Quick facts about the world’s livestock economy

A recent report reveals the world's dependence on livestock for food, economic security, trade, and inter-dependence with agriculture in both developed and developing countries 

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 11 July 2016
Small farms, often keeping only a few animals, produce up to 80 per cent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, says the report (Photo credit: iStock)__

  • In 2013, the livestock sector accounted for one-third of global agricultural gross production value.
  • Around 1.3 billion people depend on livestock for their livelihoods, among which are 600 million poor farmers. Rural households in African countries such as Niger, Madagascar, Malawi and Tanzania depend heavily on livestock, with 44-79 per cent of rural households keeping livestock in 2013.
  • In 2013, there were estimated to be 23 billion poultry birds, 1.6 billion cattle, 2 billion sheep and goats, and 1 billion pigs under livestock.
  • Livestock is the largest user of land resources. In 2013, permanent meadows and pastures accounted for 26 per cent of the global land area or almost 3.4 billion hectares. FAO estimates that between 33 and 40 per cent of global arable land is used to grow feed crops. Together, permanent meadows, pastures and land dedicated to the production of feed thus represent 80 per cent of total agricultural land.
  • At the global level, grass, which is mostly grown on land unsuitable for crops, represents 48 per cent of the biomass eaten by livestock, followed by grains (28 per cent of biomass consumed), and by occasional feeds and stovers (fibrous crop residues). However, in most developing countries, stovers are a key feed resource, comprising sometimes up to 50 per cent of the diet of ruminants.
  • Globally, the area devoted to maize and soybean—the dominant feed used in concentrated livestock diets—has risen by 56 million hectares over the first decade of the 21st century. Meanwhile, the area devoted to permanent meadows and pastures—typical of extensive livestock production—fell by 57 million hectares, with the use of animal feed crops such as hay and fodder falling as well.
  • At the global level, livestock accounts for an estimated 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, including all direct and indirect emissions along the production chain such as land-use change, feed production and transport.
  • Smallholder mixed farming systems combine livestock and crops on farm. They are found in all countries, but are most heavily concentrated in Asia and Africa. These small farms, often keeping only a few animals, produce up to 80 per cent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In real terms, world prices for all agricultural products are expected to decrease over the next decade. They are projected to decline from their 2014 levels, but remain above their pre-2007 levels. Poultry, widely considered to be affordable meat, with low fat content and few religious and cultural barriers, dominates meat consumption with an average annual growth rate of 2 per cent. It is expected to account for half of the additional meat consumed in 2024.
  • Skim milk powder is the most traded animal source food, with more than 50 per cent of total production currently exported.
  • Exports of livestock products are concentrated in fewer than ten countries and regions, in particular Australia and New Zealand (dairy and sheep), the EU (dairy and pork), United States of America (beef, poultry, pork and dairy products) and Brazil (beef and poultry). India is currently the country that exports the largest volumes of beef.
  • The dairy sector in India is a good example of a large number of smallholders contributing to milk supply for the surrounding urban markets. Milk production in India increased from 78 million tonnes in 1999 to 116 million tonnes in 2009, an increase of 49 per cent, with an average herd size (cows and buffaloes) of only 3.3 head.
  • In developing countries, on the other hand, mixed crop–livestock systems produce 65 per cent of beef, 75 per cent of milk and 55 per cent of lamb, the vast majority from smallholder systems. Mixed crop– livestock farming systems are crucial to contributing to the livelihood of almost 2 billion people in developing countries, half of whom are poor, and to global food security.
  • In 2010, about 34 per cent of world production of cereals (2.2 billion tonnes) went to feed. According to FAO, this proportion could reach nearly 50 per cent by 2050.
  • FAO projects meat production to increase by 76 per cent, from 258 million tonnes in 2005–2007 to 455 million tonnes in 2050, most of which will occur in developing countries.

This data has been sourced from a report titled "Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock?" by The High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE).

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