By Erica Oakley, Humanitas Global
"The livestock revolution is as important as the green revolution," stated Heifer International President and CEO, Pierre Ferrari. This week, Heifer International and the Alliance to End Hunger held an event, Livestock for Livelihoods, at the U.S. Senate to bring awareness to the critical role of farming and how livestock can contribute to agricultural development and address food insecurity.
With more than 600 million of the world's poor depending on livestock production, it is an essential part of the agricultural sector in developing countries. In his keynote address, U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) stressed the crucial role that livestock plays in developing economies, not only as a source of food, but also as a source of income, a living economic asset and source of organic fertilizer.
Livestock are an excellent source of high quality protein (milk, eggs and meat), which is vital for good nutrition, especially for malnourished children. A point stressed by Pierre Ferrari, when he noted that “livestock and animal-based protein can help meet critical nutrition needs of mothers and children.” But animals have to be healthy themselves.
Increased incomes around the globe has led to more demand for livestock. Speakers addressed the demand-led response of a “livestock revolution” and noted the challenges that are also present, including concerns about the health of the animals and availability of markets.
Trevor Tomkins, Founder and President of Venture Dairy, mentioned that in many poorer countries, animals are not getting the nutrients they need to survive – much less be productive. They are often starving. While Tomkins noted that genetics do play a role in how productive an animal will be, the major factor here is the lack of nutrition that the animals receive. For example, cows in India were said to be only producing about one-tenth of the milk of what cows in the U.S. produce.
Livestock have the potential to be tranformative in ensuring a food secure future, however, making sure that animals have access to the nutritious food they need is vital to then ensuring that families have access to a much needed source of nutrition and economic asset.
Women are key to the health and productivity of livestock. Antonio Rota, Senior Technical Advisor at International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), highlighted that there is not enough attention on getting finance and training to women. When women have the resources and training, animals tend to be better fed, healthier and ultimately reproduce more often. However, increased production also means there needs to be a viable and consistent market.
Access to "value chains transparently linking producers to markets" was also stressed by Tomkins. One point that was not greatly stressed during the event, was addressing the issue of food loss and waste. How can ensure that the livestock products (milk, eggs, meat, etc) farmers produce actually make it to markets to be sold?
The FAO estimates that in Eastern African and the Near East alone, more than $90 million in milk production is lost due to spoilage and waste. Availability of markets is critical, but getting the milk and animal products to market is also a huge challenge in many parts of the world. Cold chain storage mechanisms are vital when ensuring that consumers have access to safe, quality foods produced from livestock.
Ensuring that nine billion by 2050 have access to safe, nutritious, quality foods is vital. One way to reach that is through increasing attention, research and action on the role of livestock. There is much to be done. Reducing food waste and loss, increasing access to markets, empowering entrepreneurs and women farmers and ensuring the health of the animals are all vital. But it can be done - sustainably and efficiently. As noted by Cody Hopkins, a smallholder farmer from Arkansas, “farming is inherently a risky business, but food is a necessity.”