Revolution Reconsidered: Evolving Perspectives on Livestock Production and Consumption

Working Paper
  • Published 01/04/13
  • ISBN: 978-1-78118-097-6

The term Livestock Revolution was coined by Delgado et al. (1999c) to highlight accelerated growth in demand for livestock products in parts of the developing world, tied to human population growth, rising incomes, continuing urbanisation and changing food preferences. The Livestock Revolution – with its promise of diet diversity, better nutrition and health, and also economic opportunities for small-scale producers – is one of the most powerful ideas to emerge in the areas of food, nutrition and agricultural development over the last decade. This paper takes a critical look at the state of the debate around the Livestock Revolution, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

As with all foresight exercises, 15 years on, some parts of the Livestock Revolution analysis hold up better than others. Nevertheless, it is surely true that the analysis underpinning Livestock to 2020 has helped frame research and policy debates. At this point it is difficult to tell what impact the of the analysis has actually had on policy, particularly as many of the policy responses, particularly those addressing the potential negative effects on small-scale producers – the so-called ‘equity issue’ – are not distinguishable from a now well-established agenda of investment in infrastructure and technology, strengthening of rural organisations, and closer integration with agribusiness through e.g. contract farming. Delgado et al. are very explicit in indicating that while the Livestock Revolution offers potential benefits for small-scale producers, these benefits are by no means assured. The changes in the production, processing, retail and consumption of livestock products that define the LR have massive structural, financial, social and environmental implications. Given the reach and power of the private sector actors involved, it is not at all clear how effectively policy (at any level) will be able to influence the related trends or processes, or modify the outcomes. A more explicit and contextualised understanding of the social, technical and environmental relationships and dynamics among livestock production systems, and between livestock and other sectors of the economy should help build a basis for more inclusive consideration of potential development pathways and their various poverty, social justice and sustainability implications.

This paper is part of our Livestock project.