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close this bookLivestock to 2020 - The Next Food Revolution. 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment. Discussion Paper 28. (IFPRI, 1999, 79 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the document1. The Livestock Revolution
View the document2. Recent Transformation of Livestock Food Demand
View the document3. Accompanying Transformation of Livestock Supply
View the document4. Projections of Future Demand and Supply to 2020
View the document5. Implications of the Livestock Revolution for World Trade and Food Prices
View the document6. Nutrition, Food Security, and Poverty Alleviation
View the document7. Environmental Sustainability
View the document8. Public Health
View the document9. Technology Needs and Prospects
View the document10. Taking Stock and Moving Forward
View the documentAppendix: Regional Classification of Countries Used in this Paper
View the documentReferences
View the documentRecent Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Discussion Papers

1. The Livestock Revolution

A revolution is taking place in global agriculture that has profound implications for our health, livelihoods, and environment. Population growth, urbanization, and income growth in developing countries are fueling a massive global increase in demand for food of animal origin. The resulting demand comes from changes in the diets of billions of people and could provide income growth opportunities for many rural poor. It is not inappropriate to use the term “Livestock Revolution” to describe the course of these events in world agriculture over the next 20 years. Like the well-known Green Revolution, the label is a simple and convenient expression that summarizes a complex series of interrelated processes and outcomes in production, consumption, and economic growth. As in the case of cereals, the stakes for the poor in developing countries are enormous. And not unlike the Green Revolution, the “revolutionary” aspect comes from the participation of developing countries on a large scale in transformations that had previously occurred mostly in the temperate zones of developed countries. But the two revolutions differ in one fundamental respect: the Green Revolution was supply-driven, whereas the Livestock Revolution is driven by demand.

The Livestock Revolution will stretch the capacity of existing production and distribution systems and exacerbate environmental and public health problems. Governments and industry must prepare for this continuing transformation with long-run policies and investments that will satisfy consumer demand, improve nutrition, direct income growth opportunities to those who need them most, and alleviate environmental and public health stress.

The 23 percent of the world’s population living in developed countries presently consume three to four times the meat and fish and five to six times the milk per capita as those in developing countries 1 (Delgado, Courbois, and Rosegrant 1998). But massive annual increases in the aggregate consumption of animal products are occurring in developing countries. From the early 1970s to the mid 1990s, consumption of meat in developing countries grew by 70 million metric tons, whereas consumption in developed countries grew by only 26 million metric tons (Table 1).2 In value and caloric terms, meat consumption in developing countries increased by more than three times the increases in developed countries. Milk consumption in the developing world increased by more than twice as much as milk consumption in the developed world in terms of quantity, money value, and calories.

1 Fish consumption and production are also undergoing revolutionary changes, but this is outside the scope of the current paper. Interested readers are referred to Williams (1996) and Westlund (1995).

2 All tons are metric tons in this report.

Even more revealing is the comparison between developing-country increases in meat, milk, and fish consumption during the 1971-95 period with the increase in cereal consumption (Table 1). The period spans the well known Green Revolution, when seed-fertilizer innovations in cereal production dramatically increased wheat, rice, and maize output in developing countries, making more food available and increasing farm incomes. But during the same period there was also a dramatic, if often overlooked, rise in consumption of animal-origin food products in developing countries. On a quantity basis, the additional meat, milk, and fish consumed between 1971 and 1995 in developing countries was two-thirds as important as the increase in wheat, rice, and maize consumed (Table 1). The Green Revolution provided many more calories than the coinciding increase in meat consumption, but the additional meat consumed was worth almost three times the increase in cereal consumption at constant world prices.

Table 1 - Increase in food consumption of meat, milk, fish, and major cereals, 1971-95

Consumption increase

Value of consumption increase a

Caloric value of consumption increase








(million metric tons)

(billion 1990 US$)

(trillion kilocalories)

Meat b














Fish c







Major cereals d








The changes in quantities and in calories are from FAO 1998. Money values are computed for the disaggregated commodities (shown in the notes below) using the 1990-92 average price. The commodity prices used for beef, sheep and goat meat, pork, poultry, wheat, rice, and maize are detailed in Table 28. Disaggregated fish prices are 1990-92 average import unit values calculated from FAO (1998) import data. Developed-country import unit values are used for developed-country consumption and developing-country import unit values are used for developing-country consumption.

Notes: Calculations represent aggregate changes between three-year averages centered on 1971 and 1995.

a Calculated using 1990 world prices expressed in constant, average 1990-92 US$.

b Beef, sheep and goat meat, pork, and poultry.

c Marine and freshwater finfish, cephalopods, crustaceans, molluscs, and other marine fish.

d Wheat, rice, and maize used directly as human food.

Furthermore, if the consumption patterns in developed countries are an indication of where developing countries are going, future growth in cereal consumption as food is likely to be much smaller than that in meat. During 1971-95 additional consumption of meat, milk, and fish in the developed countries was much larger than that of cereal in terms of weight and value. In developing countries many people will soon be reaching satiation in their consumption of cereals, while meat and milk consumption is likely to continue to grow even more robustly into the next century.

Not surprisingly, major transformations of the magnitude of the Livestock Revolution are not without problems. Although domesticated animals have been a source of human food, clothing, tools, transportation, and farm power since prehistoric times, the current rapid changes in demand for animal foods in developing countries are putting unprecedented stress on the resources used in livestock production. The combination of higher demand, more people, and less space is rapidly leading to a global transformation of the livestock sector, from one that mobilizes surplus and waste resources (backyard slops, remote pastures, and grasses indigestible by humans) to one that actively seeks new resources for the production of animal food products (Steinfeld, de Haan, and Blackburn 1997).

The recent rapid expansion of livestock food production in developing countries resulted primarily from increased numbers of animals rather than higher carcass weight per animal. In developing countries this has contributed to large concentrations of animals in urban environments where the regulatory framework governing livestock production is weak (for example, Addis Ababa, Beijing, Lima, and Mumbai). Larger concentrations of animals have also led to degradation of rural grazing areas and the clearing of forest. Growing concentrations of animals and people in the major cities of developing countries also lead to rapid increases in the incidence of zoonotic diseases, such as salmonella, E-coli, and avian flu, which can only be dealt with through enforcement of zoning and health regulations.

Other public health issues raised by the Livestock Revolution are also of major importance. The intensification of livestock production is leading in many parts of the world to a build-up of pesticides and antibiotics in the food chain. Furthermore, as the scale of output increases, especially in the tropics, food safety risks from microbial contamination are becoming more prevalent.

Overconsumption of animal food products raises another concern. A growing consciousness of the dangers of large amounts of saturated animal fats in diets exists in most developed countries. Some experts have concluded that policies should prevent a similar over-consumption in developing countries by discouraging public investment in livestock production (Brown and Kane 1994; Geissler forthcoming; Goodland 1997; Pimentel 1997).

Increasing livestock consumption may also affect cereal prices. Because ruminant livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats consume grain, and monogastric livestock such as pigs and poultry depend on grain in the industrial production systems of developed countries, some analysts argue that the high demand for livestock products in developed countries and rapidly increasing demand and production in developing countries deplete the grain available for direct consumption by people.

Livestock production and consumption have proponents as well. Livestock production is an especially important source of income for the rural poor in developing countries. It enables poor and landless farmers to earn income using public, common-property resources such as open range-land. Livestock consume many crop by-products that would otherwise become waste, they often can be raised on land that has no other sustainable agricultural use, and they can employ labor during periods of slack in other agricultural activities. Poor women in particular often rely on the cash income from a dairy cow or a few chickens kept in the household. As livestock consumption increases there is considerable interest in how the poor can retain their market share of livestock production.

