Traditionally, the measurement of livestock productivity has been focused on the use of partial factor productivity indicators. This study argues that the use of these indicators can provide a distorted assessment of the performance of the livestock sector. By applying a Malmquist index approach, we assessed the level and drivers of total factor productivity in a livestock production system in Africa. The approach was implemented in forty-one African countries using the cattle production system as an example. The results suggest that, in the African region, the productivity of the cattle production system might be decreasing rather than increasing, and the opportunities to foster productivity growth lie more in promoting changes in efficiency than in technology – a finding that contrasts with previous studies.