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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Farmer Support Programme, including Livestock, is running in 7 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.
The Livestock diary project began in Bangladesh while in South America Solidaridad tested the Rural Horizons Expert System for Livestock.
Solidaridad co-founded and became a board member of the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB). Additionally, Solidaridad launched the Livestock Farmer Support Programme.
Livestock became a full supply chain programme and the first International Programme Coordinator is appointed.
First Global Conference on Sustainable Beef. Solidaridad started its cooperation with Zandbergen, a major meat distributor.
Solidaridad engaged with the cattle sector. This later lead to the formation of the Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock (GTPS).
Solidaridad supported work on poverty alleviation by developing farming with small ruminants (goats).
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.
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."
Nico Roozen Executive Director Solidaridad Network
Blog: Ethical branding - overpromise and underdeliver?
In this month's blog, Solidaridad Executive Director Nico Roozen takes a look at the history and pitfalls of sustainability labels which he has been directly involved in over the past 30 years.
Largest rural settlement in Brazil benefits from crop diversification
In order to get first-hand experience of the local reality and enormous challenges that smallholders face in the production of sustainable commodities, Solidaridad hosted a field trip to Novo Repartim
Solidaridad works to close gender gap among farmers in Bangladesh
Female farmers in the Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) programme in Bangladesh are becoming examples of how gender inclusive approaches to sustainable agriculture can benefi
Solidaridad opens new office in Indonesia with Keling Kumang Group
“Borneo with no poverty” is the guiding vision behind Solidaridad’s cooperation and expansion in Indonesia.
Agribusiness takes the lead at African Landscapes Dialogue
Solidaridad hosted a discussion session on the role of agribusiness in landscapes during the African Landscape Dialogue (6-10 March 2017) in Addis Ababa.
Blog: Sustainable development demands gender inclusivity
Solidaridad has established a gender task force to ensure that inclusivity remains an effective component of its global sustainability programmes.