Livestock &
Climate Resilience

20 innovations that demonstrate opportunities for climate adaptation through livestock

Livestock contribute to about 25 per cent of total agricultural GDP in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), and also support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of poor people, providing them with an important pathway out of poverty and insecurity. Meanwhile, livestock production is also threatened by climate change. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns all have a drastic impact on how livestock animals feed, produce, and reproduce.

This map showcases how livestock keepers around the world are adapting and becoming more resilient in the face of climate change. The map highlights the vast potential for promoting climate resilience that exists in livestock around the world. This includes livestock breeds that are more tolerant of heat or drought, climate-adapted livestock feeds and data-driven tools to help livestock keepers and governments anticipate extreme conditions.

This visualisation is a joint production of SEBI-Livestock, The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH), the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security (GAAFS) (all at the University of Edinburgh), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Nairobi, Kenya. These organisations are members of the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) Community.

Livestock data for decisions Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security - University of Edinburgh SEBI Livestock SEBI Livestock

Case Studies

Case studies

Goats in Northern Ethiopia feed on Ficus thonningii, a hardy and drought-tolerant tree species which replaces more costly feeds. Photo credit: M. Balehegn.
Tigray

Planting trees for greener livestock production in Ethiopia

As a result of repeated waves of droughts in the 1980s, many areas of northern Ethiopia experienced mass starvation, death, and migration.

Yet some villages not only managed to escape these ills but were also able to continue maintaining and rearing their livestock.

This was all thanks to a variety of Ficus thonningii – a drought-tolerant tree species that were traditionally only used as an ornamental tree when other trees had dried up, but which took on a new role during these periods of drought.

Farmers found that these tree species, when combined in a system with grazing livestock and forage, not only boosted the productivity of the livestock, but also helped to reduce drought and land degradation.

Researchers from Mekelle University have found that the practice, which originated out of the challenges of the 1980s, has now been adopted by more than 20,000 households in northern Ethiopia as of August 2017.

A farmer in Ethiopia plants Ficus thionningii cuttings, which will grow into nutritious and climate resilient feeds for livestock. Photo credit: M. Balehegn.

The use of these trees in systems combining trees, forage, and grazing livestock, also known as “silvopastoral” systems, reduced the amount of water used by livestock by up to 83% and also produced more forage biomass for the animals – meaning more nutritious milk and meat.

Through the planting of these trees, and their use alongside grazing livestock, Ethiopian farmers have not only managed to raise livestock that can feed and sustain their communities, but have done so while limiting impactful land and water use.

Researchers now plan to extend these systems across Ethiopia and the surrounding region.

  • Farmer knowledge
  • Feeds
  • Economy
  • Livelihoods
  • Environment
Mekelle University
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
  • International Foundation for Sciences
  • Ethiopia Ministry of Sciences and Technology
Mulubrhan Balehegn Gebremikael mu.gebremikael@ufl.edu
Farmers in the high altitude Peruvian Andes learn how to conserve high-quality forage, as a way to feed animals despite climatic changes. Photo credit: R. Garcia.
Cajamarca, Cusco, Puno

Livestock extension project to assist Andean dairy farmers to be resilient to climate change

From unpredictable rainfall, increasingly varied temperatures, and other climatic extremes, the smallholder farmers residing in the high-altitude territories of the Peruvian Andes are facing an intensifying set of challenges because of climate change.

For these farmers, climate change means growing feed and providing water for their animals, whose production, reproduction, and health are all negatively impacted by the accelerating changes in the climate in which they live.

However, the New Zealand Peru Dairy Support Project has shown that through the teaching and adoption of simple and low-cost husbandry practices, these farmers can not only weather the storm of climate change but can also achieve significant improvements in the productivity and profitability of their dairy animals.

Over a period of 30 months, the project team (mostly farmers) conducted some 760 extension events with more than 25,000 dairy farmers in total across the region participating.

Farmers in the Peruvian high Andes learn how to assess the body condition of livestock. The simple technique of body condition scoring is a key part of managing healthy dairy cows, and is part of an overall package of management techniques to help weather climate impacts. Photo credit: R. Cuadros.

By 2020, approximately 4000 farmers had adopted improved dairying practices, with most reporting improved net incomes as a result, helping to navigate the growing challenges around climate change.

Providing extension services also helped the farmers improve productivity and reduce the cost of production, mainly through reduced feed imports.

As the impact of climate change becomes more realized around the world, the provision of specialised knowledge and training for farmers (farmer to farmer extension) will become increasingly crucial in protecting production and livelihoods and reducing environmental footprint.

