Skip to main content Accessibility help

Review: Animal health and sustainable global livestock systems

  • B. D. Perry (a1), T. P. Robinson (a2) (a3) and D. C. Grace (a2)


This paper discusses the sustainability of livestock systems, emphasising bidirectional relations with animal health. We review conventional and contrarian thinking on sustainability and argue that in the most common approaches to understanding sustainability, health aspects have been under-examined. Literature review reveals deep concerns over the sustainability of livestock systems; we recognise that interventions are required to shift to more sustainable trajectories, and explore approaches to prioritising in different systems, focusing on interventions that lead to better health. A previously proposed three-tiered categorisation of ‘hot spots’, ‘cold spots’ and ‘worried well’ animal health trajectories provides a mental model that, by taking into consideration the different animal health status, animal health risks, service response needs and key drivers in each system, can help identify and implement interventions. Combining sustainability concepts with animal health trajectories allows for a richer analysis, and we apply this to three case studies drawn from North Africa and the Middle East; Bangladesh; and the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We conclude that the quest for sustainability of livestock production systems from the perspective of human and animal health is elusive and difficult to reconcile with the massive anticipated growth in demand for livestock products, mainly in low- and middle-income countries, as well as the aspirations of poor livestock keepers for better lives. Nevertheless, improving the health of livestock can contribute to health sustainability both through reducing negative health impacts of livestock and increasing efficiency of production. However, the choice of the most appropriate options must be under-pinned by an understanding of agro-ecology, economy and values. We argue that a new pillar of One Health should be added to the three traditional sustainability pillars of economics, society and environment when addressing livestock systems.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Ainslie, A 2002. Cattle ownership and production in the communal areas of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. School of Government, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town.
Anderson, NE, Mubanga, J, Machila, N, Atkinson, PM, Dzingirai, V and Welburn, SC 2015. Sleeping sickness and its relationship with development and biodiversity conservation in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Parasites and Vectors 8, 114.
Battaglini, L, Bovolenta, S, Gusmeroli, F, Salvador, S and Sturaro, E 2014. Environmental sustainability of Alpine livestock farms. Italian Journal of Animal Science 13, 431443.
Bhat, ZF, Kumar, S and Bhat, HF 2017. In vitro meat: a future animal-free harvest. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 57, 782789.
Bonds, MH, Keenan, DC, Rohani, P and Sachs, JD 2010. Poverty trap formed by the ecology of infectious diseases. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277, 11851192.
Catley, A, Leyland, T, Mariner, JC, Akabwai, DMO, Admassu, B, Asfaw, W, Bekele, G and Hassan, HS 2004. Para-veterinary professionals and the development of quality, self-sustaining community-based services. Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics) 23, 225252.
Civitello, DJ, Cohen, J, Fatima, H, Halstead, NT, Liriano, J, McMahon, TA, Ortega, CN, Sauer, EL, Sehgal, T, Young, S and Rohr, JR 2015. Biodiversity inhibits parasites: broad evidence for the dilution effect. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 8667–8671.
Coetzee, L., Montshwe, B.D. and Jooste, A 2005. The Marketing of Livestock on communal lands in the Eastern Cape Province: constraints, challenges and implications for the extension services. South African Journal of Agricultural and Extension 34, 81103.
Diamond, J 2005. Collapse how societies choose to fail or succeed. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Hudson Street, New York, NY.
Dzivakwi, R and Jacobs, P 2010. Support for pro-poor agricultural development and rural poverty reduction in Eastern Cape. In African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE) and 48th Agricultural Economists Association of South Africa (AEASA) Conference, 19 to 23 September, Cape Town, South Africa.
Fan, VY, Jamison, DT and Summers, LH 2016. The inclusive cost of pandemic influenza risk. NBER Working Paper No. 22137. Retrieved on 11 September 2017 from
FAO 2009. The state of food and agriculture: livestock in balance. FAO, Rome.
FAO 2012. Livestock sector development for poverty reduction: an economic and policy perspective – Livestock’s many virtues (ed. J Otte, A Costales, J Dijkman, U Pica-Ciamarra, T Robinson, V Ahuja, C Ly and D Roland-Holst). Rome, 161 pp.
FAO 2016. Livestock contribution to food security in the near East and North Africa. In FAO Regional Conference, 9–13 May 2016, Rome, Italy.
Garnett, T, Appleby, MC, Balmford, A, Bateman, IJ, Benton, TG, Bloomer, P, Burlingame, B, Dawkins, M, Dolan, L, Fraser, D, Herrero, M, Hoffmann, I, Smith, P, Thornton, PK, Toulmin, C, Vermeulen, SJ and Godfray, HCJ 2013. Sustainable intensifi cation in agriculture: premises and policies. Science Magazine 341, 3334.
Grace, D 2014. The business case for One Health. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 16.
Grace, D 2015. Food safety in low and middle income countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12, 1049010507.
Grace, D, Lindahl, J, Wanyoike, F, Bett, B, Randolph, T and Rich, KM 2017. Poor livestock keepers: ecosystem-poverty-health interactions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 372, 20160166.
