No data, no sustainable livestock transformation

Buffel grass provides a valuable option to restore degraded rangelands and forage for livestock in Tanzania. (Source)

Photo by Mounir Louhaichi (ICARDA).

The LD4D secretariat reflects on the FAO Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation 

By Gareth Salmon and Frances Ryan 

The first ever Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation recently took place at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. The event, which attracted hundreds of participants from the livestock community, focused on ways to transform the livestock sector. Transformation is needed to help livestock systems reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts, adapt to climate change, and continue to provide food, nutrition and income to communities.  

As data is needed to help livestock systems transform, it was not surprising to meet a number of LD4D network members at the conference!  

After the conference, the LD4D steering committee and secretariat reflected on the main data challenges and opportunities that had emerged. Broadly speaking the conference raised the need for more data and better ways to mobilise data in the livestock sector. As ever there was a consistent message that there is not enough livestock data and where it does exist, it is disparate.  

The gap remains between data and key decision makers  

There is a persistent gap between livestock science data and decision makers, such as policy makers. It is unclear whether data is reaching those who need it, and whether it can be effectively consumed by decision makers. Conference participants also recognized that data is only part of any decision-making process. 

A key highlight of the conference was the launch of a report from the FAO Livestock Environmental Assessment Partnership (LEAP), on the standards and methodologies for measuring, modelling and reporting methane emissions (link to report). The FAO LEAP team have produced this study in response to demands to reduce methane and also to determine how methane emissions can be reduced in light of policy pressures such as the methane pledge. There was very positive audience response during this session, which welcomed tools that can help the livestock sector make sense of climate science. 

This aligns well with the LD4D focus of supporting decision makers. If decision makers can better understand data and where it comes from, they will have increased confidence in using it as part of their decisions. LD4D is now establishing solution-focused working groups ("Solutions groups") to uncover decision maker data requirements and draw on the network's expertise to fill these gaps.  

Data is systematically undervalued 

The market for data appears to be dysfunctional. Do data suppliers know their customers’ demands? Are customers paying enough for data to support crucial decisions? Is data valued enough? It appears that users are not investing sufficiently in critical data such as livestock populations. In the commercial world, data is highly valued, and private companies invest heavily in data because they know it will enable successful business decisions. The situation is not the same in the development or public sectors. However, when data has been linked to economic impacts users see the value in having good data. Data needs to be marketed better so that its value is understood. Through linking decision makers with available data and data producers LD4D can demonstrate this value. 

No consistency in how to respond to data challenges 

The livestock community consistently agrees on the data challenges we are facing. We recognize that data is not consistent or accessible, which hampers those trying to use it to make decisions. However, there is no consistency or unity in how we should respond to these challenges.   

The sector needs more help with how to collect, share, handle, and use data.  There should be strong incentives and encouragement for groups to share their data. Data producers should be awake to the global value of their data. 

What’s next? LD4D Solutions Groups and more

The conference was all about a global transition to sustainable livestock, but achieving this requires data to help progress and then be able to measure success. This is particularly important when big investors such as investment banks and climate financiers become involved. 

There continues to be a critical gap between data and decisions, between data suppliers and decision makers. As a first step, data suppliers need to better understand decision makers’ data needs. LD4D is setting up new Solution Groups to try and address these gaps – these will be announced at our upcoming annual virtual meeting in November - registration is now open! The Solution Groups will work to uncover decision makers’ data needs and draw upon the LD4D network’s expertise to help address these gaps. We look forward to taking on this challenge and exploring how we as a network can support better, data-informed decisions. 

Gareth Salmon and Frances Ryan are both researchers with SEBI-Livestock, which hosts the LD4D Secretariat.