Livestock products are an appealing and convenient nutrient source. Protein and micronutrient deficiencies remain widespread in developing countries because people subsist on diets that are almost entirely made up of starchy staples. The addition of milk and meat provides protein, calcium, vitamins, and other nutrients that go lacking in diets that are exclusively made up of staples such as cereals.

Besides providing food, the driving force behind increased livestock production, livestock have other valuable uses. Livestock remain the most important if not the sole form of nonhuman power available to poor farmers in much of the developing world. The poor, in particular, use fertilizer from livestock operations, especially when rising petroleum prices make chemical fertilizers unaffordable. Livestock also store value and provide insurance for people who have no other financial markets available to them. Skins, wool, oil, and other resources are used as inputs in other industries.

This report will examine in detail the interrelationships over time between supply and demand for livestock and feedgrain, using IFPRI’s IMPACT model. 3 It will investigate the plausibility of the projected demand increases for livestock products and the implications of these increases for world markets in feed, milk, and meat. The paper will argue that world grain markets currently have sufficient capacity to handle the additional demand for feed coming from increasing livestock production, even under a variety of different scenarios for technological development and global economic performance.

3 The model was developed by Rosegrant and colleagues (Rosegrant, Agcaoili-Sombilla, and Perez 1995; Rosegrant et al. 1997; Rosegrant, Leach, and Gerpacio 1998; and Rosegrant and Ringler 1998). It is global in nature and balances supply and demand within agriculture with market-clearing prices for major agricultural commodities, including livestock products and feed. Starting with exogenously specified trends in national incomes for 37 country groups, the model traces food demand, feed demand, and supply levels for 18 commodities, iterating to market-clearing prices for major commodities annually through 2020. The results are based on a large number of parameter assumptions taken from the literature, including assumptions about the openness to trade.

The model is useful for illustrating how demand-led shocks in Asia, for example, work themselves out in markets around the world. It also illustrates that in systems of interlinked global markets for livestock products and feed, the net effect of price-mediated policy interventions can be quite different from what was envisaged.

The paper will argue further that the structural shift in developing-country diets toward animal proteins is a given that must be dealt with. It will review the evidence on the impact of livestock products on nutrition in developing countries and on the food demand and income growth of the poor. The industrialization of livestock production in developing countries can harm the welfare of the poor if other policies artificially reduce the cost of industrial turn-key operations and otherwise frustrate the participation of small farmers. The paper will suggest that understanding the opportunities and dangers of the Livestock Revolution is critical to designing policies that promote the incorporation of the rural poor into economically and environmentally sustainable growth patterns.

The rapid increase in demand for livestock products in developing countries presents crucially important policy dilemmas that must be resolved for the well-being of both rural and urban people in developing countries. These dilemmas involve complex environmental and public health issues in the context of weak regulatory environments. Taken together, the many opportunities and dangers of the Livestock Revolution suggest that it would be foolish for developing countries to adopt a laissez faire policy for livestock development. Many specific recommendations for concrete action are given in chapters ahead. The overall focus of the paper, however, is on the four broad pillars on which to base a desirable livestock development strategy for developing countries. These are (1) removing policy distortions that artificially magnify economies of scale in livestock production; (2) building participatory institutions of collective action for small-scale farmers that allow them to be vertically integrated with livestock processors and input suppliers; (3) creating the environment in which farmers will increase investment in ways to improve productivity in the livestock sector; and (4) promoting effective regulatory institutions to deal with the threat of environmental and health crises stemming from livestock.

Technological progress in the production, processing, and distribution of livestock products will be central to the positive outcome of the Livestock Revolution. Rapid advances in feed improvement and genetic and reproductive technologies offer scope for overcoming many of the technical problems posed by increased livestock production. Institutional and regulatory development will also be critical to securing desirable environmental and public health outcomes. In sum, the demand-driven Livestock Revolution is one of the largest structural shifts to ever affect food markets in developing countries and how it is handled is crucial for future growth prospects in developing country agriculture, for food security and the livelihoods of the rural poor, and for environmental sustainability.