Grace, D, Mutua, F, Ochungo, P, Kruska, R, Jones, K, Brierley, L, Lapar, L, Said, M, Herrero, M, Phuc, PM, Thao, NB, Akuku, I and Ogutu, F 2012. Mapping of poverty and likely zoonoses hotspots. Zoonoses Project 4. Report to the UK Department for International Development. ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya.
Havelaar, AH, Kirk, MD, Torgerson, PR, Gibb, HJ, Hald, T, Lake, RJ, Praet, N, Bellinger, DC, de Silva, NR, Gargouri, N, Speybroeck, N, Cawthorne, A, Mathers, C, Stein, C, Angulo, FJ and Devleesschauwer, B 2015. World Health Organization global estimates and regional comparisons of the burden of foodborne disease in 2010. PLOS Medicine 12, e1001923.
Herrero, M, Havlík, P, Amanda, Palazzo and Valin, H 2014. African livestock futures: realizing the potential of livestock for food security. Poverty Reduction and the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa, Geneva, Switzerland.
HLPE 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? HLPE, Rome.
Julef, N 2016. Livestock program of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
Kavle, JA, El-Zanaty, F, Landry, M and Galloway, R 2015. The rise in stunting in relation to avian influenza and food consumption patterns in lower Egypt in comparison to upper Egypt: results from 2005 and 2008 Demographic and Health Surveys. BMC Public Health 15, 118.
Leyland, T, Lotira, R, Abebe, D, Bekele, G and Catley, A 2014. Community-based animal health workers in the Horn of Africa. An Evaluation for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Addis Ababa and Vetwork, Great Holland, UK.
Montpellier, Panel 2013. Sustainable intensification: a new paradigm for African agriculture. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
Narayan, D, Pritchett, L and Kapoor, S 2009. Moving out of poverty: success from the bottom up, volume 2. The World Bank and Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, UK
Nisbett, N, Davis, P, Yosef, S and Akhtar, N 2017. Bangladesh’s story of change in nutrition: strong improvements in basic and underlying determinants with an unfinished agenda for direct community level support. Global Food Security 13, 2129.
O’Neill, J 2014. Review on antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance: tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations. London, UK.
Pearson, RA and Krecek, RC 2006. Delivery of health and husbandry improvements to working animals in Africa. Tropical Animal Health and Production 38, 93101.
Perry, BD, Morton, J and Stur, W 2014. A strategic overview of livestock research undertaken by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium, 64 pp. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
Perry, BD, Grace, D and Sones, K 2013. Current drivers and future directions of global livestock disease dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, 2087120877.
Perry, BD, Randolph, TF, McDermott, JJ, Sones, KR and Thornton, PK 2002. Investing in animal health research to alleviate poverty. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, Kenya, 140 pp plus CD-ROM. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
Pretty, J 2008. Agricultural sustainability: concepts, principles and evidence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363, 447465.
Pretty, J, Toulmin, C and Williams, S 2011. Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9, 524.
Rahman, S and Begum, IAAM 2014. Livestock in Bangladesh: distribution, growth, performance and potential. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
Rich, KM and Wanyoike, F 2010. An assessment of the regional and national socio-economic impacts of the 2007 Rift Valley fever outbreak in Kenya. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 83, 5257.
Ridley, M 2011. The rational optimist: how prosperity evolves. Harper Perennial, New York.
Robinson, TP, Wertheim, HFL, Kakkar, M, Kariuki, S, Bu, D and Price, LB 2016. Animal production and antimicrobial resistance in the clinic. The Lancet 387, e1e3.
Roess, AA, Winch, PJ, Ali, NA, Akhter, A, Afroz, D, El Arifeen, S, Darmstadt, GL and Baqui, AH 2013. Animal husbandry practices in rural Bangladesh: potential risk factors for antimicrobial drug resistance and emerging diseases. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 89, 965970.
Röös, E, Patel, M, Spångberg, J, Carlsson, G and Rydhmer, L 2016. Limiting livestock production to pasture and by-products in a search for sustainable diets. Food Policy 58, 113.
Smith, J, Sones, K, Grace, D, MacMillan, S, Tarawali, S and Herrero, M 2013. Beyond milk, meat, and eggs: role of livestock in food and nutrition security. Animal Frontiers 3, 613.
Stokstad, E 2015. Bringing back the aurochs. News 350, 32.
Swain, M 2016. The future of meat. The Breakthrough. Retrieved on 11 September 2017 from
Thornton, PK, Kruska, RL, Henninger, N, Kristjanson, PM, Reid, RS, Atieno, F, Odero, AN and Ndegwa, T 2002. Mapping poverty and livestock in the developing world, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi.
Trent, N, Edwards, S, Felt, J and Meara, KO 2005. International Animal Law, with a concentration on Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Humane Society Press, Washington, DC.
UN 2016. The sustainable development goals report. UN, New York.
Wood, CL, Lafferty, KD, DeLeo, G, Young, HS, Hudson, PJ and Kuris, AM 2014. Does biodiversity protect against infectious disease? Ecology 95, 817832.
World Bank 2012. People, pathogens and our planet – The Economics of One Health, volume 2, World Bank. Washington, DC. Retrieved on 23 March 2018 from
World Commission on Environment and and Development 1987. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Oslo.
Yusuf, SFG, Lategan, FS and Masika, PJ 2014. Characterization of indigenous poultry production systems in the Nkonkobe Municipality, Eastern Cape Province South Africa. Journal of Agricultural Sciences 5, 3144.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed