The global agenda for livestock research must be led by the requirements for agricultural development, recognizing the integral and complementary rôle livestock play in sustainable agricultural systems. Demand for meat and milk will increase by more than 150 per cent over the next three decades, fuelled by the combination of income growth, population increase and urbanization. Increased demand will be primarily in developing regions, where current consumption per capita is low and livestock production systems are inefficient relative to those in developed countries. This situation encourages development to increase supply of livestock product. Research can facilitate sustainable livestock development to serve the needs of both producers and consumers.
The benefits already realized from past investments in research, primarily in developed countries, help make the case for investing in livestock research. Nevertheless, the resources available for research are limited; choices must be made and expected benefits and costs should guide priorities. These benefits and costs should take into account social and environmental as well as financial values. Procedures for valuing the contribution of livestock research to sustainable development are inadequate and, in themselves, are a priority in the global agenda.
Priorities for research differ but are generally linked across the levels of agricultural systems: household, community, landscape, national, regional and international. Specific priorities in the global agenda vary with livestock species (ruminant, non-ruminant), production systems (grazing, mixed, industrial), agro-ecological and socio-economic factors (especially, those differing for developed and developing regions) and whether research will be supported by public or private sector funding. The priorities for developing countries emphasize increasing productivity and efficiency; whereas for developed countries, more emphasis is given to food safety, zoonotic diseases and environmental issues. Non-traditional, but increasingly important priorities derive from the need for information and technologies to improve soil and water management to ensure long-term sustainability of livestock production systems and for socio-economic analysis to provide policy options for decision makers.
The global agenda for livestock research is broad, embracing the full spectrum from basic to adaptive research. The traditional animal sciences will continue to be important but there is increasing need to draw from crop and environment research, from human health and genetics research, inter alia. Results from research in developed regions can be adapted to the needs of livestock systems in developing regions. In return, research on genetic resistance developed through natural selection in livestock populations in developing regions, may provide environmentally friendly means to control livestock disease and parasites in developed regions.
The challenges posed by the global agenda are considerable. To meet these challenges, partnerships are required, linking skills, capacities and access to problems. The successes of these research partnerships will meet the requirements for sustainable agricultural development and ensure support for livestock research in the future.