This brief reviews opportunities and challenges related to livestock’s potential to contribute to agroecological transition, focusing on four main themes, which rely on different elements of agroecology: supporting better livelihoods and creating added value; conserving and using diversity; recycling for better efficiency and finally climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Livestock are found in all regions of the world and supply a wide range of products and services such as meat, milk, eggs, fibre, hides and skins, natural fertilizers, fuel, transport and drought power. They are kept by more than half of rural households and are essential to livelihoods, nutrition and food security. If managed sustainably, they can contribute to important ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, soil carbon sequestration and the conservation of agricultural landscapes. They can also improve livelihoods and incomes.
However, the rapid development of the livestock sector in response to growing demand has given rise to a number of risks. Most of this development has taken place in large-scale and intensive systems, with relatively little contribution from small-scale producers or pastoralists. Intensive systems account for about 60 percent of global pork or chicken meat, although they still provide less than 15 percent of beef or milk production. Concerns are also growing over the impact of the livestock sector on the climate and the environment, the role of livestock in global food security and nutrition, as well as in sustainable and healthy diets, animal health and particularly the impact of zoonotic diseases on public health, and animal welfare.
Many means of addressing these risks involve optimizing interactions between animals, plants, humans and the environment and hence are relevant to agroecology, an approach based on applying ecological concepts and principles to agriculture while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for sustainable and fair food systems. From pastoralists to small-scale crop-livestock farmers, many livestock keepers already practice agroecology. But the transition will be more challenging for some production systems than others.