For the November 2011 ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ event at ILRI, Don Peden, Tilahun Amede and Amare Haileslassie prepared an issue brief on ways to maximize the benefits derived from animal products per unit of water consumed …
Is it true that animal production uses excessive and unsustainable volumes of water? How can the livestock sector reduce land and water degradation and use water resources more effectively?
These questions emerged in the 1990s after agricultural water use estimates suggested that producing one kg of meat, grains and potatoes requires about 100,000 litres, 2,500 litres and 500 litres respectively, implying that consumption of animal source foods must be drastically reduced to conserve scarce water supplies and divert to them into crop production.
Livestock researchers were challenged to prove that animal production consumed less water, to better understand livestock-water interactions, and to identify practical ways to drastically reduce the water costs of livestock production.
The first step was development of a livestock-water productivity assessment framework. This is similar to the well-established concept of crop water productivity in the sense that both are based on water accounting principles.
By 2010, it was clear that production of one kg of beef required less water than previously reported and that developing countries have many options to further increase livestock water productivity.
On 9 and 10 November 2011, the ILRI Board of Trustees hosted a 2-day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. The event synthesized sector and ILRI learning and helped frame future livestock research for development directions.