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As the livestock revolution advances in Africa, the need to increase productivity continues to pose considerable opportunities and challenges. To navigate these complexities, this study seeks to understand the diverse characteristics of livestock systems in order to explore the sustainability implications for an expanding sector. A novel conceptual framework is adopted that categorises different livestock management systems – the micro scale of livestock production – to capture the characteristics of management strategies and associated livestock production trajectories. Data were collected from study sites in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Zambia using a combination of qualitative approaches which included historical timelines, resource mapping and focus group discussions with a representative sample of livestock sector stakeholders. The Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems methodology which had so far not been applied qualitatively to analyse African livestock systems further served as a comprehensive guideline for exploring the sustainability implications of changes in livestock distribution, management practices, and their drivers. The results indicate that across systems, livestock keepers are encountering multiple environmental and socio-economic pressures and opportunities, often simultaneously. In response, two main trends which can be mapped along a livestock management systems spectrum from transition to transformation were observed. Transitioning farmers changed their herd composition but maintained their existing livestock management systems; whereas, transformative farmers shifted their herding practices entirely towards new systems. Each change exhibited varying degrees of tradeoffs with respect to environmental integrity, economic resilience, social well-being and governance. The paper calls for harmonizing findings across scales to inform targeted yet flexible policies that balance productivity with sustainability. Moreover, the study stresses the importance of governance structures that can adapt to the dynamic nature of livestock systems and their socio-economic and environmental contexts.

Published as Hohenheim Working Papers on Social and Institutional Change in Agricultural Development Nr. 021-2024.