Climate change and livestock in Africa: A race against time

livestock/climate change

 Climate change and livestock in Africa: A race against time


Livestock are deeply woven into the fabric of Africa’s social, cultural, and economic life. Imagine Africa without its distinctive humped cattle grazing on the vast savannahs, the leisurely journeys of camel caravans in the northern deserts, the lively chorus of pigs during mealtime on rural farms, or the robust crowing of roosters at dawn.


As of 2020, there was an estimated 3.38 billion livestock population of major species in the continent with approximately 1.1 billion livestock keepers, many of whom are women and pastoralists. It’s important to note that these numbers have likely increased in recent years due to various factors such as population growth and changing agricultural practices.


The African livestock sector contributes about 30–80% to its Agricultural Gross Domestic product and supports the food security and livelihoods of about one-third of Africa’s population, or about 350 million people.  


livestock/climate change



The livestock sector is an important component of nearly all farming systems in Africa and provides draught power, milk, meat, manure, hides, skins, and other products. They are so important to Africa that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that the future of African livestock will influence the development of the entire continent.


Livestock is one of the major subsectors of agriculture in Africa that is growing rapidly because of the increase in demand for livestock products. However, the increasing pressure from climate change effects on livestock production is hugely disturbing, according to a recent report, there is a high possibility that Africa could be stripped of these delightful creatures in the next few decades due to climate-induced heat stress — a horrifying reality that could hit home as early as 2045.


The overall impact of climate change on animal production and health is far greater than, a mere increase in average annual temperature. The effects of climate change on animal health are either direct or indirect, each with significant consequences. The direct effects are mainly due to changes in environmental conditions such as air temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, drought, and floods. These shifts are responsible for temperature-related animal morbidity and mortality.


For instance, the frequency of drought in Ethiopia has increased over recent years due to climate change. There was no rain for the last two-and-a-half years, and this caused a huge problem in the area.



As a result, more than 3.3 million livestock died. unfortunately, the recent rain in the area was also a disaster as it came in big volume and became a flood. The flood has also killed the animals that survived the drought.


Indirect effects of climate change on animal health and production emerge from shifts in microbial density and the distribution of diseases carried by vectors (such as insects), as well as from food and water shortages and foodborne illnesses. Even a slight temperature change can disrupt the relative humidity, providing fertile grounds for increased insect reproduction. These insects can act as carriers for numerous protozoan and viral diseases, further impacting animal health.


One notable example of a disease linked to climate change in Africa is Rift Valley Fever (RVF). It is a viral zoonosis that primarily affects animals but can also infect humans. While it affects various domesticated ruminant animals in Africa, it is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes. The increased instances of flooding in the Horn of Africa due to climate change have contributed to the prevalence of (RVF) in the region.


These compounding factors culminate in decreased overall animal well-being and productivity, which, in turn, leads to reduced income for affected communities and nations on a larger scale.


Climate change is arguably the most important environmental issue currently affecting the livestock sector and it is anticipated to heighten the susceptibility of livestock production systems to emerging and re-emerging diseases.


These diseases are not only impacting the health and welfare of animals, but they are also taking a severe toll on human health.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the diseases transmitted from animals to humans in Africa have increased by 63% in the last decade compared with the previous ten-year period.


Unfortunately, when it comes to discussions about climate change, the agricultural sector has primarily focused on its impact on crops, giving relatively little attention to livestock production. This imbalance is reflected in the allocation of resources and research attention. The existing understanding of how climate change affects the health and productivity of animals, especially in Africa, is quite limited.


In this context, it’s essential to note that livestock agriculture plays a significant economic role, supporting the livelihoods of millions. Despite this, it receives a disproportionately small share, often around 5 to 10%, of the total agricultural investment. This lack of investment and research attention has led to underperformance within the livestock sector.


There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift since it is a fact that even when there is severe crop failure, livestock have helped vulnerable communities to survive. However, the very resilience of these animals is now under threat due to several factors, with climate change taking center stage and exposing livestock to more frequent and severe environmental stress.


The issue of climate change and its impact on livestock production is quite controversial considering the fact that the livestock sector contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to a 2022 report by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, livestock production generates approximately 21% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Africa. However, it is essential to strike a balance between environmental concerns and the importance of livestock production in Africa.


Call to Action:



  • Improved animal genetics: By breeding animals that are more resistant to heat stress and disease, farmers can improve livestock health and reduce the need for antibiotics.


  • Investment in research: By increasing investment in research, policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders can work together to develop evidence-based strategies that address the challenges posed by climate change to livestock health and productivity.


  • Climate information and forecasting: This can also help farmers prepare for extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves. By having access to accurate climate information, farmers can take proactive measures to protect their livestock from the adverse effects of extreme weather events.


  • Sustainable Farming: Promoting sustainable and climate-smart farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production. This includes better feed management to reduce methane emissions, reforestation efforts to offset carbon emissions, and improved waste management.

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