Climate and livestock disease: assessing the vulnerability of agricultural systems to livestock pests under climate change scenarios

Climate and livestock disease: assessing the vulnerability of agricultural systems to livestock pests under climate change scenarios

Livestock as a sector is extremely important to the global economy and to rural livelihoods. As of 2013, there was an estimated 38 billion livestock in the world, or five animals for every person. Most (81%) were in developing countries. Around one billion smallholder farmers keep livestock, many of them women. The burden of animal disease in developing countries is high: livestock disease probably kills 20% of ruminants and more than 50% of poultry each year causing a loss of approximately USD 300 billion per year. Climate change can exacerbate disease in livestock, and some diseases are especially sensitive to climate change. Among 65 animal diseases identified as most important to poor livestock keepers, 58% are climate sensitive. Climate change may also have indirect effects on animal disease, and these may be greater than the direct effects.

In order to address climate impacts on this sector, this paper makes the following recommendations:

  • invest in ‘no regret’ adaptation responses. Many adaptation responses based on improving the control of climate sensitive livestock diseases are ‘no-regret’ options, which, by reducing the burden of livestock disease, will enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty and address global inequity irrespective of climate change
  • improve disease surveillance and response in order to detect changes in disease in a timely way, thus dramatically reducing the costs of response. This requires investment and innovation in disease reporting systems as well as laboratories capable of confirming diseases. Risk-based and participatory surveillance are promising options for improving disease reporting
  • increase the capacity to forecast near term occurrence of climate sensitive diseases, and to predict longer-term distribution of diseases through better epidemiological information and ground-truthed models
  • improve animal health service delivery by investing in the public sector and supporting innovations in the private sector such as community animal health workers linked to private veterinarians. Promote “One Health” and Ecohealth approaches to disease control, especially in vulnerable communities with high reliance on livestock (e.g. pastoralists in East Africa)
  • support eradication of priority diseases where this is economically justified. Develop diagnostics and vaccines, and promote adoption of good practices and strengthened biosecurity to improve disease control
  • increase the resilience of livestock systems by supporting diversification of livestock and livelihoods, and integrating livestock farming with agriculture. Consider promotion of species and breeds that are more resistant to disease and climate change
  • adopt breeding strategies focused on identifying and improving breeds that are better adapted to climate change impacts and disease
  • understand the potential land use changes in response to climate change and monitor their impacts on animal disease to allow preventive or remedial actions
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