Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

The importance of livestock and sustainable production systems

This post is written by Lavinia Scudiero and Eduardo Arce Diaz, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Livestock have provided crucial contributions for the human wellbeing in social and economic terms since the time of civilisation and domestication of animals. Livestock systems have drastically evolved since then and in light of global challenges such as climate change, population growth and the urgency of ensuring the availability of nutritious and secure food for everybody, the optimisation of sustainable livestock production is more important than ever.

Sustainable livestock production means making livestock systems economically more efficient and striking balance between meeting the growing demand of animal-origin products and reducing to the minimum the negative side effects and externalities from the livestock sector.

In order to be optimal, livestock systems need to promote advancements in the technological and infrastructural aspects of the sector and, at the same time, institutions and experts should support the progression of knowledge with policies that define and shape sustainable livestock development from a social, economic and environmental perspective.   

The Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock seeking for sustainable holistic solutions

With few exceptions, effective policies to regulate and guide best practices on sustainable livestock need to be enhanced worldwide. To tackle the void, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was mandated by the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), one of its advisory bodies, to establish a multistakeholder partnership (MSP) to seek consensus on effective and innovative practices for sustainable livestock production and provide holistic solutions in an integrated way.  

In 2011, the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) was founded as an international MSP of which FAO is an important member providing technical support and hosting its secretariat.  The partnership brings together official partners and hundreds of stakeholders involved in the livestock value chain to have a better, integrated understanding of all the controversial facets generated from the sector, exchange expertise, generate learning and provide solutions that can benefit the entire planet.

The main objective of GASL is to strengthen society’s commitments towards sustainable livestock production practices and policies and contribute in a tangible way to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030.

GASL adopted four Sustainability Domains from the 2018 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture to define better its lines of action:food and nutrition security, livelihoods and economic growthanimal health and animal welfare, and climate and natural resources use.

GASL governance structure

The Global Agenda facilitates dialogue, generates and assembles scientific evidence and advocates for practice and policy change for sustainability issues through the MSP governance approach. The main facilitation tool of the GASL is the annual MSP meeting which each time addresses a specific sustainability thematic both at global and region-specific levels.

To address the issues, the technical groups (Action Networks) and partners of the GASL, clustered in seven different groups, offer experience and expertise to find common solutions. The number of partners joining the Global Agenda has been increasing substantially since its foundation in 2011 and it currently involves 112 members, including more than 20 governments, social movements, private sector, donors, academia, NGOs and intergovernmental and multi-lateral organizations. Each represented in a Guiding Group that leads the group and provides directions and information. Additionally, consumer groups and farmers are now also important targets for the GASL. For a clear comprehension of the GASL governance structure, see the figure below.

The Action Networks consist of nine technical groups that address the different dimensions of livestock sustainability issues that interest GASL: resource efficiency, value of grassland, waste bioeconomy, environmental assessment guidelines, dairy in Asia, silvopastoral systems, antimicrobial resistance, social development, and animal welfare. They are championed by well-known research organizations, work on a voluntary basis and are self-funded groups of experts; they collect regional and worldwide experience and provide evidence, advisory documents, and guidelines for the Global Agenda.

Governance structure of the GASL

GASL achievements

Over the years, the Global Agenda has successfully established an integrated approach towards livestock sustainable development. It has consolidated a unique platform for the facilitation of dialogue, understanding, and consensus among a diverse participation of actors, fostering progress towards policy and practice change. It has conducted analysis and assessments to facilitate innovation tools, technical solutions and guidelines to support best practices along the whole livestock value chain at economic, social and environmental level. See table below for an overview of the GASL main publications.

Finally, it has successfully supported one national initiative (Mongolian Agenda for Sustainable Livestock), and held two regional meetings and several global meetings over the years, including for instance, the nine global, annual MSPs that took place in Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, Canada, Colombia, Panama, Ethiopia, Mongolia and USA, and the two regional meetings for Central Asia and Eastern Europe (Ukraine 2018) and South America (Brazil 2019). The next MSP meeting will be held in Delémont, Switzerland in June 2020 and anyone that wishes to approach the Global Agenda is welcome to participate. For additional information and updates on the annual MSP meetings visit the GASL page here.

Joining the Global Agenda

The membership is open to any organization that supports the vision of the Global Agenda and being a member does not entail any fee expenses. Please visit livestodialogue.org, read and download the Agenda Consensus Document to understand the principles sustaining GASL and get in touch with us by writing to Livestock-Dialogue@fao.org and/or to the GASL Manager, Eduardo.ArceDiaz@fao.org .

GASL main publications

GASL Factsheet

GASL Action Plan 2019-2021

GASL Progress Report 2018

Smallholder Livestock Systems Innovations for Sustainability – A policy brief from the NGO cluster

Silvopasotral Systems and their Contribution to Improved Resource Use and Sustainable Development Goals: Evidence from Latin America

Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector

Dairy Development’s Impact on Poverty Reduction

LEAP Publications



Great post from our colleagues at the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock. We can all benefit through collaborative learning and benefit from the services of GASL to ensure sustainable development of our sector engages all stakeholders and is well technically coordinated. At USAID we encourage you to check out the GASL website and key technical outputs of the various Action Networks. Have you and colleagues in your organisation seen the 4 key note technical review papers which were commissioned by GASL? Topics are: (i) Food and Nutrition Security (ii) Livelihoods and Economic Growth (iii) Animal health and Welfare (iv) Climate Change and Natural Resource Use. These technical papers can be accessed at this link: https://conferences.k-state.edu/gasl2019/gasl-forum/