This anonymous essay was submitted to Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes contest and published with the author's permission.
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- The human population in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase significantly over the rest of the 21st century. To feed these people, the farmed animal population in the region will also likely increase.
- There are signs that factory animal farming is becoming more common in the region.
- Absent intervention, these two trends could lead the continent to be one of the major sources of farmed animal suffering in the world by the end of the century.
- Farmed animal welfare work seems to be even more neglected in Sub-Saharan Africa than it is in other regions of the world.
- Some interventions in this area, like lobbying for new animal welfare regulations or increasing public awareness of concerns about intensive animal agriculture, seem promising and cost-effective.
The welfare of farmed animals has justifiably been one of Open Philanthropy’s main areas of focus, given the large number of farmed animals suffering in horrible conditions around the world. This focus area spans many types of animals. The welfare of chickens raised for their meat is harmed by “genetics, overcrowding, inhumane slaughter, and poor housing conditions, like chronic sleep deprivation due to lighting schedules optimized for growth.” Fish farming (known as “aquaculture”) seems likely to be causing significant amounts of suffering because “most fish are farmed for longer and in harsher conditions than those experienced by most other farm animals.”
However, while Open Philanthropy currently has portfolio areas for farmed animal welfare in Asia and Europe, farmed animal welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa is not currently a primary area of focus for the organization. I believe work in this region could be a tremendous opportunity for Open Philanthropy and could be even more impactful than work on farmed animal welfare in other parts of the world.
Why Sub-Saharan Africa?
The United Nations estimates that 14% of humans alive in 2019 lived in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it projects that 23% of those alive in 2050 and 35% of those alive in 2100 will live in the region. All of these people will need to eat, and, if past experience is any indication of how Africans will eat in the future, we should expect their diets to include animal products.
This dramatic shift in the world’s population provides an opportunity for those concerned about the welfare of farmed animals. Interventions aimed at a currently smaller population are likely to be more tractable and cost-efficient, whether it is fewer companies that need to be assisted with implementing better animal welfare policies, fewer voters and policymakers who need to be persuaded about the value of more animal-friendly government policy, or fewer consumers that need to be convinced to adopt a more plant-based diet. It also seems plausible that many of these changes may be reasonably persistent, such that present-day actions might have effects that last for the rest of the century (and beyond). For instance, vegetarians might pass their views on meat on to their children, legislation and regulation might be somewhat sticky across time, and financial support to develop strong domestic plant-based protein sectors might have lasting effects on their countries’ agricultural sectors for many decades. Thus, Sub-Saharan Africa’s significant population growth provides us with an opportunity to work with a smaller present-day population (making possible interventions more tractable) in ways that could have lasting effects on the continent’s larger future population (making these interventions more important).
Another timing consideration that makes work on the continent potentially more impactful has been spelled out by Animal Advocacy Africa, an organization working on farmed animal welfare in Africa:
"We think interventions that have optimal timing should be prioritised over those that do not or those that could be more effectively implemented at a different time... Acting preemptively, in this case banning intensive animal farming practices while they are still small-scale or have yet to be introduced, may be more tractable than addressing the issue once it has been established. It will be harder to run a corporate campaign or pass a government law in order to change the standards once factory farming practices become the norm.”
Thus, both the significant population growth the continent is expected to see, along with the relatively nascent current state of intensive animal agriculture in the region, suggest that interventions on farmed animal welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa could be an especially impactful line of effort in the coming years.
Who Else Is Working On This?
As referenced above, Animal Advocacy Africa is an organization that supports farmed animal advocacy work on the African continent. They have compiled a list of African animal advocacy organizations across many countries and issues in the region. Twenty African organizations are part of The Humane League’s Open Wing Alliance working on chicken welfare globally. The African Union (a major multilateral organization in the region) also has an Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources that “has the mandate to be the leading technical institution and the main driver for [the] animal welfare agenda in Africa.” Animal Law Reform and the International Livestock Research Institute analyze the state of animal agriculture and animal health in Africa. These organizations are joined by many others that have a meaningful impact on farmed animal welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Estimates of Present and Future Meat Consumption
The significant expected future population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa does not necessarily imply that meat consumption will grow at the same rate, as consumption patterns and income levels (which are heavily associated with meat consumption) vary across regions.
As shown, Sub-Saharan Africa contains 14% of the world’s population but makes up only 6% of the world’s annual meat consumption. How would we expect Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global meat consumption to change by 2100, if we assumed that every region continued to eat the same amount of meat per capita that they ate in 2019?
Assuming each region’s per capita meat consumption stays the same until 2100, and using the median UN projection of population for 2100, Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the world’s meat consumption would increase to 17% as its total meat consumption increases from 28 billion kg/year to 90 billion kg/year.
However, it does not seem reasonable to assume that per capita meat consumption around the world would remain unchanged over the next 80 years. We should expect per capita meat consumption to grow, as global incomes have been increasing for many decades and higher incomes are associated with higher levels of meat consumption. To generate rough estimates of future meat consumption, I created a simple regression of per capita meat consumption on log GDP per capita for all countries available in a dataset for 2019, and used that simple one-variable regression to estimate future meat consumption in different regions of the world based on different assumptions about how their GDPs will change in the future.
To validate this technique, I first looked at how the true meat consumption values compared with the GDP-predicted values for 2019:
The GDP-based predictions overestimate Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global meat consumption (Sub-Saharan Africa made up 8.4% of the global total in the GDP-predicted values, instead of the true value of 5.5%), but they seem to broadly match each region’s meat consumption. The major exception to this reasonably accurate performance is South Asia, where the GDP-based prediction significantly overestimates the region’s true meat consumption (this is probably due to widespread cultural skepticism of meat consumption in the region).
I then used this GDP-based prediction technique to estimate what meat consumption would be in 2100 in two different scenarios: 1) each region’s GDP per capita grows from 2021 to 2100 at the global average rate from 1990-2021, and 2) each region’s GDP per capita grows at the region-specific growth rate from that same time period. Neither of these seem like particularly likely scenarios, but given the uncertainty about future growth rates, it seems useful to see what Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global meat consumption would be under each assumption. Below is a chart showing the values for these two scenarios, along with the three scenarios previously discussed:
Using the global GDP per capita growth rate, Sub-Saharan Africa becomes the region with the largest total meat consumption, and makes up 27% of the world’s meat consumption. Using region-specific growth rates, Sub-Saharan Africa makes up only 18% of the world’s meat consumption, because it had the lowest 1990-2021 growth rate of any of the regions listed on these charts. If we assume that the GDP-prediction method overstates Sub-Saharan Africa’s future meat consumption share by the same amount as it did in 2019, then Sub-Saharan Africa’s consumption would make up 12% of the total using the region-specific growth rate and 18% of the total using the global growth rate. It is worth noting that both scenarios analyzed here assume that Sub-Saharan Africa will grow at or below the global average for the remainder of the 21st century; if the continent were to converge with the rest of the world and grow at an above-average rate, then Sub-Saharan Africa would make up an even larger share of future meat consumption.
In conclusion, Sub-Saharan Africa currently makes up 6% of the world’s meat consumption. If we assume that per capita meat consumption stays unchanged in the 21st century, then based solely on population changes, it would make up 17% of the world’s meat consumption. If we used future GDP per capita to predict meat consumption across the world, then it would make up 18% (12% adjusted for potential overestimation) of the world’s consumption if it continued on its current growth trajectory (with lower growth rates than the rest of the world) while it would make up 27% (18% adjusted for overestimation) if it (and the rest of the world) grew at the same rate that the world grew in the last 31 years. These estimates should be treated with caution, and there is significant uncertainty in many of these numbers, but it seems reasonable to conclude that Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global meat consumption will at least double by 2100, with a quadrupling of its global share seeming quite plausible.
Trends Towards More Intensive Animal Agriculture Practices
As the continent develops, there are tentative signs that Sub-Saharan Africa is expanding its use of intensive forms of animal agriculture. Sentient Media writes that “[a]s meat consumption continues to rise, factory farming is emerging as an important industry to help meet the growing demand, and political support for factory farming is strong in most African countries.” In Ethiopia, “[t]he share of the intensive and semi-intensive poultry systems in the national market is currently on the rise." Aquaculture is growing rapidly in parts of the continent: "[o]ver the past 35 years, aquaculture production in Nigeria has grown 12% a year (compared to the world average of 8%), from a little over 6000 metric tons in 1980 to nearly 307,000 metric tons in 2016.” These trends show worrying signs that the continent’s animal protein providers are shifting towards methods that are likely to cause more suffering in the animals being raised for consumption, and are likely to lead to lower prices for animal products (thus increasing the amount of animal products consumed by the public).
Beyond the math above showing that a larger population will lead to more meat consumption on the continent, there are also potential geopolitical benefits from focusing efforts on Sub-Saharan Africa. As these countries grow in absolute and relative terms, their political and economic importance on the world stage will likely grow as well. Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru were very politically influential leaders, even though they led desperately poor nations, because their countries had very large populations. If China and India were geopolitically important when they were poorer because of how many people they had, shouldn’t we expect Nigeria (soon to pass the United States and become the world’s third most populous nation), Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to also be politically influential if the population projections are something even close to correct? This is even more true if one expects these countries to achieve significant economic growth in the coming decades (as Ethiopia has done so far this century).
If many African countries will become more politically powerful in the future, then having more animal welfare-aligned policies in these countries seems good for spreading them to other places. One possible channel for this spread of more stringent animal welfare regulations is through international trade deals. For example, Chile increased its animal welfare standards as part of negotiations over a free trade agreement with the European Union. Policymakers in different countries are often inspired by the laws and practices of other countries (e.g. the United States Constitution’s influence on the constitutions of other countries) and it seems helpful to have individual nation-states with better animal-welfare policies and more humane ways of meeting their protein needs. A review of some case studies of moral circle expansion argues that support concentrated in a single country can be especially valuable because it provides support in international debates. Regions experiencing significant population growth (like Sub-Saharan Africa) are especially valuable for all of the considerations in this section, as they provide an opportunity for relatively lower-cost interventions now (with their smaller current-day populations) that lead to relatively more influential geopolitical effects (with their larger expected future populations).
Farmed animal welfare is a relatively neglected focus area, and farmed animal welfare within Sub-Saharan Africa appears even more neglected. According to Animal Advocacy Africa, “only $1 million went towards farmed animal advocacy work in Africa in 2020.” This relative neglect is also present within effective altruism-associated grantmaking:
"Relative to the number of farmed animals on the continent, Africa remains neglected when it comes to funding. Compared to other regions of the world, animal advocacy initiatives received only $80,000 in funding from EA sources that we are aware of since January 2019 (this includes the recent $40,000 we received). For every land farmed animal, Africa receives between 2 and 115 times less than other geographic regions, except for Southeast Asia receiving the same amount as Africa."
Because of the natural human tendency to focus on the near-term, there may be a systematic undervaluing of the expected significance of Africa’s animal agriculture industry at the end of this century. Given that, as seen in the above charts, meat consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa does not seem especially significant or noteworthy looking at present-day data, ignoring expected future trends may lead one to be more interested in funding issues in, for example, East Asia and the Pacific where demand is already very large. Additionally, the relative absence of highly-intensive forms of animal agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa – a reason often cited by philanthropists for why they do not fund work in the region – makes intervening seem less appealing if one doesn’t think about the potential for locking in better animal welfare regulations before intensive animal agriculture gets entrenched in an economy.
While farmed animal welfare work in Sub-Saharan Africa appears both important and neglected, its tractability is more uncertain.
Open Philanthropy has found tractable farmed animal welfare interventions in the United States and other countries, and there are some reasons to think that farmed animal work in Sub-Saharan Africa might be even more tractable than in other regions. As mentioned above, the relatively low current population size in Sub-Saharan Africa makes work there more tractable relative to its expected 2100 population than work in other world regions. The region’s relative lack of present-day intensive animal agriculture also means that (unlike in, for example, the United States) the status quo on many of these issues favors those concerned about animal welfare. Factory farming can more easily be framed as unnatural or alien when it is novel and not entrenched in a country (although this could also make it seem more modern or technologically advanced).
Non-intensive agriculture is also extremely economically important for many on the continent. For example, pastoralism, “a mode of subsistence that involves raising domestic animals in grassland environments using herd and household mobility” makes up a major part of many nations’ economies:
"Pastoralism is one of the most viable livelihood options in Africa’s drylands, and is the primary livelihood of an estimated 268 million people in 36 African countries... This livelihood option is critical for food security and is a key source of national GDP. It is estimated that pastoralism contributes between 10 and 44 percent of GDP in African countries.”
Many of the individuals involved in these higher-welfare forms of animal agriculture could potentially serve as allies for some animal welfare-related laws and regulations, given the threat that more intensive forms of agriculture pose to their way of life.
There are other concerns specific to many countries in the region that might make work on these issues more tractable. For example, there are significant public health concerns around meat consumption on the continent and limited access to clean water, soap, and refrigeration mean that consuming animal proteins can often cause disease (“[e]vidence shows that pathogens that can be harbored in livestock... are responsible for more than 60 percent of gastrointestinal diseases in [Sub-Saharan Africa]”). Also, many African countries are expected to be hit especially hard by climate change in the coming decades, so arguments that plant-based approaches are more efficient in energy and water use might be especially successful in the region. There are also some data to suggest that younger people in many African countries are especially interested in plant-based proteins.
However, there are also concerns specific to the continent that might make this issue less tractable. In interviews with advocates, organizations, and experts, Animal Advocacy Africa found that a lack of interest in animal welfare, a lack of law enforcement and legislation, and issues with the capacity of local governments were flagged as challenges to animal advocacy work on the continent. Funders have also expressed concerns about a lack of organizations to fund in the region. Sentient Media reports that “because public support for factory farming remains strong, animal advocates and organizations often find it difficult to raise awareness and push for policy change.”
Additionally, animal advocacy in many of these countries has to contend with the fact that many of them have significant issues (e.g. poverty, disease, conflict) affecting their human populations. This makes it harder to make the case that animal welfare should be a major priority and raises the risk that outside efforts to do good in the region could be seen as patronizing, neo-colonial, and divorced from the thoughts and priorities of most of the people in the region.
- Improving laws and regulations governing animal agriculture: Given that there is not a large, heavily-entrenched factory farming lobby in many African countries, political advocacy to forbid or constrain the development of particularly harmful forms of animal agriculture might be more feasible on the continent than in other regions. Additionally, since there are fewer general regulations on animal agriculture in many of these countries, it might be possible to pair animal welfare-enhancing regulations with human-centric ones that will probably be implemented in the future anyway (e.g. rules on animal vaccination, safety in meat processing facilities), especially if the animal welfare rules can be tied to goals related to public health, economic development, or other common concerns in the region. Some of this work could even be done by non-African organizations providing external regulatory advice, which could partially address the concerns cited by funders about the difficulty of finding African animal welfare organizations to fund.
- Spreading information about relevant topics: The relative lack of awareness of animal welfare concerns in many Sub-Saharan African countries makes it potentially impactful to draw public attention to the animal welfare and public health problems caused by more intensive forms of animal agriculture. This could include helping farmers to adopt more animal-friendly forms of husbandry and sharing information on how some of these practices could benefit public health or improve agricultural productivity. This form of outreach is likely to be more effective when accompanied by alliances with other organizations (for example, religious organizations have significant popularity and political influence in some areas and successfully working with such groups could increase animal advocates’ chances of success).
- Private Company Outreach: Some of the most successful animal advocacy campaigns in recent years have involved lobbying private companies to improve their animal welfare practices, like the successful corporate cage-free campaigns implemented in the United States and other regions. In the African context, this might involve lobbying private companies to follow international or high-welfare standards early-on in the development of a country’s agricultural sector (before particularly harmful agricultural practices get entrenched). This could also involve lobbying financial institutions to restrict their funding and support to companies that meet certain animal welfare standards. Less antagonistically, providing information to farmers who are already interested in improving welfare on their farms (the Fish Welfare Initiative does this in India) seems like a promising approach, especially when paired with public outreach showing the benefits of stronger welfare practices.
- Investment in Agriculture in the Region: It might also be valuable to support the development of certain protein companies or practices in the region, whether they are producers of cheap plant proteins or, more controversially, producers of bivalves or beef if the alternative is expected to be a higher-suffering product like fish or chicken. Sub-Saharan Africa’s livestock population is currently less chicken-heavy than the world’s; chickens make up 82% of the world’s land-animal livestock population (measured as the number of individual animals), but only 52% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s, with cattle (13%), goats (17%), and sheep (13%) making up a larger share on the continent than in the rest of the world. Preventing the continent’s diet from tilting more towards chicken (as has happened in other parts of the world), seems like a major priority for those concerned about the number of farmed animals suffering in Sub-Saharan Africa in the future.
No matter which interventions are chosen, it is important that the actions taken to better farmed animal welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa are adapted to the context in which they are performed. Animal advocates are more likely to achieve success when they tie their concerns to well-known topics that affect humans directly and are widely accepted to be issues that need to be addressed. This form of advocacy could involve leveraging concerns around public health, climate change, food security or agricultural self-reliance:
"Muriithi has found that focusing on the well-being and sentience of animals can be a difficult task when developing advocacy strategies. She explains that most arguments for factory farming are based on economic issues that many Africans are aware of. Therefore, appealing to them on an economic basis has been much more helpful. Furthermore, countering factory farming from an environmental perspective is perhaps easier than advocating for animal welfare.”
If I had more time, here are topics that I would have liked to research more:
- Persistence: Much of the promise of this focus area (as opposed to working on farmed animal welfare in other parts of the world) relies on the idea that changes achieved now are likely to be at least somewhat persistent over time. Regulatory, awareness, and attitude changes achieved now may wash out over the rest of the century. If that happens, then the region’s expected population growth does not provide an exceptional opportunity to do good relative to work in other regions.
- Agricultural Development: What should our default expectation be about the development of factory farming in Sub-Saharan Africa, and how moldable is that trajectory? Are the factors that caused factory farming to develop in the United States and other countries also present in a lot of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, or do those countries have features (e.g. lower capital-to-labor ratios) that suggest that factory farming won’t develop to the same degree that it has in the United States? On the other hand, maybe factory farming is virtually guaranteed to develop once a country hits a certain level of economic development, and this change is extremely hard to prevent. If one were to think that either of these stories (Sub-Saharan Africa won’t develop factory farming in a significant way, or it will and there’s nothing we can do about it) are true, then this issue becomes less promising as an area in which to work.
- Economic and Population Projections: The future meat consumption values in this paper are created using estimates of future population size and economic growth for different regions of the world, and these projections are inherently uncertain (especially the ones estimating economic growth). The uncertainties involved in these two inputs to the meat consumption calculations mean that the estimated 2100 Sub-Saharan African share of global meat consumption could be a significant over or underestimate, although it seems unlikely that Sub-Saharan Africa’s share would not increase over the rest of this century.
As Sub-Saharan Africa’s population and economy grow, it will play a larger role in world affairs and, unless something changes, make up a larger share of the world’s animal product consumption. Depending on how this transition goes, these changes could turn the continent into one of the main sources of farmed animal misery in the world or make it the site of nations that have exceptionally animal-friendly agricultural policies and could lobby for those policies on the international stage. Intervening early in the continent’s agricultural development could be a particularly high-leverage opportunity for improving global farmed animal welfare in the future.
The data, tables, and calculations used in this proposal can be found in this series of spreadsheets.
The specific population estimates (for past years) and projections (for future years) used throughout this report come from the “Population - 1950-2100, all scenarios (ZIP, 7.75 MB) - Total Population on 01 July.” file on this web page.
Those projections also come with probability intervals; when each world region achieves their 5th percentile outcome in 2100, the region makes up 32% of the world’s population, while it makes up 41% of the world’s population when each region achieves their 95th percentile outcome. If we assume that Sub-Saharan Africa has its 5th percentile population outcome in 2100, while the other world regions have their 95th percentile outcome, then the region would still make up 21% of the world’s population, a significant increase from its 2019 population share. The United Nations’ median estimate of 35% is also roughly in line with some other estimates that find that Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of global population in 2100 will be 36%, 28%, or 35%.
The “consumption” data used throughout this write-up would be more precisely referred to as “food supply quantity.” This metric refers to the amount of meat consumed by individuals in a country along with retail, restaurant, and household waste of meat. Thus, the numbers shown here are an overestimate of the amount of meat actually consumed in different regions of the world.
The per capita meat consumption data used throughout this report comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). For this paper, I use the “food supply quantity” metric and count the following FAO food categories as meat (this differs from the World in Data’s definition here, as I include fish, oils, and fats): “Aquatic Animals, Others"; "Bovine Meat"; "Cephalopods"; "Crustaceans"; "Demersal Fish"; "Fats, Animals, Raw"; "Fish, Body Oil"; "Fish, Liver Oil"; "Freshwater Fish"; "Marine Fish, Other"; "Meat, Aquatic Mammals"; "Meat, Other"; "Molluscs, Other"; "Mutton & Goat Meat"; "Offals, Edible"; "Pelagic Fish"; "Pigmeat"; "Poultry Meat”.
In 2019, it overstated Sub-Saharan Africa’s meat consumption share by 53% (8.4%/5.5% = 1.53).
“If there is a little support for a policy, and significant opposition against it, in many countries, then the policy will probably have virtually no nations advocating for it on the international stage. If, instead, supporters of the policy are concentrated enough to be able to shape the international policy of a few countries, then the policy can have nations supporting it internationally. In other words, the same total amount of national-level support can mean different amounts of international support, depending on how it is distributed.” - What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies
"A widely cited reason for not funding farmed animal work is the smaller scale of factory farming outside major metropolitan areas. This is the case for the majority of African countries apart from South Africa, Kenya and a few others. As industrialised animal agriculture in most African countries has not reached the same magnitude as its Western counterparts, many existing animal advocacy organisations in Africa also do not focus on farmed animals.” - Animal Advocacy Africa, "Findings from funders"
These data come from the FAO. To calculate the metrics in this sentence, I pulled 2020 data for the stocks of live animals, excluding beehives from the analysis.
“Given these constraints and under current projections, African producers will be unable to satisfy the growing demand for livestock products. In 2030 and 2050, between one-tenth and one-fifth of the beef, pork, poultry, and milk consumed in Africa will come from outside Africa.“ - Malabo Montpellier Panel, "Meat, Milk and More: Policy innovations to shepherd inclusive and sustainable livestock systems in Africa".