Livestock Data and COVID-19: Call for community inputs

What are the data needs and collective responses to COVID-19 in the livestock sector?

By Vanessa Meadu, Karen Smyth and Gareth Salmon (SEBI)

The LD4D Community recently hosted an online discussion joined by over 70 of our members, to explore data needs and collective responses to COVID-19 in the livestock sector, and consider how could be developed to best support data and evidence-sharing. To start with, we will be compiling a list of livestock initiatives that address COVID-19 in order to support better coordination and cooperation – submit your initiative here

Watch the recorded discussion

Why we need better livestock data to tackle COVID-19

The session was opened with presentations by three experts working on critical livestock challenges. Dr. Simplice Nouala, Head of Division of Agriculture and Food Security at the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) explained that ministers need data on the impacts of COVID-19 on food security in order to make evidence-based decisions, but the lack of data is a major constraint.

How do we assess and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the livestock sector in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), particularly on value chains, food security and livelihoods? Dr. Ugo Pica-Ciamarra, a Livestock Economist at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) urged the community to look beyond the crisis and broadly strengthen livestock data to support the sector. He suggested better data is needed in several areas:

  • To demonstrate return on investment in livestock (particularly in times of crisis)
  • To understand whether global or local production is more robust, which can guide population and growth strategies to become more shock-proof in the future. 
  • More proactive evidence on zoonotic diseases to better predict future outbreak events
  • Data showing the value of private and/or public animal health services, demonstrating livestock health as a public good

Finally, Dr. Delia Grace Randolph, Professor Food Safety Systems (NRI) and Livestock health and safety expert for CGIAR and ILRI, offered some insights on what data we need to predict and respond to emerging zoonotic diseases. She emphasised that the impacts of outbreaks can be effectively mitigated through effective zoonotic disease surveillance and reporting systems that help detect outbreaks and guide rapid responses. However, there is not always an incentive for countries to report disease outbreaks; instead, data should be nationally, regionally and internationally co-ordinated using existing structures (such as AU-IBAR and ILRI to co-ordinate for Africa)

Proposed community actions on Livestock Data and COVID-19

After the presentations, the audience joined in an engaging discussion around current and potential actions for the livestock data community. You can view the detailed results of this feedback session here (PDF). We have grouped these proposals around the following themes:

Connecting the community and communicating outputs

A number of our members are already undertaking work that intersects with COVID-19. It was suggested that the LD4D secretariat could create a COVID-19 central landing page hosted on, linking to relevant work being carried out by its members. We have now set up a survey to collect the details of relevant initiatives – please fill it out here.

  • Share the collated list of initiatives with all agricultural universities, ministries of agriculture, ministries of trade, veterinary schools, etc.  
  • Share data more openly; produce visualisations of data that already exist
  • Set up a group email address where knowledge can be shared
  • Post related project reports or lessons learned from previous outbreaks such as H1N1 earlier
  • As a community, we need to make available data that encourage and enhance food security via livestock production data so that all relevant stakeholders (researchers, donors and government) can come on board to work as a team

Media strategy 

  • Have a broader media strategy to support policy decisions which need to be made in the coming months


  • Join our voices to call for international institutions to release up-to-date censuses on animal populations and scrutinise data coming from countries
  • Advocate for continued funding for research and data collection post-pandemic to better prepare for future pandemics
  • Collect information from various sources to inform decision makers

Promote decision support tools/supporting materials

  • Systematise available papers (data) that investigate the impact of COVID-19 on livestock be node of the value chain
  • Combine datasets and gathered evidence to respond to the needs as clearly articulated by AU (Dr Nouala) FAO (Dr Pica-Ciamarra) to responds to needs expressed by governments.
  • Hold more community discussions such as this one (Apollinaire Dijkeng, CTLGH, University of Edinburgh)

Better data, better decisions
Improving data quality and interoperability is a core goal of the LD4D community. We see all of these activities as crucial in responding to COVID-19 as well as other critical challenges, particularly in Low and Middle-Income Countries.

  • An area of potential work is around addressing data gaps around Pastoralists. Decision-makers in Africa said there is not enough information about the impacts of COVID-19 on these communities and their livelihoods.
  • Explore how to improve the quality of the data routinely collected by the public sector especially in LMICs (Victor Mbao, IDRC)
  • Obtain funding to ensure data can be collected and organized in a uniform format
  • Open-source data collection tools to monitor animal diseases and use of medicines. Also standardised comparable approaches towards data collection. 
  • Agree on the matrix and metrics: what data is needed, how do we collect and analyze them? 
  • Input the data into a portal that could link into Define what data and develop common protocols for data collection
  • Develop different methods to gather data, to prevent data gap. Eg non-invasive/ distant recording where otherwise human intervention is needed. (AbacusBio)
  • Prioritise livestock data needs
  • Promote common data and protocols

Action Planning and data for decisions

  • Need to differentiate between immediate (crisis) actions - maintaining production etc, and longer-term actions such as more resilient livestock sectors and future response to zoonoses. (John Claxton, UoG)
  • Forge links with policy makers and private sector so that research can be coordinated and translated into real-world change (especially in respect to preparedness)
  • We need to focus on getting data that shows the need of the One Health as a tool to prevent occurrence of pandemics such as COVID-19 and/or reduce the impacts
  • Plan what data would encourage better investment in animal health systems to prevent the next pandemic
  • Data in peace vs data in crisis!

Have your say

  1. Are you working on livestock initiatives that are addressing COVID-19? Please fill out this survey with your activities.
  2. Do you agree on these areas for action? Do you have anything to add? Please get in touch!

More opportunities to engage

Online talk - Bridging research and policy responses to COVID-19
When: Friday, 19 June 2020, 17:00 (GMT+02:00) Europe/Amsterdam
Link to register and watch

Organised by IFAD, FAO and WFP in partnership with:

Online discussion - Pandemic! A one health view of emerging infectious diseases
When: Tuesday, 30 June 2020, 14:00 (GMT+02:00) Europe/Amsterdam
Link to register and watch

Organised by the Collaborative Working Group on European Animal Health & Welfare Research (CWG AHW-SCAR) and the Global Strategic Alliances for the Coordination of Research on the Major Infectious Diseases of Animals and Zoonoses and its related International Research Consortium (STAR-IDAZ IRC

This event is supported by DISCONTOOLS and AnimalhealthEurope

Call for contributions: Evidence Synthesis Response to the COVID-19 crisis
3ie, the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) and the Global Evidence Synthesis Initiative (GESI) are partnering to produce (rapid) systematic reviews on priority topics related to COVID-19, provide easy access to existing syntheses and help decision makers translate existing evidence to a new context.One of the areas where they are seeking contributions relates to questions emerging due to the economic and social repercussions of COVID-19, including increasing poverty and food insecurity. Survey link:

Online meeting: From Crisis to Opportunity – Lessons from COVID-19 for Building a Better Future through Sustainable Livestock

When: 14-18 September 2020
Please save the date, more details will follow in due course.

Hosted by the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). GASL stakeholders, interested in contributing kindly get in touch with

Vanessa Meadu is the Communications and Knowledge Exchange Specialist Details with SEBI (Supporting Evidence Based Interventions). Karen Smyth is SEBI Deputy Director and Gareth Salmon is a Senior SEBI Researcher. SEBI facilitates the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) Community of Practice and manages

Header photo: ILRI/ Jake Meyers (source)