New 'feed baskets' working group to improve data and evidence on livestock diets

Georgina Smith (CIAT)

LD4D working group will address data gaps on what animals are eating and where, to inform better decisions on livestock and the environment, food supplies and more.

What animals eat has a big impact on the climate and environment, on productivity of livestock farming systems, and on farmer income. For example, we need better data on livestock diets to understand greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, and design strategies to improve feed supplies. In 2024, a new LD4D 'feed baskets' working group led by Cornell University’s Food Systems and Global Change program, will help improve data on what animals in different locations and seasons are eating.

What are feed baskets?

Livestock may eat feeds such as grasses, grains, crop residues or crop by-products. 'Feed baskets' refer to the total mix of feed animals eat in a particular place or context. Feed baskets data can be represented at national, regional or farm levels, and be broken down by species or farm types.

Why is it critical to have data on livestock diets?

There are many important uses for feed basket data. For instance, to tackle climate change impacts of the global livestock sector, we need good data on what animals are fed to understand associated greenhouse gas emissions. Detail of current feeding practices will enable modelling of current emissions and help inform national-level strategies for reducing these emissions.

A more accurate representation of what animals are currently eating would also improve the ability to predict animal feed requirements and design strategies to improve feed supplies. This could be at a farm or national level.

How can feed baskets assessments and data be improved?

There are significant gaps or inconsistencies in feed basket data, especially in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). For example, data is scarce on digestibility of feeds, which is a key determinant of emissions.

There is also a need for better characterizations of feed baskets in different production systems in different contexts. This would allow for more accurate assessments of the overall impacts of the livestock sector, as well as more nuanced representation at a national or subnational level.

We believe that these challenges require a coordinated effort. Different decision-makers

have different needs for livestock data and may require data at different scales. They also have varying capacities to collect data. By working together, we can combine efforts and produce a more robust dataset that is suitable for a range of contexts.

The integration of analyses at different scales requires data that is consistent and comparable across those scales. In the same way, we need to develop a common understanding of the baseline data in order to undertake a range of analyses using different methodologies. We also need sector-level feed basket data at adequate resolutions, that can be scaled up.  Scaling up this data can enable countries to include a more robust assessment of the livestock sector in their international commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (known as Nationally Determined Contributions).

Aims of the LD4D Feed Baskets Working Group

LD4D is responding to these challenges by setting up a new working group to discuss current data challenges and explore potential ways forward. The working group will be led by researchers from Cornell University’s Food Systems and Global Change program. We will invite different stakeholders to join the group, including data collectors and data users, from both the policy and research arenas.

The objectives of the working group are to:

  1. Do a stock-take of available feed basket data;
  2. Highlight data gaps;
  3. Fill data gaps and provide data that is useful for funders and policy makers in a usable format;
  4. Explore the mechanisms that would lead to the formulation of better feed basket data and the opportunities and outcomes that this could support.

Next steps

The working group will host a virtual ‘show and tell’ event in February or March 2024, inviting organisations and individuals working on feed basket data to highlight their improvements and innovations. This will inform a preliminary report on feed-basket data challenges and key decision makers in the field. LD4D members will have an opportunity to learn about these interim findings and discuss these via a follow-up webinar in the Spring.

The working group will prepare a final report outlining the needs for feed basket data, identifying barriers to progress, and highlighting promising solutions. This report will inform a proposal for a new LD4D Solutions Group, which can work on addressing a specific data challenge for decision-making.

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Learn more about feed baskets