As humanity continues its era of rapid population growth and rising economic prosperity, the demand for animal protein is anticipated to reach unparalleled heights. This surge in consumption is set to drastically impact the lives of farmed animals worldwide. Nowhere is this growth more pronounced than in Africa.
Previously, our anticipation of Africa’s sharp increase in livestock numbers was primarily grounded in the historical global expansion of farmed animal populations over the past decades, coupled with human population growth trends across the African continent. This post, however, delves into the specific projections of farmed animal numbers and animal farming intensification from 2012 to 2050, as outlined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)*, which is based on many more factors than just historical changes in animal agriculture and human population growth, providing us with more detailed estimates than previously available. If not stated otherwise, all figures named in this blog post refer to these projections, which can be found here.
The FAO's projections encompass a range of future scenarios, including both a "business as usual" model and a "towards sustainability" model. For the scope of this post, we focus on the "business as usual" projection, which assumes the absence of any significant efforts to reduce the extent of factory farming. This allows us to explore the potential ramifications of the current trajectory of animal agriculture. Notably, even upon considering the projections from the “towards sustainability” model, the prospects for Africa remain largely unaltered. In contrast, for all other continents, we can observe a noticeable reduction in farmed animal numbers in comparison to the “business as usual” model. Although far from certain, this may indicate that the FAO assumes that growth in animal agriculture in Africa is close to unavoidable or that nothing will be done to hinder its growth.
The FAO provides data for farmed land animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, poultry, and buffaloes, but omits figures for other mammals, such as rabbits, horses, and dogs, as well as insects, fish, and seafood. This exclusion is noteworthy since the protein yield from smaller animals demands significantly greater numbers of individual animals per kilogram in contrast to large mammals like cows and pigs. Thus, while the analysis below offers crucial insights, it only represents a fraction of future developments.
Africa in global comparison
According to the FAO’s projections, the number of farmed land animals in Africa is anticipated to experience a remarkable surge in the coming decades. As shown in the graph below, the population of farmed land animals for the entire continent of Africa will rise from around 2.6 billion in 2012 to around 9.4 billion in 2050, an increase of 262%. Consequently, Africa would surpass all other global regions in terms of the total size of farmed animal populations by 2050, except for Asia, and reach roughly twice the total number of animals of other regions like Europe or North America.
At present, Asia leads and will continue to lead all continents in terms of the total number of farmed land animals. This can largely be attributed to factory farming in China, Indonesia, and India. Nevertheless, Africa’s livestock numbers are expected to increase by a much larger absolute number and at a higher rate than Asia’s projected 26% rise from 2012 to 2050.
Note that these numbers (along with all following numbers in this post) refer to the count of live animals at a given time in a year, which is not to be confused but should be highly correlated with the overall number of animals raised or slaughtered annually.
Nigeria and South Africa as key drivers of growth
Africa is a diverse continent and stating numbers for the whole of it overlooks many developments at the individual country level. While a sharp increase in farmed animal numbers is anticipated for most African countries, Nigeria and South Africa stand out, ranking second and third globally in terms of absolute livestock increase. Nigeria is expected to witness a four- to five-fold increase in farmed animals, from 358 million to 1.64 billion. South Africa will see a more than six-fold increase, from 250 million to 1.53 billion, as evident in the graph below.
The two countries are countries likely to have different reasons for this growth. Nigeria has one of the highest fertility rates (5.2 births per woman) and is soon expected to become the world’s third most populous nation. Despite the relatively low current per capita animal protein consumption (7 kg of meat per person per year), the number of animals required to feed Nigeria’s growing population could be expected to rise substantially, even if we assumed per capita consumption to stay the same. In South Africa, fertility rates are the lowest in all of Sub-Saharan Africa (2.4 births per woman). However, their relatively high animal protein consumption per capita (60 kg of meat per person per year) explains the sharp increase in farmed animals. In addition, South Africa’s high degree of industrialisation in general might provide the basis for an even greater intensification of animal farming in the future.
Ethiopia and Ghana are two more notable countries, following Nigeria and South Africa in terms of absolute growth in livestock numbers. Ethiopia’s number of farmed animals is on track to rise from 135 million to 536 million (297%), and Ghana’s from 70 million to 414 million (491%).
Looking at the relative growth of farmed animal populations, different countries with smaller absolute increases stand out. Côte d’Ivoire is projected to experience the largest relative growth worldwide, with a 515% increase in the number of farmed animals, equating to 292 million more animals by 2050. Cameroon and Senegal also stand out**, with predicted growth rates of 438% (271 million more animals) and 406% (243 million more animals), respectively.
Farming intensification as a response to growth
Such intense growth in the number of farmed animals can only occur with the intensification of farming practices. While Africa currently has the least intensive animal agriculture sector worldwide, together with Asia and South and Central America, it is expected to witness the most significant intensification at 24-28%. Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Ghana are anticipated to experience productivity increases of 37%, 8%, 53%, and 45% respectively. Guinea leads the global ranking in terms of productivity increase for multiple animal products, with rates of increase between 50% and 180% for beef cattle, dairy cows, and pigs. With its already high degree of industrialisation, South Africa is an outlier, as intensification is expected to increase further by only 8%. In total, out of the 25 countries with the highest productivity rise globally, 13 are found in Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, and Liberia.
These developments will most severely affect chickens. Globally, the vast majority of farmed land animals are poultry, especially chickens, overshadowing other species. The number of farmed poultry worldwide is projected to increase by 53% from 22.2 billion in 2012 to 34.1 billion in 2050. In Africa alone, farmed poultry will more than triple from 1.8 billion to 7.4 billion. Additionally, Africa, and to a lower extent Asia, is likely to see substantial growth in farmed goats and sheep, a trend not mirrored in other continents. The two graphs below highlight the expected developments in the number of farmed animals per species, first between world regions and then within Africa only.
In summary, the projected surge in animal agriculture across Africa is nothing short of staggering, and demands a level of attention that far exceeds its current recognition. Remarkably, in 2020, the entire realm of animal advocacy throughout Africa is estimated to have received only one million USD of funding***, in stark contrast to the immense scope and impact of the expected changes. Within this context, the mission of Animal Advocacy Africa (AAA) becomes all the more apparent. AAA is currently conducting a research project in collaboration with Bryant Research aimed at identifying appropriate, feasible, and evidence-based strategies to mitigate the trend outlined in this blog post. In addition, AAA is running a training program to develop a pool of advocates ready to be mobilized for establishing new farmed animal advocacy initiatives in line with the research project’s findings or to work at existing organizations in Africa. As the landscape of animal agriculture in Africa changes, empowering animal advocacy organizations and individuals in Africa is a crucial step to ensure that progress towards a more compassionate and sustainable food system is achieved. If you think our work is important and want to contribute to it, consider working with us or donating – we value every contribution!
* The FAO projections are based on identifying, quantifying and modeling key drivers of future changes, including GDP, population, as well as agricultural technology and production. More information can be found here.
** Looking at a combination of absolute numbers and relative growth rate could be a relevant factor when considering where to start and support animal advocacy organizations. Prioritizing countries with high absolute numbers and high relative growth and deprioritizing countries with low absolute numbers and low relative growth seems sensible. However, it is not quite clear how to weigh countries with high absolute numbers but low relative growth versus low absolute numbers but high relative growth against each other. Although looking at absolute growth numbers can help prioritizing African countries in terms of the scale of the problem, additionally looking at relative growth may be relevant for estimating the tractability of animal advocacy organizations’ work, since efforts like implementing new policies may be easier in countries where animal agriculture is still on a smaller scale.
*** This estimate comes from an upcoming research report by Animal Advocacy Africa. For older figures, one can also refer to Lewis Bollard’s estimates here.