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Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population

Most of Ethiopia's estimated 71 million sheep and goats are raised by small farmers who used them as a major source of meat and household income. When food prices rise, as seen during the 2011 drought, poor households are forced to choose between selling livestock to maintain current consumption levels or risk malnutrition to protect future income sources.


Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population


Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population
Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population

With an estimated 52 million cattle, 36 million sheep, 35 million goats and 5 million camels in 2009, Ethiopia has Africa’s largest livestock population. Pastoralist communities are highly dependent on income from livestock to pay for food, health services, and school fees. 

When food prices rise, as seen during the 2011 drought, poor households are forced to choose between selling livestock to maintain current consumption levels or risk malnutrition to protect future income sources.

Almost the entire rural population is involved in some way with animal husbandry, whose role included the provision of draft power, food, cash, transportation, fuel, and, especially in pastoral areas, social prestige. In the highlands, oxen provided draft power in crop production. In pastoral areas, livestock formed the basis of the economy.

Ethiopia has great potential for increased livestock production, both for local use and for export. However, the expansion was constrained by inadequate nutrition, disease, a lack of support services such as extension services, insufficient data with which to plan improved services, and inadequate information on how to improve animal breeding, marketing, and processing. 

The high concentration of animals in the highlands, together with the fact that cattle are often kept for status, reduces the economic potential of Ethiopian livestock.

Most of Ethiopia's estimated 71 million sheep and goats are raised by small farmers who used them as a major source of meat and cash income. About three-quarters of the total sheep flock is in the highlands, whereas lowland pastoralists maintain about three-quarters of the goat herd. Both animals have high sales value in urban centers, particularly during holidays such as Easter and New Year's Day.



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