Veterinary services make vital contributions to livestock supply chains, from farm to fork, and must be strengthened for the benefit of people, animals and the environment.
Livestock play a pivotal role in income-generation, employment, food and nutrition security, transport, draught power and social cohesion for millions of people worldwide. Even small amounts of animal-source foods can contribute substantially to the nutritional profile of human diets, and by-products including manure, fibre and hides are used as fertiliser, building materials, fuel and clothing.
Livestock as savings account
Livestock can represent a form of bank or savings account, which can be accumulated or redeemed according to household needs, and used as collateral to access credits.
Working animals such as horses provide draught power for crop cultivation and facilitate access to markets and local services.
“The livestock revolution could offer a pathway out of poverty for the poor.”
Used as a form of social currency, animals are exchanged and gifted during ceremonies and in times of hardship, building bonds and providing safety nets within communities.
As 42 per cent of the world’s poor are reliant on livestock as a livelihood strategy and two thirds of the world’s poor livestock keepers are rural women, the unique multifunctionality of livestock is particularly significant to the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. [1, 2]
Impacts of ‘livestock revolution’
With a growing global human population, urbanisation and changing food preferences, our consumption of animal products is expected to double by 2050 — a consumption boom fuelling the ‘livestock revolution’. [3, 4]
The impacts associated with this paradigm are profound and highly complex. However the livestock revolution could offer a pathway out of poverty for the poor, with income multiplier effects resonating throughout the supply chain, and in non-farm sectors such as education and health.
To harness the pro-poor benefits of a rising regional and global demand for livestock produce, an understanding of the primary inputs and services to support sustainable livestock production is required. Basic livestock inputs include quality feed, water and animal health services. Veterinary activities make vital contributions to all stages of livestock production from ‘farm to fork’ by reducing animal diseases and public health risks, improving levels of production, and attaining food quality and safety standards.
But with insufficient public expenditure on animal health in 60 per cent of 108 OIE member states  in which less than US$2 per capita a year is invested in veterinary services, the sector is under-resourced in many low-income countries and faces numerous challenges to overcome.
For example, animal diseases are responsible for annual losses of over US$4 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, amounting to a quarter of the total value of livestock production in the region, and high rates of morbidity and mortality, poor growth rates and low fertility result in production inefficiencies. 
Emergence of novel solutions
With severe fiscal constraints in many low-income countries, novel approaches to development have emerged, including new models for private livestock service delivery and support. Community animal health workers or ‘paravets’ have been increasingly trained and deployed by non-governmental organisations and governments as a means of effectively reaching rural and previously underserved livestock keepers to deliver basic and affordable animal health services.
For instance, a community animal health vaccination campaign contributed to the successful eradication of ‘cattle plague’ or rinderpest, by serving hard-to-reach cattle herding communities in southern Sudan, in which pockets of the disease persisted. 
“By better understanding the multifunctionality of livestock, we can begin to appreciate the human, animal and environmental benefits.”
New networks of privately-owned animal health clinics have emerged, such as the growing franchise community of Sidai Africa Ltd in Kenya. From branded Sidai outlets, quality livestock products and services are offered by franchisees and trained staff, with the support of Sidai regional representatives and a reliable supply chain for quality drugs.
Reaching farmers with information, news and opportunities is easier with the rise of mobile phone and other communication technologies, with short message services such as WeFarm offering peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and globally crowd-sourced solutions to farming challenges. In addition, Shamba ShapeUp, a television programme, is tackling livestock and crop farming issues in Kenya through its unique edutainment format.
Challenges and solutions
Andrew Mude, an economist at the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya, won the 2016 Norman Borlaug award for developing an index-based insurance scheme providing a safety net for herders in drought-prone East Africa, in which the loss of livestock equates to a loss of livelihood and cultural identity.
But challenges remain. Our recently-published study exploring animal health services in the Rift Valley of Kenya compared the services, workforces and drug-dispensing practices of livestock service providers including Sidai outlets, ‘agrovets’ (agricultural suppliers), pharmacies, and ‘dukas’ (general shops). [8, 9] The results indicated that staff knowledge and training gaps, and a shortage of cold chain facilities for the storage of vaccines and other medicines exist across the region.
Access to practical clinical support for livestock farmers is limited, indicating a shortage of professional expertise for handling serious disease challenges. Farmers were found to have strong preferences for certain products, and in areas with high levels of illiteracy, often select medicines with familiar packaging, which may foster the development of drug resistance. Our studies also revealed the opportunities that lie within the extensive and diverse network of animal health outlets operating in the region, with a demand from livestock keepers for accessible, affordable and quality services and products.
The Sidai franchise model offers a means of meeting this demand by maintaining a quality workforce with professional oversight, offering a broad service and product portfolio, providing farmer training and upholding consistent product quality and affordability.
The provision of basic livestock inputs and services is frequently overlooked on the international development agenda. Private animal health services have the potential to provide greater support to livelihoods during the livestock revolution in countries where animals form the backbone of the rural economy.
By better understanding the multifunctionality of livestock, we can begin to appreciate the human, animal and environmental benefits of efficient, productive and vibrant livestock farming communities.
Laura Higham is a veterinary programme manager at FAI, a company in the Sustainability Sciences division of Benchmark Holdings. She can be reached at [email protected] and via Twitter @L_Higham or @FAIfarms
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
References Philip K. Thornton and others Mapping poverty and livestock in the developing world (International Livestock Research Institute, 2002)
 Steve Staal and others Strategic investment in livestock development as a vehicle for rural livelihoods (International Livestock Research Institute, 2009)
 Mario Herroro and others The way forward for livestock and the environment In: The role of livestock in developing communities: enhancing multifunctionality (University of the Free State and CTA, 2010)
 Chris Delgado and others Livestock to 2020 – The next food revolution (IFPRI, 1999)
 Pascal Bonnet Contribution of veterinary activities to global food security for food derived from terrestrial and aquatic animals (World Organisation for Animal Health [OIE], 2011)
 Framework for mainstreaming livestock in the CAADP pillars (African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, 2010)
 Louise Tunbridge,Saving lives and livelihoods: Ten years of community-based animal healthcare in Sudan (ITDG Publishing, 1999)
 Laura E. Higham and others Characterising and comparing animal-health services in the Rift Valley, Kenya: an exploratory analysis (part I) (Tropical Animal Health and Production, 10 September 2016)
 Laura E. Higham and others Characterising and comparing animal-health services in the Rift Valley, Kenya: an exploratory analysis (part II)(Tropical Animal Health and Production, 31 August 2016)