  • Productivity
  • Breeds
  • Farmer knowledge
  • The New Zealand Peru Dairy Support Project
  • The AgriBusiness Group
  • New Zealand Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation of Peru (MINAGRI)
Cesar Silvino Pinares Patino c.patino@cgiar.org
Mobile pastoralists in Spain are reclaiming traditional livestock pathways, which allow them to move their animals to graze. This mobility is key to resilience of pastoral communities. Photo credit: Asociación Trashumancia y Naturaleza.

Supporting traditional pastoralism for climate resilience in Spain

Mobile pastoralism has played an important part in Spain’s history, both producing a historically valuable commodity in merino wool, as well as sustainably producing meat and milk.

But in recent times, the migratory routes used by domestic herbivores have been threatened by urbanisation, industrialisation, and the expansion of roads and rail throughout much of the country.

Responding to these challenges, however, organizations funded by the Mava Foundation have managed to recover many of these traditional livestock pathways through encouraging their use by active livestock herds.

In doing so, researchers have highlighted the efficiency and resilience of mobile pastoralist practices, and how these practices can still play an important role in livestock farming today.

The benefits of these mobile pastoralist practices include a better capacity for adaptation and the ability to achieve high-quality food production in lands often considered to be marginal – all with reduced external inputs, ultimately benefitting the environment and contributing less to environmental degradation.

Recovering and encouraging mobile pastoralist practices has also shown itself to be a potential tool with which to fight rural depopulation – a challenge facing many European states.

Through its mobility, also, farmers can mitigate the consequences of climate change and changing temperatures by allowing their livestock to graze on different plants with different productivity patterns through different seasons – all year round.

Although a traditional practice, mobile pastoralism has a key role to play in responding to the accelerating impact of climate change in the future.

  • Environment
  • Livelihoods
  • Pastoralism
  • Mava Foundation
  • Spanish Foundation for Science
Nelore cattle graze on tree shrubs and forages in a silvopastoral system in Fazenda Monalisa, Maranhão, Brazil. These systems are helping reduce the negative impacts of beef production on deforestation and pasture degradation. Photo credit: RM Mauricio.
São Francisco do Brejão

Making greener beef through silvopastoral systems in Brazil

Climate change is a major threat to livestock systems around the world, threatening the viability of farmer’s livelihoods and their ability to put food on our tables.

The Amazon region, in particular, is suffering from the negative impacts of deforestation and pasture degradation.

Yet, it is also possible for the livestock sector to mitigate its contribution towards climate change, whilst building resilience to its impact.

In Brazil, researchers from the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) have attempted to bring together the production of beef and environmental conservation using a “silvopastoral” system, where livestock graze on forage in areas populated with trees.

Through the project, titled “Regenerative livestock based on silvopastoral systems,” the researchers found that biodiversity was enriched by an increasing species of flora that was present on the farm which, in turn, resulted in an increase amount of biomass to be consumed by grazing livestock, such as trees, shrubs, grasses and legumes.

Using these methods, the farm was also able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of beef, as well as contribute towards the conservation and restoration of forests, wetlands, and water sources.

The case study has shown that it is possible to harmonise cattle production with environmental conservation using silvopastoral systems, incorporating trees, shrubs, grasses and legumes forages into pasture lands.

This model could help to reduce both the problems of deforestation and pasture degradation, whilst contributing directly to enhanced food security during periods of insecurity brought on as a result of climate change.

  • Environment
Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) – Closing the efficiency gap action network
  • The Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - Brasil (CAPES)
  • National Council for Scientific and Technological Development – CNPq
  • The Foundation for Research Support of the State of Minas Gerais – FAPEMIG
  • AgriBenchmark
  • Thünen-Institut
Rogerio M Mauricio rogeriomauricio@ufsj.edu.br
Researchers are learning how pastoral communities are coping with climate change, for example following forage according to climate variability. Photo credit: M. Louhaichi (ICARDA).
Rajasthan

Mobile livestock to build climate resilience in India

For many communities in dry regions of the world, livestock rearing is an important pathway out of poverty and towards a sustainable and dependable livelihood.

However, global warming and the predicted changes in precipitation carry an ominous implication for sustainable agriculture, and in particular, threaten to make dry regions drier.

Mobile livestock practices can allow livestock keepers to move their animals in search of better forage and water resources during scarcity periods, allowing pastoralists not only to maintain their flocks but also to lead productive lives.

Pastoralists in Rajasthan, India, have long been adapting to changing climatic conditions. Photo: M. Louhaichi (ICARDA).

