Skip to main content Accessibility help

Review: Domestic herbivores and food security: current contribution, trends and challenges for a sustainable development

  • A. Mottet (a1), F. Teillard (a1), P. Boettcher (a1), G. De’ Besi (a1) and B. Besbes (a1)...


Herbivores are found in a variety of ecosystems all over the world. Permanent pastures and meadows cover about 25% of global land. We currently count one domesticated herbivore for two people in the world and the number is growing. Production systems and products are highly diverse. This high diversity is the result of thousands of years of natural selection and human-controlled breeding, as well as migration and trade. Because of the high diversity of domestic herbivore genetic resources, herders have been able to live in regions where no alternative for income generation exists. Meat and milk from domestic herbivores provide 16% and 8% of the global protein and kilocalorie consumption, respectively. They also provide a variety of essential micronutrients but can contribute to overweight and obesity when consumed in excess. Domestic herbivores also make significant contribution to food security through the production of manure, draught power and transport and the generation of income at household and national level. They have a key role to play in women’s empowerment and gender equality, both in rural and urban areas.

Demand for meat and milk is increasing because of population growth, rising incomes and urbanisation. This trend is expected to continue, especially in Latin America, South Asia and China. The sustainable development of domestic herbivore production needs to address the feed/food and the efficiency of herbivores in turning forages into protein. It also needs to address the contribution of herbivores to greenhouse gas emissions, especially of ruminants through enteric fermentation, and their mitigation potential, including through carbon sequestration. Animal genetic resources have a key role to play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. The role of ruminants in the circular bioeconomy needs to be enhanced, promoting the use of by-products and waste as livestock feed and the recycling of manure for energy and nutrients. Finally, the role of domestic herbivores in providing secure livelihoods and economic opportunities for millions of smallholder farmers and pastoralists needs to be enhanced. The sustainable development of the sector therefore requires adequate policies, and there are already a variety of mechanisms available, including regulations, cross-compliance systems, payments for environmental services and research and development. Priority areas for policy makers should be aligned with the global framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and include: (i) food security and nutrition, (ii) economic development and livelihoods, (iii) animal and human health and finally, (iv) environment, climate and natural resources.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Alexandratos, N and Bruinsma, J 2012. World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision, volume 12, no. 3. ESA Working paper. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Allen, L 2013. Comparing the value of protein sources for maternal and child nutrition. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 34, 263266.
Arslan, A, Asfaw, S, Cavatassi, R, Lipper, L, McCarthy, N, Kokwe, M and Phiri, G 2018. Diversification as part of a CSA strategy: the cases of Zambia and Malawi. In Climate smart agriculture. Natural resource management and policy (ed. L Lipper, N McCarthy, D Zilberman, S Asfaw and G Branca), volume 52. Springer, Cham, Switzerland.
Boettcher, PJ, Hoffmann, I, Baumung, R, Drucker, AG, McManus, C, Berg, P, Stella, A, Nilsen, LB, Moran, D, Naves, M and Thompson, MC 2015. Genetic resources and genomics for adaptation of livestock to climate change. Frontiers in Genetics 5, 461.
Bouwman, L, Goldewijk, KK, Van Der Hoek, KW, Beusen, AH, Van Vuuren, DP, Willems, J, Rufino, MC and Stehfest, E 2013. Exploring global changes in nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in agriculture induced by livestock production over the 1900–2050 period. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, 2088220887.
Curry, A. 2013. The milk revolution. Nature 500, 2022.
De Haan, C, Cervigni, R, Mottet, A, Conchedda, G, Gerber, P, Msangi, S, Lesnoff, M, Ham, F and Nigussie, K 2016. Vulnerability and resilience in livestock systems in the drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa. In Prospects for livestock-based livelihoods in africa’s drylands (ed. C de Haan), The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.
De Haan, C, Schillhorn van Veen, T, Brandenburg, B, Gauthier, J, Le Gall, F, Mearns, R and Simeon, M 2001. Livestock development: implications for rural poverty, the environment and global food security. The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.
Directive 1991/676/EC. 1991. Council directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. Official Journal of the European Communities 375, 18.
Eurostat statistics database 2018. European Commission, Belgium, Brussels.
FAO-AGAL 2016. Synthesis - Livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from
FAOSTAT 2017. FAOSTAT statistics database. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization and New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre 2017. Options for low emission development in the Kenya dairy sector – reducing enteric methane for food security and livelihoods. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2007. Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic 153 Resources. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2009. The state of food and agriculture - Livestock in the balance. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2011. The state of food and agriculture 2010–2011. Women in agriculture: closing the gender gap for development. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2012. Invisible guardians – women manage livestock diversity. FAO Animal Production and Health, paper No. 174. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2013. Food wastage footprint. Impact on natural resources. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2014a. The role, impact and welfare of working (traction and transport) animals. Animal Production and Health Report. No. 5. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2014b. Building a common vision for sustainable food and agriculture. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization 2015. The second report on The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization in prep. Harnessing the potential of livestock to improve the nutrition of vulnerable populations. Technical guidance for programme planning. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Galloway, J, Dentener, F, Burke, M, Dumont, E, Bouwman, AF, Kohn, RA, Mooney, HA, Seitzinger, S and Kroeze, C 2010. The impact of animal production systems on the nitrogen cycle. Livestock in a Changing Landscape 1, 8396.
Gerber, PJ, Mottet, A, Opio, CI, Falcucci, A and Teillard, F 2015. Environmental impacts of beef production: review of challenges and perspectives for durability. Meat science 109, 212.
Gerber, P, Steinfeld, H, Henderson, B, Mottet, A, Opio, C, Dijkman, J, Falcucci, A and Tempio, G 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Glimp, HA 1988. Multi-species grazing and marketing. Rangelands 10, 275278.
Hobbs, JE 2010. Public and private standards for food safety and quality: international trade implications. The Estey Centre Journal of International Law and Trade Policy 11, 136.
International Livestock Research Institute 2002. Livestock - a pathway out of poverty. ILRI's strategy to 2010. 24pp. ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya.
Jack, BK 2011. Constraints on the adoption of agricultural technologies in developing countries. White paper, Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative, J-PAL (MIT) and CEGA (UC Berkeley).
Katothya, G 2017. Gender assessment of dairy value chains: evidence from Kenya. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Liu, J, You, L, Amini, M, Obersteiner, M, Herrero, M, Zehnder, AJ and Yang, H 2010. A high-resolution assessment on global nitrogen flows in cropland. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 80358040.
Mason, NM, Jayne, TS and Mofya‐Mukuka, R 2013. Zambia’s input subsidy programs. Agricultural Economics 44, 613628.
Martinez Correal, G 2007. Jalémosle al criollo (VI). Carta Fedegan 103, 9091.
Murphy, SP and Allen, LH 2003. Nutritional importance of animal source foods. Journal of Nutrition 133, 3932S3935S.
Heffernan, C 2004. Livestock and the poor: issues in poverty focused livestock development. In Responding to the livestock revolution: the role of globalisation and implications for poverty alleviation (ed. E Owen, T Smith, M Steele, S Anderson, A Duncan, M Herrero, JD Leaver, CK Reynolds, JI Richards and JC Ku-vera), Nottingham University Press, Nottingham, UK.
Lal, R 2004. Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Geoderma 123, 122.
Mottet, A, de Haan, C, Falcucci, A, Tempio, G, Opio, C and Gerber, P 2017. Livestock: on our plates or eating at our table? A new analysis of the feed/ food debate. Global Food Security 14, 118.
Mottet, A, Henderson, B, Opio, C, Falcucci, A, Tempio, G, Silvestri, S, Chesterman, S and Gerber, PJ 2016. Climate change mitigation and productivity gains in livestock supply chains: insights from regional case studies. Regional Environmental Change 17, 129141.
Mottet, A and Tempio, G 2017. Global poultry production: current state and future outlook and challenges. World’s Poultry Science Journal 73, 245256.
Osoro, K, García, U, Jáuregui, BM, Ferreira, LM, Rook, AJ and Celaya, R 2007. Diet selection and live-weight changes of two breeds of goats grazing on heathlands. Animal 1, 449457.
Pickering, NK, Oddy, VH, Basarab, J, Cammack, K, Hayes, B, Hegarty, RS, Lassen, J, McEwan, JC, Miller, S, Pinares-Patiño, CS and de Haas, Y 2015. Animal board invited review: genetic possibilities to reduce enteric methane emissions from ruminants. Animal 9, 14311440.
Prendiville, R, Lewis, E, Pierce, KM and Buckley, F 2010. Comparative grazing behavior of lactating Holstein-Friesian, Jersey, and Jersey x Holstein-Friesian dairy cows and its association with intake capacity and production efficiency. Journal of Dairy Science 93, 764774.
Pritchard, J 2010. Animal traction and transport in the 21st century: getting the priorities right. The Veterinary Journal 186, 271274.
Randolph, TF, Schelling, E, Grace, D, Nicholson, CF, Leroy, JL, Cole, DC and Ruel, M 2007. Role of livestock in human nutrition and health for poverty reduction in developing countries. Journal of Animal Science 85, 27882800.
Sere, C and Steinfeld, S 1996. World livestock production systems. Current status, issues and trends. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Silvestri, S, Osano, P, Leeuw, JD, Herrero, M, Ericksen, P, Kariuki, J, Njuki, J and Notenbaert, A 2012. Greening livestock: assessing the potential of payment for environmental services in livestock inclusive agricultural production systems in developing countries. International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya.
Steinfeld, H, Gerber, P, Wassenaar, TD, Castel, V and De Haan, C 2006. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Sutton, MA, Bleeker, A, Howard, CM, Bekunda, M, Grizzetti, B, De Vries, W, Van Grinsven, HJ, Abrol, YP, Adhya, TK, Billen, G and Davidson, EA 2013. Our nutrient world: the challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Edinburgh, UK.
Teillard, F, Mottet, A and Alfani, F 2017. The role of livestock in adapting to climate change and building economic resilience in Zambia. In Proceedings of the 5th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Upton, M 2004. The role of livestock in economic development and poverty reduction. Pro-poor livestock policy initiative working paper 10. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Valette, D 2014. Invisible helpers. Women’s views on the contributions of working donkeys, horses and mules to their lives: key findings from research in Ethiopia, Kenya, India and Pakistan. Voices from women International Report. The Brooke, London, UK.
Vatn, A 2010. An institutional analysis of payments for environmental services. Ecological Economics 69, 12451252.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 1751-7311
  • EISSN: 1751-732X
  • URL: /core/journals/animal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed