

    Soil Degradation & Global Warming

    The production of livestock products requires enormous amounts of land and water. It is estimated that due to inadequate pasture management at least a 680 million hectares of soil have been degraded. Excessive livestock grazing has caused soil compaction, erosion, decreased soil fertility, and inhibited water infiltration and storage capacity.

    Livestock production is also a main source of global warming. The latest research indicates that approximately 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the livestock sector. Two thirds of these emissions can be linked to beef and dairy cattle.

    Less productive soils, combined with the demand for more products, has led to the opening up of new pasture areas. This has led to the clearing of forests, which in turn, increases greenhouse gas emissions even more.


  • In the project “Pollution prevention and efficient water use in the Kanpur Unnao leather cluster” in India and in the Green Tanning Initiative in Ethiopia, Solidaridad has kick-started promoting sustainability in the leather sector, in partnership with local stakeholders and global actors in the value chain.

  • 2016

    As a result of the Paris Climate Agreement, livestock sustainability is gaining more attention worldwide. One of the challenges is to combine climate-smart livestock production with a decent income for the millions that try to earn a living in livestock. Solidaridad’s experience from the eight livestock Farmer Support Programmes in seven countries provided a solid foundation for setting up new initiatives in 2016.

  • 2015

    The UN Climate Change Conference in November 2015 put the spotlight even more firmly on sustainability in the livestock sector, which is responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Within the industry, there is considerable potential to reduce emissions, particularly by low-yielding smallholder producers in the global South. There are social implications too, with more than 1.3 billion people around the world dependent for their livelihoods on livestock production.

  • 2014

    The Farmer Support Programme, including Livestock, is running in seven different countries: South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. Later this year it is expected the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB) will launch its principles and criteria for sustainable beef.

  • 2013

    The livestock dairy project began in Bangladesh while in South America Solidaridad tested a continual improvement self-assessment tool for livestock.

  • 2012

    Solidaridad co-founded and became a board member of the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB). Additionally, Solidaridad launched the Livestock Farmer Support Programme.

  • 2011

    Livestock became a full supply chain programme and the first International Programme Coordinator is appointed.

  • 2010

    First Global Conference on Sustainable Beef. Solidaridad started its cooperation with Zandbergen, a major meat distributor.

  • 2008

    Solidaridad engaged with the cattle sector. This later lead to the formation of the Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock (GTPS).

  • 1970's

    Solidaridad supported work on poverty alleviation by developing farming with small ruminants (goats).

Solution We bring people together

World livestock production is too important and too diverse for a one size fits all solution. The challenge is to find for each region a balance between food security, poverty, equity, environmental sustainability and economic development. Our work is to bring people together so solutions can be found, tested in the field, and shared worldwide.

  • Extending farmer horizons

    Efficient land management is key to sustainability in the livestock industry, and this begins with farmers. In cooperation with local partners, we work with farmers on best practices so they can sustainably produce the livestock required to feed the planet. Alleviating poverty is a key issue. We estimate that incomes for 400 small farmers can be increased by 20%.

    The Rural Horizons tool for livestock – together with regional farmers association Acrioeste in Brazil – has led to the establishment of three pilot farms. Also in Brazil, we partnered with the International Institute for Sustainability and the Instituto Centro de Vida in a project that encourages pasture intensification and land use mapping in order to increase productivity and thus reduce pressure on forests.

    Through the Farmer Support Programme, we support the families of Mata Azul in the Amazon region. The FSP has introduced a programme which adds high quality bulls to herds. Infrastructure will be improved by adding strategic corrals and weighing stations.

    Together with the National Meat Institute in Uruguay (INAC) we are setting up a programme to achieve a more sustainable supply chain in the country's beef sector. We will add elements to the GlobalGAP standard for Good Agricultural Practices, including animal welfare, greenhouse gas criteria, biodiversity and social aspects.

  • Global Partnerships

    Working with farmers and local partners is important to fostering sustainability at the farm level. Yet, in order to secure sustainability has a future, we also work with global organisations to provide holistic solutions to the challenges posed by livestock production.

    The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) aims to ensure the beef industry is profitable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible through knowledge and resource-sharing. As a founding member, we have worked on developing its governance structure as well as its "Principles and Criteria" for defining global sustainable beef released in 2015. 

    Since this roundtable is a multi-stakeholder initiative, we work closely with brands, retailers, the beef industry, and environmental organisations on issues such as animal care, food quality, and the environment to ensure holistic sustainability solutions.The GSRB is the only global forum dedicated to connecting local, regional and global initiatives.

    Investment in sustainability is also an important component in the livestock industry’s sustainability landscape. On the market side, COOP Denmark's Savannah Fund and Solidaridad's Farmer Support Programme jointly invest in improving beef production among communal livestock farmers in Namibia. COOP Denmark imports beef from Namibia under the Savannah brand of quality African products.

    "Proper pasture management plays a crucial role in maintaining productive land in several ecosystems. This is why fostering best practice and developing alternatives with committed partners is key to our new livestock projects."

    Executive Director Solidaridad Network

Impact Solution Oriented

The livestock programme is gearing up and Solidaridad is a welcome partner in many countries. Our solution-oriented approach and presence in Roundtables provides our partners with access to a broad network of value chain actors worldwide.

Want to know more

about Solidaridad's impact?

Join us Support our work

The livestock sector is under great pressure from NGOs to become more sustainable. Working with partners around the globe, we believe we can help make this crucial transition. Join us in promoting changes that matter to farming families, meat and dairy companies, and consumers of protein worldwide.


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  • Contact Information

    Gert van der Bijl

    International Programme Coordinator, Livestock

    't Goylaan 15, 3525 AA Utrecht, The Netherlands