Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Heat stress will detrimentally impact future livestock production in East Africa


Climate change-induced increases in temperature and humidity are predicted to impact East African food systems, but the extent to which heat stress negatively affects livestock production in this region is poorly understood. Here we use ERA‐Interim reanalysis data to show that the frequency of ‘Severe/Danger’ heat events for dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, goats, swine and poultry significantly increased from 1981 to 2010. Using a multi-model ensemble of climate change projections for 2021–2050 and 2071–2100 (under representative concentration pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 by the coordinated regional-climate downscaling experiment for Africa (CORDEX-AFRICA)), we show that the frequency of dangerous heat-stress conditions and the average number of consecutive days with heat stress events will significantly increase, particularly for swine and poultry. Our assessment suggests that 4–19% of livestock production occurs in areas where dangerous heat stress events are likely to increase in frequency from 2071 to 2100. With demand for animal products predicted to grow in East Africa, production-specific heat-stress mitigation measures and breeding programmes for increasing heat tolerance are urgently needed for future livestock sector productivity—and future food security—in East Africa.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Average frequency of days with Severe/Danger heat stress per year.
Fig. 2: Trends in the percentage of days with Severe/Danger heat stress during the historical period.
Fig. 3: Scenarios of changes in the frequency of heat stress for future climate conditions.
Fig. 4: Scenarios of future changes in the number of consecutive days with Severe/Danger heat stress.
Fig. 5: Percentage of current livestock production challenged in the future due to heat stress.
Fig. 6: Scenarios of changes in heat stress in areas with intensive and extensive production systems.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

All the data products from this analysis are available upon request from the corresponding author.

Code availability

The analysis codes are available from the corresponding author upon request.


  1. FAO Statistical Databases (FAO, 2020);

  2. EAC Secretariat East African Community Facts and Figures—2016 Report (EAC, 2017).

  3. Gilbert, M. et al. Global distribution data for cattle, buffaloes, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks in 2010. Sci. Data 5, 180227 (2018).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  4. Macroeconomic and Social Developments in Eastern Africa 2018 (UNECA, 2018).

  5. Robinson, T. P. & Pozzi, F. Mapping Supply and Demand for Animal-Source Foods to 2030 Animal Production and Health Working Paper No. 2 (FAO, 2011)..

  6. Payne, W. J. A., & Wilson, R. T. (eds) An Introduction to Animal Husbandry in the Tropics 5th edn (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

  7. Nardone, A., Ronchi, B., Lacetera, N. & Bernabucci, U. Climatic effects on productive traits in livestock. Vet. Res. Commun. 30, 75–81 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lamy, E., van Harten, S., Sales-Baptista, E., Guerra, M. M. M. & de Almeida, A. M. in Environmental Stress and Amelioration in Livestock Production (eds Seijan, V. et al.) Ch. 1 (Springer, 2012).

  9. Gaughan, J. B., Mader, T. L. & Gebremedhin, K. G. Rethinking heat index tools for livestock. Environ. Physiol. Livest. 1, 243–263 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Sejian, V., Bhatta, R., Gaughan, J. B., Dunshea, F. R. & Lacetera, N. Review: adaptation of animals to heat stress. Animal 12, s431–s444 (2018).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Kimaro, E. G. & Chibinga, O. C. Potential impact of climate change on livestock production and health in East Africa: a review. Livest. Res. Rural Dev. 25, 116 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bernabucci, U. et al. Metabolic and hormonal acclimation to heat stress in domesticated ruminants. Animal 4, 1167–1183 (2010).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Mutua, J. Y., Marshall, K., Paul, B. K. & Notenbaert, A. M. O. A methodology for mapping current and future heat stress risk in pigs. Animal 14, 1952–1960 (2020).

  14. Rahimi, J., Mutua, J. Y., Notenbaert, A. M., Dieng, D. & Butterbach-Bahl, K. Will dairy cattle production in West Africa be challenged by heat stress in the future? Clim. Change 161, 665–685 (2020).

  15. Camberlin, P. Temperature trends and variability in the Greater Horn of Africa: interactions with precipitation. Clim. Dyn. 48, 477–498 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. King’Uyu, S. M., Ogallo, L. A. & Anyamba, E. K. Recent trends of minimum and maximum surface temperatures over Eastern Africa. J. Clim. 13, 2876–2886 (2000).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Case, M. Climate Change Impacts on East Africa: A Review of Scientific Literature (WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature, 2006).

  18. Orindi, V. A., & Murray, L. A. Adapting to Climate Change in East Africa: A Strategic Approach Gatekeeper Series No. 117 (International Institute for Environment and Development, 2005).

