Heating Up: Africa's Livestock Under Threat from Climate Change

Livestock play an indispensable role in Africa's societal, cultural, and economic tapestry.

Ryan KatayiRyan Katayi January 05 · 2 min read
Heating Up: Africa's Livestock Under Threat from Climate Change
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Livestock play an indispensable role in Africa's societal, cultural, and economic tapestry. Imagine Africa without its iconic humped cattle roaming the vast savannahs, camel caravans traversing the northern deserts, the lively squeals of pigs during rural mealtimes, or the resounding morning crow of a rooster. It's an image nearly impossible to conjure.

Their significance in Africa's landscape is underscored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), emphasizing how the fate of African livestock significantly shapes the continent's developmental trajectory.

However, researchers are sounding an alarming note: due to climate-induced heat stress, numerous regions across the continent might face the tragic loss of these cherished animals in the coming decades, possibly by 2045. Among them, cattle stand out as particularly vulnerable.

"Livestock are critical for the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers and pastoralists throughout Africa," stressed David Aronson, an expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi.

The studies project that by 2050, roughly 370 million cattle globally could suffer from extreme heat, alongside an estimated six billion chickens. Economically, this could result in annual losses ranging from $15 to $40 billion, predominantly impacting poorer tropical countries in South America, Asia, and Africa.

Proposed measures to counteract these issues, such as breeding heat-resistant animals or transitioning to more resilient species, encounter challenges, particularly for resource-scarce nations in Africa. This poses a substantial hurdle in ensuring a consistent supply of animal-sourced food for an ever-growing population.

Climate change affects various facets of livestock farming, ranging from feed and forage production to grazing land availability and disease management, exacerbating the situation.

The ripple effects of these disruptions on the lives of small-scale farmers, who form the backbone of Africa's food production, could be dire. Livestock significantly contribute to the rural economy, supporting food security, nutrition, and livelihoods for millions.

Already, small-scale farmers in southern Africa are grappling with the impact of climate change, witnessing altered rainfall patterns and increased heatwaves, leading to decreased productivity. This directly affects their ability to sustain livestock production.

These challenges bring forth ethical considerations regarding the welfare of both livestock keepers and the animals themselves. Integrating these concerns into policies aimed at addressing climate change adaptation is imperative for charting a sustainable path forward.

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