Role of herbivores in sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: Role of herbivores in sustainable agriculture

A. A. Ayantunde, Alan Duncan, M.T. van Wijk, P. W. Thorne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of herbivorous livestock in supporting the sustainability of the farming systems in which they are found is complex and
sometimes conflicting. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the integration of livestock into farming systems is important for sustainable
agriculture as the recycling of nutrients for crop production through returns of animal manure is a central element of the dominant
mixed crop-livestock systems. Sustainable agriculture has been widely advocated as the main practical pathway to address the
challenge of meeting the food needs of the rapidly growing population in SSA while safeguarding the needs of future generations. The
objective of this paper is to review the state of knowledge of the role of herbivores in sustainable intensification of key farming systems
in SSA. The pathways to sustainable agriculture in SSA include intensification of production and livelihood diversification. Sustainable
agricultural practices in SSA have focused on intensification practices which aim to increase the output : input ratio through increasing
use of inputs, introduction of new inputs or use of existing inputs in a new way. Intensification of livestock production can occur
through increased and improved fodder availability, genetic production gains, improved crop residue use and better nutrient recycling of
manure. Livestock deliver many ‘goods’ in smallholder farming systems in SSA including improving food and nutrition security,
increased recycling of organic matter and nutrients and the associated soil fertility amendments, adding value to crop residues by
turning them into nutrient-rich foods, income generation and animal traction. Narratives on livestock ‘bads’ or negative environmental
consequences have been largely shaped by the production conditions in the Global North but livestock production in SSA is a different
story. In SSA, livestock are an integral component of mixed farming systems and they play key roles in supporting the livelihoods of
much of the rural population. None-the-less, the environmental consequences of livestock production on the continent cannot be
ignored. To enhance agricultural sustainability in SSA, the challenge is to optimize livestock’s role in the farming systems by maximizing
livestock ‘goods’ while minimizing the ‘bads’. This can be through better integration of livestock into the farming systems, efficient
nutrient management systems, and provision of necessary policy and institutional support.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2018


  • sustainable intensification
  • smallholder farming systems
  • ruminant livestock
  • food security
  • trade-off


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