Researchers from the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) studying a community rearing livestock in western Rajasthan, India, found that the migration of livestock animals reduced the pressure of grazing in the herders’ home villages, contributing to less environmental degradation compared with sedentary livestock.

Likewise, the researchers also found that mobile livestock practices also allowed livestock farmers to follow forage according to climate variability, with this mobility and flexibility contributing to improved resilience in the face of an increasingly variable and unpredictable climate.

Despite the benefits associated with mobile livestock practices, the researchers found that there is a lack of understanding among different stakeholders of what “resilience” means in different livestock-based systems today, particularly those belonging to complex pastoral systems.

Ultimately, the researchers found that to strengthen the resilience of rangeland-based livestock production systems, more support needs to be given to land and natural resource management, the empowerment of women and youth, and improving livestock health and herd management.

  • Environment
  • Pastoralism
  • International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
  • CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
  • CAZRI- ICAR (Indian Government)
  • Oregon State University (USA)
Mounir Louhaichi M.Louhaichi@cgiar.org
Opuntia ficus indica fruits at Muchaqqer station, Jordan. These hardy plants can be a nutritious and climate-friendly supplement to livestock feed. Photo credit: M. Louhaichi & S. Hassan (ICARDA)

Cacti for livestock in world’s driest regions

Drylands comprise up to 44% of the world’s cultivated lands, and support 50 percent of the world’s livestock.

Despite that, animal productivity in these areas is often reduced due to scarcity of fodder and other critical nutrients which are needed for healthy and reproductive livestock.

Researchers from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and national partners have suggested that cactus can play a strategic role in both agricultural and economic development in these water-starved areas, helping to provide nutritious fodder for animals and benefitting the livelihoods and incomes of livestock farmers as well.

Sheep in Pakistan feed on sliced cactus pair mixed with straw. Photo credit: M. Islam (ICARDA).

Adding cactus to livestock feed has been shown to improve the production of meat and milk for cash earnings, while also helping to reduce the amount of groundwater used, because of the high water use efficiency of cactus.

By using cactus pears as fodder crops for livestock, often mixing it with different local products, livestock have continued to receive energy and vitamin rich green fodder even during feed scarcity periods, with cactus also helping to solve livestock water needs in dry areas.

The use of cactus as fodder crops has also helped mitigate the impact of climate change and built resilience for farmers – particularly economically – in the face of these challenges.

The success of cactus as a fodder crop has already seen its official adoption in some areas of the world. In India, cactus pear was included as a non-conventional fodder resource in the fodder production plan of six states.

  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Feeds
  • CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research, National Agricultural Research Center - Jordan (NARC)
  • Office l’Elevage et des Pâturages and INRAT (Tunisia)
  • Government of Odisha (India)
  • FAO-ICARDA Cactus network, University of Palermo (Italy)
Mounir Louhaichi M.Louhaichi@cgiar.org
Farming families and their animals in district Tando Allahyar, Sindh province, Pakistan. These famers are adopting strategies to boost the growth and survival of their sheep and goats. Photo credit: A. Kathio
Tando Allahyar, Chakwal, Bhakkar, Rajanpur, Badin, Tharparkar, Dadu

Efficient goats and sheep for climate resilience in Pakistan

Small ruminants, such as goats and sheep, are a vital part of Pakistan’s livestock sector, and are also of enormous religious significance and make major contributions towards cash income, meat, milk and fibre to smallholder families and the wider community.

However, the small ruminant sector faces significant challenges. A key challenge is the high levels of wastage, including high mortality and slow growth.

This significant inefficiency means that natural resources used to raise goats and sheep are wasted, and household incomes are made unstable, particularly when also facing the instability brought on by climate change.

Researchers from the Aik Saath (‘Together’) Small Ruminant Project are developing and testing improved production practices that boost the efficiency, growth, and opportunities in the small ruminant sector for smallholder farmers.

One strategy adopted involves new feeding strategies which make the most of locally available feeds, so as to boost the growth and survival of young small ruminants and prevent wastage.

Goat kids feed on wheat straw in an area reserved for young animals. This “creep feeding” method provides feed for kids only, and is helping increase young animal survival and growth. Photo credit: R. Kumar.

The project also aims to offer new ways for women, who are heavily involved in smallholder farms and the raising of livestock, to manage their workload and improve their prospects.

The project boosts the resilience for smallholder small ruminant farmers, by reducing the mortality of animals and ensuring that local feeds are used to promote animal survival and growth.

This also reduces the wasting of feeds, and using local feeds reduces transport requirements that would otherwise contribute to climate change.

  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Gender
  • Feeds
  • Data
  • Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne (Australia)
  • University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (Lahore, Pakistan)
  • Sindh Agricultural University
  • Sindh Livestock Department
  • Punjab Livestock Department
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
Angus Campbell a.campbell@unimelb.edu.au
Horro Sheep in Ethiopia, a common indigneous breed that are adapted hot arid environments. Photo credit: T. Gamachu.
Borana, Somali, Afar

Breeding climate resilient goats and sheep in Ethiopia

Livestock are central in promoting food security in countries which are facing increased uncertainty as a result of climate change.

Likewise, livestock provide 34 percent of the protein and essential micronutrients in vulnerable populations who raise livestock on marginal lands that are unsuitable for growing crops.

In particular, small ruminants like sheep and goats are better adapted to hotter environments when compared to cattle, and have a better ability to survive, produce, and reproduce in harsh climatic regions, particularly those experiencing climate change.

Researchers from the Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute have found that the Samburu pastoralist peoples in Maasai, Kenya and Afar, Ethiopia, are keeping more small ruminants than cattle because of their noted drought-tolerant characteristics.

For these pastoralists, climate change is a pressing threat, and one that challenges their very existence.

However, new breeding strategies could help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

In perennially hot and dry regions of Ethiopia, researchers have found that sheep and goats in these areas demonstrate far higher heat tolerance than breeds found in areas of the country with different climates.

Researchers hope to be able to tap into the genes of these animals which have developed over time, through natural selection, to boast a higher resilience to heat and water scarcity.

In doing so, breeding programs could be designed not just for Ethiopia, but across East Africa, with sheep and goats bred specifically to better deal with the impact of climate change.

  • Human Nutrition
  • Environment
  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Breeds
Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute
Habtamu Abera Goshu hmaassee@gmail.com
A farmer visits an elephant watchtower, built by the Corbett Foundation to help reduce human-wildlife- livestock conflict. This is one of many measures designed to reduce animal health risks in the areas around national parks. Photo: N. Pandey (The Corbett Foundation).
Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Kaziranga

Extending health training to Indian smallholder livestock keepers

For smallholder farmers, livestock are essential; an essential source of draught power, protein, income, and savings.

Yet challenges to animal health, particularly as a result of and combined with climate change, pose a clear risk to all of these benefits.

However, smallholder livestock keepers often live on the margins of society and do not often receive the resources or knowledge needed to help protect their animals and the natural environment.

Researchers from The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (Scotland) and The Corbett Foundation (India) have trained and resourced para-vets to train and deliver skills to more than 6000 smallholder livestock keepers in Madhya Pradesh and Assam states, India.

This training involved providing sustainable animal health knowledge, as well as increasing their awareness to prevailing health risks for livestock.

An educational poster shows techniques for better calf care in Assam. The project team works closely with local farmers and vets to identify animal health challenges and train them on suitable solutions. Poster by Andy Hopker, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh.

Healthier animals are not only more productive animals but can help farmers cultivate crops in a more timely fashion, allowing them to take advantage of better weather, building their resilience against the impact of climate change by harvesting faster and more efficiently, ensuring crops are not left to be destroyed by extreme weather events.

The project aims to expand to help deliver sustainable improvements to farming practices including using locally available materials, improving animal husbandry techniques, making efficient, climate friendly use of currently available natural resources, as well as methods to reduce CO2 emissions and protect biodiversity.

  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Animal health
  • The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
  • University of Edinburgh
  • The Corbett Foundation (India)
A man holds a goat kid in a fokontany of Beahitse commune, Ampanihy district, Madagascar. Livestock is helping communities in Southern Madagascar build resilience for the future impacts of climate change. Credit: LOL V37.
Androy, Atsimo Andrefana

Herd management for resilient livestock in Madagascar

Facing the world’s first climate change-induced famine, Madagascar has served as a warning for what could become a common sight in the future.

For many communities in the aftermath of a climate shock, livestock are one of the few resources left that can help vulnerable households to recover.

During severe drought periods, livestock like cattle and goats can easily adapt from consuming grasses to consuming cacti. Even when other feeds have dried, livestock are still able to convert natural resources, through feeding, to financial resources for their owners that can help them recover from shocks and disasters.

Through the Maharo program in Southern Madagascar, researchers from Land O’Lakes Venture37 aimed to improve the resilience of livestock, recognising that in times of climate crisis these animals are an invaluable and resilient resource for their owners.

A woman in Southern Madagascar feeds a batch of chickens and their offspring with maize. Credit: LOL V37.

Yet, researchers also found that livestock-owning households in southern Madagascar are exposed to over US$8 million in livestock mortality losses annually.

So, researchers undertook vaccination programs and parasite control, reducing mortality losses to vulnerable households from 18 percent down to 10 percent.

Village savings and loan associations were also extended to communities’ livestock purchases and livestock health purchases, contributing to a 20 percent increase in herd sizes during drought recovery periods, helping communities to bounce back.

The reduction of livestock mortality does not only bring an immediate benefit for livestock owners in the region, but also builds resilience for the future impact of climate change.

  • Productivity
  • Economy 
  • Feeds
Land O’Lakes Venture37
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • USAID
Young people with their ear tagged animals at Kolhapur. Unique ear tag numbers allow the Milk Union to record disease symptoms and treatments, allowing traceability of animal and animal products. Photo credit: NDDB.
Kolhapur

Better data to address climate change’s animal health risks

The poor health of livestock animals can have a dramatic impact far beyond one animal; it can also mean huge economic losses for farmers and insecure livelihoods.

The impact of climate change heralds even greater uncertainty for these farmers. Climate change can contribute to lower production and reproduction due to heat stress in cattle, and the occurrence of certain diseases, especially tick-borne diseases, can be higher under hot and humid conditions.

At the same time, throughout India, there is significant need for better reporting and documentation of animal diseases, as without better access to information, policymakers cannot formulate more effective programmes.

To address these challenges, India’s National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has developed the Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health (INAPH). This system helps to record activities on individual animals with regards to health, breeding, nutrition including milk recording, filling in previous major gaps.

Addressing these health challenges through better data and more informed decisions can also allow farmers to prepare for the worst impacts of climate change, which could yield more disease and general health risks to their animals.

Yet with a holistic set of data provided by the Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health, India’s dairy farmers can not only maintain production, but thrive, even under the pressures of climate change and its associated risks.

  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • One Health
  • Data
  • National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India
  • Kolhapur Milk Union
S K Rana skrana@nddb.coop
Women farmers in India feed balanced rations to their animals, allowing them withstand heat stress and produce more milk at less cost. Photo credit: NDDB.
Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh

Better rations help Indian dairy cows and buffaloes cut emissions

Many smallholder farmers in India are not aware of the exact nutrient requirements of their dairy animals, leading to animals being fed rations that are either in excess or deficient in energy, protein, minerals or vitamins.

An animal that is fed an imbalanced ration produces less milk than its potential at a higher cost, resulting in lower incomes for farmers, higher methane emissions per kilogram of milk and poor fertility.

To address this, and to improve the rations and productivity of livestock animals, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India designed and rolled-out the Ration Balancing Programme (RBP), which currently helps some 2.2 million farmers improve their livestock’s health and climate resilience.

Implemented through locally trained village-level service providers, the Programme helps milk producers to optimize the cost of their rations, achieve more production at less cost to farmers, and at less cost to the environment.

Farmers in India learn how to feed balanced rations to their animals. Photo credit: NDDB.

Through lower methane emissions per kilogram of milk produced and lower levels of water use, the Programme has helped to address livestock’s contribution to climate change.

Climate change can cause heat stress for livestock, but the Ration Balancing Programme can help design rations for livestock during the summer season to cope with the same. This can be done by altering the fodder:concentrate ratio to incorporate more green fodder and also include specific feed supplements that can reduce the metabolic effects of heat stress.

These optimized rations benefit the nutrition and health of livestock, helping to face an uncertain future on the best footing.

  • Productivity
  • Environment
National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India
  • Government of India
  • The World Bank
Dr. V Sridhar vsridhar@nddb.coop
KAZNET allows pastoralists to access up to date market data to help inform their day to day decisions. Photo credit: A. Kutu (ILRI)
North-Eastern Region

KAZNET: Information technology for resilient livestock producers in Kenya

For many smallholder livestock farmers in northern Kenya, the impact of climate change could prove catastrophic.

Pastoralist communities in Kenyan drylands already face regular, and severe, climatic shocks, which can cause significant fluctuations in the livestock market, cutting revenues for livestock farmers and hurting communities.

To navigate these challenges, which will only increase as a result of climate change, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have developed KAZNET.

KAZNET is a simple, low-cost system that can be used by farmers and other users to collect and deliver market information in remote locations through the use of simple formats, such as Short Message Systems SMS).

Through KAZNET, pastoralists can see the status of the livestock market operations, prices of livestock and unprocessed livestock products, trade volumes, and quality demands.

The KAZNET mobile app provides easy access to market data.

KAZNET is now working to help livestock keepers to navigate the uncertainties and fluctuations that are common in the northern Kenyan regions due to droughts and other climatic extremes. These events can often come without warning, leaving livelihoods and businesses in ruins.

Through the power of information and foresight that KAZNET provides, researchers aim to directly increase the income of households that are dependent on livestock by 50% by 2018, and lift an additional 60,000 out of poverty and improve their nutritional status.

  • Human Nutrition
  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Data
  • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • Government of Kenya State Department for Livestock under the Ministry of Agriculture
  • The United States Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative - Feed the Future
  • CGIAR Research Program for Livestock
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP)
By treating gastrointestinal parasitic diseases, the project supports the vital role of goats for building resilient livelihoods. Photo credit: C. Nyamukondiwa and H. Machekanoh (Botswana International University of Science and Technology).

Healthy goats to keep farmers resilient and productive

Small-scale farming systems in Africa are uniquely threatened by the impact of climate change.

However, heterogeneous small-scale farming systems are less susceptible to climate shocks, more resilient, and more capable of recovering quickly.

Researchers have found that supporting small-scale farmers to integrate livestock into their systems, and especially goats, could prove to be a game-changer.

Goats are well-placed to help build more resilient and diverse farming systems, particularly across Africa.

Goats have low nutrient and water requirements, high disease resistance and high heat tolerance, and are therefore valuable assets for smallholder and resource-poor farmers building livelihoods in marginal regions with increasingly unpredictable climates where crops face the risk of failing.

To support the vital role of goats for building resilient livelihoods for African smallholder farmers, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have targeted and treated gastrointestinal parasitic diseases, which are the main constraint of goat productivity throughout Africa.

Researchers treat these diseases through targeted selective treatment (TST) using a combination of locally available nutraceutical plants and pharmaceuticals, as opposed to whole herd pharmaceutical treatments that are either too expensive or unsustainable in their contribution to drug resistance.

Keeping goats has a number of benefits for the smallholder farmer. For the average farmer, a goat can mean credit, insurance, income, and consumption shock buffer, as well as providing a key to food security, adaptation in the face of changing climate and more.

With a focus currently on Malawi and Botswana, researchers hope to expand their operations across Africa.

  • Livestock
  • Gender
  • Human Nutrition
  • Productivity
  • Economy 
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • Rothamsted Research
  • Harper Adams University
  • Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Botswana International University of Science and Technology
  • University of Pretoria
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Global Challenges Research Fund
  • UK Research and Innovation
Jonathan Tinsley jtinsley03@qub.ac.uk
A Brahman type Malawi cow with a Jersey sired calf. By cross-breeding appropriate exotic genetics, the project aims to improve production, fertility and health traits in the smallholder dairy cattle population while retaining characteristics such as heat tolerance, disease resistance and small size that suit the smallholder farming system. Photo credit: RJA&HS.
Southern region

Farmer associations to strengthen dairy livelihoods in Malawi

Livestock and their derived products are crucial in building livelihoods and security for smallholder farmers across Africa.

Yet these benefits can be out of reach for many, particularly due to the instability and uncertainty caused by climate change.

Working through the Shire Highlands Milk Producers’ Association (SHMPA), which accounts for over 90% of milk produced nationally, the Malawi Dairy Growth Project is strengthening the livelihoods, and the resilience of these livelihoods, of smallholder dairy farmers in the Southern Region of Malawi.

Providing technical training and cattle health services for their members, SHMPA also provides farmers with a regular channel through which to sell their milk, and access to nutritious feed that is often lacking for smallholders. This ensures a consistency of income despite the uncertainty caused by climate shocks and economic downturns.

Researchers from the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society are also helping to build more resilient livelihoods through research into improved genetics for livestock animals, increasing milk productivity, health, and fertility, in tandem with training and farmer support.

Women, in particular, have received targeted support. The SHMPA’s Mkakazi (‘Milk Women’) loan scheme specifically provides in-calf heifers to vulnerable women-headed households along with training and equipment to establish themselves independently and to set them up for a resilient future.

  • Productivity
  • Economy 
  • Breeds
  • Feeds
  • Gender
  • Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society (RJA&HS)
  • Shire Highlands Milk Producers’ Association (SHMPA)
  • Pan Livestock Services at the Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit (VEERU) University of Reading
  • Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH)
  • UdderWise
Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA)
Farmers in their cowpea forage fields, which produce more animal feed even in times of drought. Photo credit: Justice Chinedu Nnyigide (Brooke).
Sokone, Mekhe, Louga, Diourbel, Region of Plateau Central, region of North-Central 

Feeding livestock cowpeas to boost climate change resilience

Droughts, floods, desertification and salinization are harming arable lands across West Africa. The culprit? Climate change.

