• 5th October, 2023

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      From In Africa

      Livestock Farming: Meeting Up with Animal Protein Supplies across Africa

      Africa's beef production has not been able to meet its demand. We discuss how African countries can increase their production to ensure food security.

      Livestock Farming: Meeting Up with Animal Protein Supplies across Africa

      The global demand and supply gap for animal protein is widening every year, as more people now prefer to consume livestock products over and above food crops. It is projected that the world population will likely consume two-thirds more animal protein by 2050 than it does today.

      As of April 2022, at least 281 million people in Africa lacked enough food to eat each day. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of the African population cannot afford nutritious food. Are there strategies that African countries can embark upon to meet up with the increasing demand for animal protein supplies, in the pursuit of sustainable food production? 

      Sub-Saharan Africa is home to as much as 20 per cent of the world’s livestock farming. However, the lack of advanced science and technology has significantly reduced its productivity. 

      For a long time, Africa's traditional livestock farming systems have faced several challenges. These include:

      • lack of enough pasture and quality feed 
      • competition for natural resources (especially land and water)
      • acute sensitivity to climate change
      • low-quality breeds; poor management of livestock
      • poor marketing and trade systems
      • poor control of animal diseases
      • lack of access to technology and information; and 
      • socioeconomic setbacks. 

      Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is presently the most food-insecure region in the world. Unfortunately in SSA (and Africa at large), local production falls short of the increasing demand for livestock products. Consumption of agricultural produce has also increased astronomically. This is a result of a rapidly growing population; increased urbanization; rural diversification; structural transformation (from farm to nonfarm employment); and growth of the middle class. 

      Livestock Production in Africa: Facts and Figures

      Livestock consists of a broad variety of domesticated animals, reared mainly for food. Livestock is known to generate income by providing a vast array of goods and services for people. Approximately 70 per cent of Africans depend on livestock farming to sustain their livelihoods. Another 35 per cent of the agricultural GDP in SSA comes from livestock production. Yet again SSA now rears about one-quarter of the world's livestock and around 16 percent of the world's cattle. But SSA produces only about 6 per cent and 2.6 per cent of the world's consumed meat and milk respectively. And poultry in Africa contributes between 12 per cent (Eastern Africa) and 45 per cent (Central and Southern Africa) globally. 

      As of 2018, West Africa alone accounts for about 25 per cent of cattle, 33 per cent of sheep, 40 per cent of goats, and 20 per cent of camels of the total population of livestock in SSA. Smaller populations of pigs, camelids, horses, and donkeys are also found in West Africa. In each West African country, livestock farming constitutes at least 8 to 15 per cent of its GDP.  In fact, the major livestock population and genetic diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa comes from West Africa. At least 60 million West Africans are involved in livestock farming. 

      The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated an increase of approximately 200 per cent in beef consumption in Africa between 2015 and 2050. However, about one-third of African countries are importing approximately 20 per cent of their meat supply.

      Promoting Africa’s Livestock Yields

      African farmers need more access to information and new technologies from around the world to improve their livestock health. Africa’s food production system needs to become more sustainable, efficient and resilient. To achieve this, we suggest the following recommendations. 

      Innovation and Collaboration

      Digital and smartphone-based technologies can assist African farmers to learn about, and partake of, climate-smart approaches to livestock farming. This includes genetic improvement, thus making African livestock more resilient and productive. There are existing collaborations with UK businesses and research organizations in this regard, which have proven highly successful. They include:

      • The African Animal Breeding Network
      • African Livestock Productivity and Health Advancement (ALPHA) 
      • Innovate UK's GCRF AgriFood Africa programme (with over 40 successful UK-Africa collaborative projects on livestock improvement)
      • WELL-COW project {a collaboration between Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) for eliminating Tick-borne disease}
      • PigBoost project (a UK-Africa collaboration between The Roslin Institute, AbacusBio, Datamars and Makerere University, targeted at improving Uganda’s pig production). 

      Sustained Production of Silage

      African farmers have been making use of silage, a nutrition-dense fodder to supplement fresh grass for feeding their ruminant livestock. Silage is chopped, fresh green plant material (such as maize, corn, wheat, grass, etc.) fermented without oxygen. Drastic changes in climate have progressively affected the production of materials required to prepare silage. However, with modern irrigation systems, African farmers can sustain the production of these green materials, thus making it easier to prepare their own silage.

      Avoiding Contamination of Meat

      Meat contamination by biological agents (such as Aspergillus fungi) has prevented many African farmers from exporting meat. These fungi produce poisonous chemicals called Aflatoxins, usually found on crops such as maize, corn, peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. They may be transferred to cattle while consuming the contaminated crops. Meat and dairy products contaminated by aflatoxins contribute to diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis in consumers. 

      Farmers may curb the spread of aflatoxins through artificial intelligence-enabled precision agriculture monitoring systems for livestock feed. For instance, Uganda's cattle farmers invest in such testing systems to detect aflatoxins in animal feeds. These tests are accurate and reliable; neither do they require laboratory intervention. The results can be easily interpreted by scanning them on smartphones. Early detection of aflatoxins in livestock feed helps to avoid contamination of their livestock. 

      Use of Digital Technologies

      The African Union High-Level Planning on Emerging Technologies (APET) further suggests that African cattle farmers should make use of digital technologies to improve livestock production. They include:

      • Digital sensors which can be used to accurately monitor general animal health and safety 
      • Drones to monitor and manage animal ranches, water troughs, feedlots and gates (through aerial videos and images) 
      • Robots for mixing animal feed, filling up feed bins, and feeding animals more than once daily. 
      • 3-D printing technology to speed up food processing capacities, potentially produce new types of food from low-value meat cuts, and in the efficient replacement of machine parts to support veterinary operations.
      • Blockchain technologies ensure the traceability of products along the entire supply chain (from producer to retailer), and enforce transparency between consumers and farmers when purchasing meat products. 
      • Artificial intelligence by African meat producers digitally captures and analyzes camera images of an animal's depth, size, and fat content. This can accurately predict an animal's market potential and value. The 3-D images can further help to produce accurate body condition scores and measurements for each animal to estimate its condition
      • Augmented reality combines real-world observations with virtual-world information to get enhanced vision and make better decisions (such as for producing architectural feedlot drawings to predict the accurate allocation of operational space, or to detect an animal's health status). It can even present farm life to the observing public to sensitize and engage consumers and investors without endangering either animals or consumers.

      Precision Nutrition through Nutrigenomics

      APET further suggests that African farmers can utilize the knowledge of nutrigenomics to enhance precision nutrition. Nutrigenomics helps to determine how the quality of nutrition can impact animal gene expression with subsequent effects on its health, immunity, and growth rate.  Thus, the cattle can be supplemented with specific levels of nutrients at specific times that will help their bodies assimilate specific nutrients more efficiently. The end result would be to improve its productivity and profit.  

      Final Words

      The Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, also gave a submission that The FAO is working to help Africa’s agrifood systems become more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable. FAO intends to continue doing so by providing digital tools, increasing links to markets, and ensuring greater efficiency along agrifood chains. 

      Such initiatives would work if national policies and the private sector also support the effort. Furthermore, creating the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can boost these efforts in a significant way. It can radically transform Africa’s rural prosperity. In furtherance of this, FAO has initiated its 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, currently running in seven African countries.  


      • Published: 5th October, 2023


      Emmanuel is an economic researcher and writer who likes to investigate systems, connect the dots, and find solutions.


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