Sustainable livestock hold key to cutting emissions

The UN Climate Change Conference in November 2015 put the spotlight even more firmly on sustainability in the livestock sector, which is responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Within the industry, there is considerable potential to reduce emissions, particularly by low-yielding smallholder producers in the global South. There are social implications too, with more than 1.3 billion people around the world dependent for their livelihoods on livestock production.

Number of producers supported


Head of cattle under sustainable management



In Solidaridad’s largest dairy project in south-west Bangladesh, around 17,325 smallholder dairy farmers were supported with an integrated approach, 87% of whom were women. Initiatives ranged from improved fodder management to better marketing. The overall objectives are to support farmers in becoming effective agricultural entrepreneurs and to build safe food supply chains. The first results have already emerged: the average amount of milk produced per cow increased by 30%, strategic partner and dairy company BRAC Dairy built milk collection centres to source milk from the region, and farmers developed new businesses to exploit opportunities such as commercial fodder production.

Solidaridad started working in livestock in Kenya in 2013 using a field-to-fork approach and creating a public-private partnership between Loita Maasai Project Plains Fed Beef and the largest slaughterhouse in Nairobi. LMPPFB is a producer organization which was set up by Maasai pastoralists with support from the local government. In the programme, about 60,000ha has been brought under sustainable pasture management. An integrated approach allowed improvements to be made at every stage of the chain, from superior breeds to improved veterinary services, better marketing and use of waste for biogas in the slaughterhouse. In 2015, the main stakeholders in the Kenyan beef sector were brought together by Solidaridad as a first step to creating a National Sustainable Beef Round Table.


Regional Commodity Programmes

  • Central America

    The Farmer Support Programme funded project in Nicaragua “Competitive beef and dairy through sustainable intensification and specialized market access - GANASOL” aimed to increase the competitiveness and income of small and medium cattle farmers in Nicaragua through implementation of good farm management practices. The goal is to facilitate sustainable livestock production and increased resilience to climate change, and improved market access for milk and meat products.

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  • East & Central Africa

    The livestock sector plays an important role in the region. A pilot project in Kenya was designed to address the challenges of livestock production by working with about 6,000 pastoralists. The project has been able to improve capacity and organizational development, animal health, breeding, disease control, pasture management and market access. The herders form one business unit and supply live cows directly to the slaughterhouse with a ready market in Nairobi city.

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  • The Netherlands

    As Solidaridad’s livestock programme takes shape, cooperation with the private sector in livestock has slowly been developing. The recent increase in dairy production in Europe has made European companies more focused on exports and less on local sourcing or smallholder support. In beef, the role of European companies is much smaller.

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  • North America

    The Gran Chaco Americano in South America, one of the world’s most important and biodiverse biomes, is under threat due to unabated deforestation, driven mainly by livestock and soy production. Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Earth Innovation Institute, Solidaridad developed strategies to address this critical issue.

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  • South America

    Cattle ranching is one of the main productive activities in the region, but sustainability has only been recently introduced into the sector’s agenda as a result of environmental laws. With the definition of the Global Round Table of Sustainable Beef (GRSB) principles and criteria, Solidaridad is now advancing towards building the first environmental risk-free supply chains in the region.

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  • South & South-east Asia

    Solidaridad has implemented the Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) project in five south western districts of Bangladesh. In many ways, the SaFaL project is contributing to the adaptive capacity of its beneficiaries through economic development and decrease of climatic exposure and sensitivity of agricultural, dairy and aquaculture products using an improved ecosystem-based approach.

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  • Southern Africa

    The year 2015 saw livestock continue its journey as one of the important focus commodities for Solidaridad Southern Africa. Solidaridad continued managing the two Dutch government-funded Farmer Support Program (FSP) livestock projects that will conclude in early 2016, while also exploring opportunities for new interventions beyond the FSP.

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Solidaridad is now active in livestock improvements in 10 countries. Our programmes are leading the way in inclusive development both in the beef and the dairy sector. Stakeholders within the sectors are taking up this sustainability challenge at increasing rate. In 2015, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef agreed on its principles and criteria for sustainable beef. Major companies in the dairy sector have formed the Dairy Sustainability Framework to harmonize sustainability initiatives. Solidaridad is building on the lessons learned from its existing programmes to extend its dairy activities to other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

At the same time however, dairy surpluses in the global North are increasing and companies see exporting milk powder as a higher priority than investing additional resources in dairy development and local sourcing in the global South.

Programme investments in thousand euros


Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations



Solidaridad is actively seeking cooperation with the private sector in the beef and in the dairy supply chains. In our experience, large companies in both dairy and beef are very reluctant to invest in schemes such as smallholder development, local sourcing and sustainability. Actual partners include MeatCo in Namibia and BRAC Dairy in Bangladesh. Other partners include the Asociación Rural del Paraguay, the country’s largest livestock producer organization, and Central American research institute CIAT.

For the beef sector, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef has grown to 70 individual members and three affiliated national roundtable initiatives. Over the last couple of years, Solidaridad has worked closely together with the Brazilian Working Group on Sustainable Livestock (GTPS). In the dairy sector, Solidaridad is member of the Advisory Council of the GDAA Dairy Sustainability Framework, an industry initiative that is still in the early stages of development.



With 1.3 billion people worldwide directly or indirectly supported by the global livestock sector, there are huge opportunities to improve the lives of many millions of farmers and their families. At the same time, more efficient working practices can reduce the climate footprint of the sector. Kenya has more than 13 million cows, of which 90% are in the hands of smallholders. Many pastoralists, however, are being squeezed into smaller areas.

In addition, changing climate patterns have led to deteriorating access to water and accentuated the problem of overgrazing, which often leads to further impoverishment. As resource-poor livestock farmers tend to have very high greenhouse gas emission levels relative to output, smallholder development should go hand in hand with developing a climate smart livestock sector. This is the message that Solidaridad wants to promote in order to stimulate the global livestock sector to invest more in the development of the smallholder sector.

Gert van der Bijl

International Programme Coordinator, Livestock