With the majority of the population of both Burkina Faso (80 percent) and Senegal (75 percent) working in agriculture, the economies of both are heavily reliant on working livestock for the maintenance of good livelihoods.

However, poor harvests, as a result of challenges induced by climate change, have too often meant that animals have been left to forage for food themselves.

To resolve this, Brooke West Africa has worked with groups in these countries through its ‘Forage Crops’ project to diversify the crops farmers are growing, building their resilience against climate change and maintaining the important role of livestock in everyday life and agriculture.

Cowpeas, for instance, are a drought resilient crop that was identified as the best option to not only increase animal welfare, but also build climate change resilience for these communities. Cowpeas thrive with limited water and attention, which allows livestock owners to divert more resources to their animals.

Watch: Fodder Production, a success story (Mekhe, Senegal)

This has meant that owners have not only produced more crops with better fed animals, but owners’ incomes have also risen significantly, which can be spent on education, food, or provide more security in times of hardship.

The increase in harvests has been so encouraging that Brooke West Africa now aims to expand the project even further across Senegal and Burkina Faso.

  • Productivity
  • Economy
  • Feeds
Brooke West Africa
Chiara Soletti chiara.soletti@thebrooke.org
A farmer with his sheep in Ethiopia. Sheep fattening has been a way to maintain livelihoods and incomes despite variable weather. Photo credit: ILRI
Gudoberet, Tarmaber

Livestock pioneers leading the way in Ethiopian Highlands

Rising up to thousands of metres above sea level, the Ethiopian Highlands are traditionally an area of highly variable climates, ranging from cold spells and frost to high radiation.

Climate change has only added to this variability. The rainy seasons have become unpredictable, and the region is also experiencing significant changes in its frost events.

In the midst of these rapid and accelerating changes, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have highlighted the “pioneers of change” in the Ethiopian Highlands, who are leading the way in responding to these challenges in the high-altitude areas.

For these pioneers, the focus has increasingly been placed on sheep fattening for market sale.

With climate change causing the viability of traditional crops in the region to fail, such as beans, an increasing emphasis has been placed on more resilient and productive livestock, with new methods adapted to ensure that livelihoods and incomes are maintained.

The new methods adopted by these pioneers include zero grazing, improved feeding troughs, feed supplements, improved fodder crops and improved feed conservation.

Research has shown that sheep fattening is increasingly an important income source for these households and is coming to replace and compensate for the loss of income from bean crops.

These processes, led by livestock pioneers, improve the resilience of households in these regions facing great climate changes by maintaining a steady income that can continue to pay for school, household nutrition, or act as security against future challenges and shocks.

  • Environment
  • Breeds
  • Feeds
  • Management
  • Farmer Knowledge
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • GIZ
  • German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH
Birgit Habermann B.Habermann@cgiar.org
Transhumance pastoral migration in the Hindu Kush Region. The Regional Drought Monitoring and Outlook System can help pastoralists and governments better prepare for droughts. Photo credit: Faisal Mueen Qamar (ICIMOD).

Drought data gives farmers security against climate change

Drought is one of the most devastating natural hazards, destroying food production, depleting vital water resources, and causing losses to livestock and human health.

Facing the stress of climate change, the Hindu Kush and Himalayan region, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, are facing rising levels of drought and water scarcity, which can cause disaster for farmers and whole communities.

In this context, the Regional Drought Monitoring and Outlook System (RDMOS), launched by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), is providing reliable drought indicators – including levels of precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, and evapotranspiration – at 10-day intervals which can give near real-time monitoring of droughts, and the threats they carry, helping farmers and governments prepare in advance, and respond more effectively.

For many farmers, whilst they are knowledgeable of these risks, it can be difficult to perform their own individual analysis of the local climate and the threat of drought. The RDMOS provides these farmers and their governments with a valuable tool which can help prepare for outbreaks of drought, helping to build their resilience.

A map of rangeland drought vulnerability in Afghanistan during May 2021, generated by the Regional Drought Monitoring and Outlook System (RDMOS). The RDMOS provides farmers and their governments with a tool to prepare for drought outbreaks. Image credit: M.Sharif Jalalzai (ICIMOD).

The RDMOS has also helped inform the work of governments in responding to these rising challenges. Most recently, the General Directorate of Rangelands and Livestock Afghanistan used these drought data products to develop a response plan for the livestock sector in 2021.

Without data, projecting and responding to increasingly frequent and intense climate challenges can be exceedingly difficult.

With state-of-the-art drought modelling systems, however, farmers can ensure their livelihoods, and their futures, are protected.

  • Environment
  • Livelihoods
  • Data
  • Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL)
  • Pakistan Agriculture Research Council
  • Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council
  • Nepal Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development
  • International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
  • NASA-SERVIR
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Faisal Mueen Qamer Faisal.qamer@icimod.org
Ethiopian indigenous chickens are adapted to local agro-climatic conditions, which included extreme temperature, rainfall, water availability, and food. Photo credit: C. Hanotte (ILRI)
Kalu, Menz Gera Midir, Fagita Lekoma, South Achefer, Banja, Dugda, Dibate, Sahareti Samire, Dulecha, Merebleke, Jarso, Dibate, Dara, Horro, Enderta, Gondar Zuria

Indigenous Ethiopian chickens reveal adaptive genes for tropical environments

Climate change poses a unique set of risks for smallholder livestock keepers across Africa.

Changing temperatures, rainfall patterns, and the availability of food and water could all make keeping an animal – often seen as a key to financial independence and resilience for many smallholders – more difficult and uncertain.

However, scientists could breed livestock more resilient to, and capable of adapting to, the effects of climate change. The key? Indigenous livestock breeds.

Researchers from the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) and the Roslin Institute have found that indigenous Ethiopian chickens show unique adaptations to their harsh local tropical climatic conditions.

In their case study, researchers found that the genes of indigenous Ethiopian chickens adapted to local agro-climatic conditions, which included extreme temperature, rainfall, water availability, and food availability for foraging.

Researchers could harness this adaptability and, through breeding programmes, develop climate resilient and highly productive village poultry.In Ethiopia, for instance, backyard farming is essential. 97% of Ethiopian poultry meat and eggs come from such farming, which is often under the custody of women. Indigenous breeds, though less productive, are often preferred over more exotic breeds, which cannot withstand challenging local conditions.

Incorporating the adaptability of these breeds with high productivity would not only ensure improved livelihoods for these smallholder livestock keepers in the short term, it would also build the resilience of these communities for a future that is facing the pressing challenges of climate change.

  • Environment
  • Breeds
  • Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) and Roslin Institute - University of Edinburgh
  • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • University of Nottingham
  • Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute
  • Wageningen University
  • African Chicken Genetics Gains programme (ACGG)
  • CGIAR Research program on Livestock
  • CGIAR Trust Fund
  • UK Foreign
  • Commonwealth and Development Office
Cattle in Lhate Village Mozambique. New gene editing techniques could be used to make African cattle to less susceptible to heat stress, without losing any other beneficial traits these cattle have. Photo credit: Stevie Mann (ILRI).
Midlothian, Nairobi

Gene editing cows to withstand global warming

For many low- and medium-income countries livestock, such as cows, are a key asset for a sustainable and resilient livelihood.

Yet, many of these countries are situated in regions of the world which are facing the worst of climate change, exacerbating already difficult farming conditions.

Studies have shown that cows which live in environments where the ambient temperature is more than 25 degrees can suffer from heat stress.

This can cause cows to eat, produce, and reproduce less.

Some European cows have a naturally occurring gene mutation that has made them better able to thermoregulate in hot environments and become less likely to suffer from heat stress.

Although cows displaying this ‘SLICK’ trait could be crossbred with indigenous African cows, desirable traits could be lost in the process.

Certain breeds of European (taurine) cattle can display a trait called SLICK, characterised by reduced hair coverage and reduced susceptibility to heat stress. The cow on the left has naturally occurring gene mutation that leads to the display of the SLICK trait, the cow on the right does not. Photo credit: Littlejohn et al, Nat Commun 5, 5861 (2014).

However, researchers from the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) believe that genome editing, where precise changes are made to the genome, could be used to resolve this problem.

Scientists have developed a technique to successfully replicate this naturally occurring gene mutation in non ‘SLICK’ European cows and produce healthy animals with the SLICK trait.

They believe that this technique could also be used to modify the genes of African cattle to make them less susceptible to heat stress, without losing any other beneficial traits these cattle have. These ‘SLICK’ cattle could then pass this trait onto their future offspring through natural mating.

This would protect livestock for smallholder farmers across Africa in the face of climate change.

  • Environment
  • Breeds
  • Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) and Roslin Institute - University of Edinburgh
  • CGIAR Research Program on Livestock
  • CGIAR Trust Fund, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
  • CGIAR Trust Fund
  • UK Foreign
  • Commonwealth and Development Office
Dr Simon Lillico simon.lillico@roslin.ed.ac.uk