Cattle and other livestock account for 40% of the world’s agricultural output and represent the livelihoods of over 1.3 billion people. Of this group, over 500 million are pastoralists, relying directly on their ancestral skills to navigate a developing world's social, economic, and environmental landscapes. Moreover, the livestock sector has become a quickly growing industry in emerging economies, bringing both opportunities and pitfalls. Here are 6 places where cattle have become vital to local livelihoods.
Bangladesh is home to a complex farming system that feeds and economically supports its growing population. Livestock provides meat and dairy products in addition to motive power and full-time employment for 20% of the workforce.
The industry saw steady growth for the past several decades; however, the COVID-19 pandemic closed down many farms in the country, threatening a humanitarian crisis. Funding from The World Bank has been helping to bolster cattle production and increase market access since 2018, but the industry's current state is unstable.
Many Southeast Asian countries rely heavily on livestock to feed their growing populations. For example, Vietnam is growing at over 1% per year, and demand for meat and dairy products is rising. Unfortunately, the native cattle and water buffalo cannot convert grains to protein as efficiently as imported breeds. As a result, the country relies on industrial pork production, with severe environmental consequences.
Like other countries, Vietnam suffered economically and socially from the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with a resurgence of animal diseases and an increase in the cost of feed imports, the cattle and livestock sub-sectors in Vietnam are facing many challenges.
Uruguayans boast the second highest per capita beef consumption in the world. A full quarter of the country's exports are meat or dairy products. With plans to increase its production by 30% while reducing the environmental impact, the South American beef powerhouse is banking heavily on a continuing increase in demand – particularly in China, the largest importer of Uruguayan meat. Furthermore, Uruguay is pioneering GIS technology to trace its herd, providing new opportunities to develop more effective grazing strategies.
Kazakhs have a long history of nomadic and semi-nomadic cattle rearing. They have traditionally raised sheep, goats, horses, Bactrian camels, and cows, profiting off meat and secondary products. Mass starvation under Stalin threatened their traditional way of life, but cattle and other livestock still use about 75% of the country’s agricultural land for grazing.
Climate change has already begun to affect cattle in Kazakhstan. Alarming droughts in Central Asia have rendered pasturelands uninhabitable. Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted Kazakh imports, most notably animal vaccines, leading to increased animal sickness and death.
The countries of Senegal, Mauretania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad are too dry for stationary herds. Nevertheless, 20 million pastoralists migrate every year with their cattle to find water and forage. The agility of pastoralism allows herds to become mobile fertilizer distributors, traditionally arriving after the harvest and feeding on the remains that are inedible to humans. However, climate change increasingly forces them to move earlier in the year when their animals threaten to devour the crops of their more sedentary compatriots.
Argentina has been a beef-producing powerhouse for decades. Unfortunately, the industry has been criticized for increasing deforestation, carbon emissions, and biodiversity loss. However, in recent years, Argentinian farmers have taken strides to improve production without harming the environment. In addition, some reports suggest that the pastures of Argentina can sequester more than enough carbon to offset what the cattle produce.
- Subsidize Sustainability – It is always better to source beef locally. However, if you want imported meat, do what you can to buy it from a country that is innovating sustainable cattle farming. Uruguay and parts of Argentina come to mind.
- Spread Awareness – Pictures are worth more than words. Social media is awash with images of smallholdings in developing nations struggling due to climate change. Do what you can to spread these stories and raise grassroots support for systemic change.
- Support Smallholders – Wherever you live and work, do what you can to localize your food sources. For instance, buy meat directly from local farms or butcher shops with short supply chains. It will reduce emissions and support small cattle farmers.