  19. Collins, J. M. Temperature variability over Africa. J. Clim. 24, 3649–3666 (2011).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Otieno, V. O. & Anyah, R. O. CMIP5 simulated climate conditions of the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA). Part II: projected climate. Clim. Dyn. 41, 2099–2113 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Russo, S., Marchese, A. F., Sillmann, J. & Immé, G. When will unusual heat waves become normal in a warming Africa? Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 054016 (2016).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Déqué, M. et al. A multi-model climate response over tropical Africa at +2 °C. Clim. Serv. 7, 87–95 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dosio, A. Projection of temperature and heat waves for Africa with an ensemble of CORDEX Regional Climate Models. Clim. Dyn. 49, 493–519 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lacetera, N. et al. (eds) Interactions Between Climate and Animal Production EAAP Technical Series No. 7 (Wageningen Academic Pub., 2003).

  25. DeShazer, J. A., Hahn, G. L. & Xin, H. in Livestock Energetics and Thermal Environment Management (ed DeShazer, J. A.) Ch. 1 (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 2009).

  26. Sejian, V. et al. (eds) Environmental Stress and Amelioration in Livestock Production (Springer, 2012).

  27. Collier, R. J. & Gebremedhin, K. G. Thermal biology of domestic animals. Annu. Rev. Anim. Biosci. 3, 513–532 (2015).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Espinoza, J. L. et al. Thermoregulation differs in Chinampo (Bos taurus) and locally born dairy cattle. Turk. J. Vet. Anim. Sci. 33, 175–180 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Robinson, T. P. et al. Global Livestock Production Systems (FAO and ILRI, 2011).

  30. Temple, D. & Manteca, X. Animal welfare in extensive production systems is still an area of concern. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4, 154 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mader, T. L., Johnson, L. J. & Gaughan, J. B. A comprehensive index for assessing environmental stress in animals. J. Anim. Sci. 88, 2153–2165 (2010).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Da Silva, R. G. in Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices 3rd edn WMO No. 134 (WMO, 2006).

  33. Al-Dawood, A. Towards heat stress management in small ruminants–a review. Ann. Anim. Sci. 17, 59–88 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Berihulay, H., Abied, A., He, X., Jiang, L. & Ma, Y. Adaptation mechanisms of small ruminants to environmental heat stress. Animals 9, 75 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hayhoe, K. et al. in Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (eds Reidmiller, D. R. et al.) Ch. 2 (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2018).

  36. Boke-Olén, N., Abdi, A. M., Hall, O. & Lehsten, V. High-resolution African population projections from radiative forcing and socio-economic models, 2000 to 2100. Sci. Data 4, 160130 (2017).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. Alexandratos, N. & Bruinsma, J. World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050: The 2012 Revision (FAO, 2012).

  38. Sessional Paper No. 2 of 2008 on National Livestock Policy (Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development, 2008).

  39. Lukuyu, B. A., Kitalyi, A., Franzel, S., Duncan, A. J. & Baltenweck, I. Constraints and Options to Enhancing Production of High Quality Feeds in Dairy Production in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda ICRAF Working Paper No. 95 (World Agroforestry Centre, 2009).

  40. Das, S. K. Impact of climate change (heat stress) on livestock: adaptation and mitigation strategies for sustainable production. Agric. Rev. 39, 130–136 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  41. Thornton, P. K., van de Steeg, J., Notenbaert, A. & Herrero, M. The impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems in developing countries: a review of what we know and what we need to know. Agric. Syst. 101, 113–127 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Rosenzweig, C. et al. Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach. Nat. Food 1, 94–97 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Foster, L. A., Fourie, P. J. & Neser, F. W. C. Effect of heat stress on six beef breeds in the Zastron district: The significance of breed, coat colour and coat type. S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci. 39, 224–228 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  44. Brügemann, K., Gernand, E., König von Borstel, U. & König, S. Defining and evaluating heat stress thresholds in different dairy cow production systems. Arch. Anim. Breed. 55, 13–24 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Ogallo, L. A. Dynamics of the East African climate. Proc. Indian Acad. Sci. Earth Planet. Sci. 102, 203–217 (1993).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  46. Rivas-Martínez, S., Rivas-Saenz, S. & Penas, A. Worldwide Bioclimatic Classification System (Backhuys Pub., 2002).

  47. Luhunga, P. M., Botai, J. O. & Kahimba, F. Evaluation of the performance of CORDEX regional climate models in simulating present climate conditions of Tanzania. J. South. Hemisph. Earth Sys. Sci. 66, 32–54 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Tan, G., Ayugi, B., Ngoma, H. & Ongoma, V. Projections of future meteorological drought events under representative concentration pathways (RCPs) of CMIP5 over Kenya, East Africa. Atmos. Res. 246, 105112 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. National Research Council A Guide to Environmental Research on Animals (National Academy of Sciences, 1971).

  50. Livestock and Poultry Heat Stress Indices. Agricultural Engineering Technology Guide (LPHSI, 1990).

  51. Marai, I. F. M., Bahgat, L. B., Shalaby, T. H. & Abdel, H. Response of male lambs to concentrate mixtures given with or without natural clay under Egypt conditions. Ann. Arid Zone 39, 449–460 (2000).

    Google Scholar 

  52. Zulovich, J. M. & DeShazer, J. A. Estimating Egg Production Declines at High Environmental Temperatures and Humidities ASAE Paper No. 904021 (ASAE, 1990).

  53. Roller, W. L. & Goldman, R. F. Response of swine to acute heat exposure. Trans. ASAE 12, 164–169 (1969).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Vitali, A. et al. Seasonal pattern of mortality and relationships between mortality and temperature-humidity index in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 92, 3781–3790 (2009).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Segnalini, M., Bernabucci, U., Vitali, A., Nardone, A. & Lacetera, N. Temperature humidity index scenarios in the Mediterranean basin. Int. J. Biometeorol. 57, 451–458 (2013).

    Article  ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Lallo, C. H. et al. Characterizing heat stress on livestock using the temperature humidity index (THI)—prospects for a warmer Caribbean. Reg. Environ. Change 18, 2329–2340 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wagner, W. & Pruß, A. The IAPWS formulation 1995 for the thermodynamic properties of ordinary water substance for general and scientific use. J. Phys. Chem. Ref. Data 31, 387–535 (2002).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  58. Yousef, M. K. Stress Physiology in Livestock. Volume I. Basic Principles (CRC Press, 1985).

  59. Silanikove, N. The physiological basis of adaptation in goats to harsh environments. Small Rumin. Res. 35, 181–193 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Appleman, R. D. & Delouche, J. C. Behavioral, physiological and biochemical responses of goats to temperature, 0 to 40 °C. J. Anim. Sci. 17, 326–335 (1958).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Brown, D. L., Morrison, S. R. & Bradford, G. E. Effects of ambient temperature on milk production of Nubian and Alpine goats. J. Dairy Sci. 71, 2486–2490 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Sejian, V., Maurya, V. P. & Naqvi, S. M. Adaptability and growth of Malpura ewes subjected to thermal and nutritional stress. Trop. Anim. Health Prod. 42, 1763–1770 (2010).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. Hugh-Jones, M. E. Animal Health and Production at Extremes of Weather Technical Note No. 191 (WMO, 1989).

  64. Sejian, V. (ed) Sheep Production Adapting to Climate Change (Springer, 2017).

  65. Lu, C. D. Effects of heat stress on goat production. Small Rumin. Res. 2, 151–162 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Finocchiaro, R., Van Kaam, J. B. C. H. M., Portolano, B. & Misztal, I. Effect of heat stress on production of Mediterranean dairy sheep. J. Dairy Sci. 88, 1855–1864 (2005).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. Habeeb, A. A. M. & El Tarabany, A. A. Effect of Nigella sativa or curcumin on daily body weight gain, feed intake and some physiological functions in growing Zaraibi goats during hot summer season. Arab J. Nucl. Sci. Appl. 45, 238–249 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  68. Rana, M. S., Hashem, M. A., Sakib, M. N. & Kumar, A. Effect of heat stress on blood parameters in indigenous sheep. J. Bangladesh Agric. Univ. 12, 91–94 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Silanikove, N. & Koluman, N. Impact of climate change on the dairy industry in temperate zones: predications on the overall negative impact and on the positive role of dairy goats in adaptation to earth warming. Small Rumin. Res. 123, 27–34 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. de Andrade Pantoja, M. H. et al. Thermoregulation of male sheep of indigenous or exotic breeds in a tropical environment. J. Therm. Biol 69, 302–310 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was conducted as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by 15 research centres in close collaboration with hundreds of partners across the globe ( Additional resources were received from the Helmholtz Society Program ‘Earth and Environment’. Additional support for K.B.B. was provided by the Programme for Climate-Smart Livestock (PCSL) funded by GIZ and commissioned by BMZ.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



J.R., J.Y.M., K.B.B. and A.M.O.N. conceived and designed the study. J.R. and J.Y.M. analysed data and performed the spatial analyses. J.R. wrote the first draft, and all authors contributed to further revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jaber Rahimi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Peer review information Nature Food thanks Emma Archer, Jay Johnson and Veerasamy Sejian for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–28 and Tables 1–4.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rahimi, J., Mutua, J.Y., Notenbaert, A.M.O. et al. Heat stress will detrimentally impact future livestock production in East Africa. Nat Food 2, 88–96 (2021).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing