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World animal populations increase, but not everywhere | Print |

The distribution of livestock populations of different species by regions in 2007 is shown in Figure 5. There are some striking differences which are likely to be the result of different natural resources, climate, culture and socio-economic conditions (FAO, 2009). Whereas among the ruminants, cattle and sheep together dominate the animal populations in Asia, Africa and Oceania, the populations of cattle, sheep and goats are quite similar in Europe. In North, Central and South America cattle dominate, while goats are primarily found in Asia (59%) and Africa (34%), and 41% of sheep are found in Asia. The swine populations are more or less confined to Asia (58%) and the western parts of the world, as are buffaloes. Asia keeps 97% of the world’s buffaloes. The world poultry population is estimated to be 18 billion. Of the 24 million camels in the world today, most are found in Africa (84%).

The most remarkable changes in the past 15 years as regards species are that poultry numbers have increased by more than 50% and goats by more than 30%, while sheep numbers have decreased by 13%. Concerning regions, the most dramatic change has taken place in the former USSR, where the populations of all species have been about halved.

The different livestock population numbers have been converted into tropical livestock units (TLU) in Figure 6, considering the metabolic size of animals of different species. Europe shows decreased animal numbers for all the livestock species, yet there is a surplus of livestock production in Europe today. The large lowered production in Europe is partly explained by the changed Russian Federation (FAO, 2009). Africa, Asia and South America show steady increases in TLU numbers.


Figure 5. World livestock populations by regions in 2007.

Source: FAO (2009).

When contrasting the TLU numbers with the output of food products in Figures 3 and 4, it emerges that high livestock numbers (Figure 5) and TLU (Figure 6) do not necessarily equate to high productivity (Figures 3 and 4). Neither do they reflect the overall utility functions that the various livestock play in each region. For example, whereas cattle TLU in Africa is the same as cattle TLU in Europe, on average, the European cattle are 2-3 times bigger and thus the two are not comparable from a productivity point of view. Secondly, the African/Asian animals are used for many more tasks than food production (e.g. draft, energy, social security, etc.) compared to animals in temperate climates in the developed world. However, the increased productivity in Asia is obvious.

The environmental and climatic aspects of livestock numbers are a focus of attention and critique, not least by FAO in the report “Livestock’s Long Shadow - Environmental Issues and Options”, due to overgrazing and greenhouse gas emissions (Steinfeld et al., 2006). However, the large numbers of livestock in developing countries could be reduced by increasing the productivity per animal. By doing that, the negative impacts of livestock on environment and climate can be reduced, while still increasing the output of animal products and meeting the growing demands for these. Increased productivity will be realized through a combination of improved husbandry and careful utilization and development of existing and new combinations of livestock genotypes of different species.


Figure 6. Trends in livestock numbers given as total tropical livestock units (TLU) by region. Conversion factors: Buffalo and cattle 0.7; Pig 0.4; Sheep and goat 0.1; Chicken 0.01.
Source: FAO (2009).


Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:18