Report from Rome: Livestock modelers band together to answer Big Questions

LD4D member Gareth Salmon reports back from a week of fruitful discussions with an international group of livestock data modelers at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome. 

To answer big questions relating to livestock, the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) community has convened a working group on Livestock Modelling. At the end of May, I visited the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, for a workshop organised by the working group, and met with key technical people who work on livestock modelling, to discuss how to share and consolidate information and methods to increase the efficiency and accuracy of global livestock modelling efforts. The meeting helped identify ways to harness the efforts and energy of a diverse community of experts.

Around twenty-five delegates from a variety of international institutions attended a three-day workshop. These included: FAO, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), University of Brussels, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), University of Queensland, CSIRO, and myself representing Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI), who act as secretariat for LD4D.

Working towards an ‘eco-system’ of models

Right from the start of the workshop there was unanimous agreement amongst delegates that livestock modellers would all be better positioned if they were aligned effectively. There was emphasised respect for each other’s specialisms, which add value in bringing together different perspectives when answering global livestock questions. The different institutions in the room all have their own models, which vary in purpose. With this in mind, the group formulated its vision of for an ‘eco-system’ of models that talk to each other, whilst retaining their own identity. In particular, members discussed and encouraged the need to link economic models with biophysical models (often developed in isolation) that provide foresight of future livestock scenarios. In addition, certain data themes were highlighted as being key to modelling activities, including information about global variation in livestock feed basket and the need to improve accuracy and agreement on livestock population numbers. Despite the global scenarios often focused on in reporting from models, it was discussed that high-resolution data had immense value in allowing observation of livestock production system variations.

LD4D community as a collaborative platform

The LD4D community of practice was highlighted as being an opportunity to forward collaboration under a neutral brand and make use the huge variety of expertise of its members.

It was a very exciting workshop to attend, with so many delegates from different international institutions all enthusiastic about working together to tackle future global challenges, improving situations for each other and the wider livestock and global communities.

Gareth Salmon is a researcher with the Supporting Evidence Based Innovations program, based at the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. Gareth is a member of the Livestock Data for Development (LD4D) Community of Practice and helps facilitate its Livestock Modeling working group. 

Header image: Harnessing energy and expertise. A view from the FAO’s rooftop to Circus Maximus chariot-racing stadium (photo: G. Salmon, SEBI). Inset: Detail of Chariot races in the Circus Maximus in Rome. Anonymous painter, after Alexander Sándor von Wagner, c. 1883 – in or before 1888. Source: Rijksmuseum collection.