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It’s Time to Tell Livestock’s Untold Secret

Franck Berthe is Coordinator of the Livestock Global Alliance which unites the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, International Livestock Research Institute and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

PARIS, Jun 1 2016 (IPS) - As nations attempt to usher in a new era of global development, seeking to satisfy both the Paris climate agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, there is one natural resource that has remained untapped.

Franck Berthe

Franck Berthe

The livestock sector’s potential to meet many of the most pressing global challenges – from food and nutrition security to economic growth and climate change – has been somewhat buried beneath bad news. Concerns relating to greenhouse gas emissions and overconsumption of meat in the developed world are both valid and important, but do not tell the whole story about livestock.

Meeting both climate and sustainable development goals are a global challenge, and those in the developing world are starting the race from much further behind. Livestock offers a pathway for developing nations to accelerate progress towards several goals. In terms of poverty reduction, for example, we know that over 1.3 billion people depend on livestock for their livelihood, out of which approximately 0.6 billion are poor farmers. For these people, income generated from animals and animal-based products can mean the difference between sending your children to school or not, or whether you can access healthcare. Also, having access to nutritious meat, milk and eggs goes a long way to improving vitamin deficiencies, the major cause of “hidden hunger” which is estimated to affect around two billion people.

Livestock must also be recognised as a major engine for economic growth. It accounts for up to 60% of agricultural GDP in some developing nations, and five of the six agricultural commodities that fetch the highest value come from livestock.

We are currently missing a huge opportunity to drive the sustainable development agenda forward – because livestock is overlooked and underfunded. Despite the many pathways it can provide towards the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in developing regions, livestock receives just 1-3% of official development assistance by OECD country members.

The Livestock Global Alliance has been set up to reverse this trend, and highlight the global public good dimension of the sector. This week, it has set out its agenda for making the sector more efficient and sustainable, while respecting the broad diversity of production systems.

Improving the productivity of animals is a key focus of the Alliance, given that it will serve the triple purpose of boosting food production, generating more income for farmers, and reducing environmental impacts as systems become more efficient. Facilitating farmers’ access to animal health services, and quality feed resources for their animals are two interventions that can make a big difference to animal health and welfare in almost any production system and agro-ecologic zone. This in turn will make a big difference to animal productivity levels.

Efficient surveillance, early detection and rapid response to animal disease outbreaks are not easy when livestock keepers live in remote areas, and cannot easily access animal health services. With the proper veterinary services infrastructure in place, training community-based animal health workers – livestock owners who have attended a short course on basic animal health principles – can help keep animals healthy and productivity levels up. Veterinary para-professionals, that are authorised to carry out some tasks under the authority of the official veterinary services, were instrumental in the eradication of rinderpest in Africa. As the world attempts to eradicate another infectious disease, Peste des Petits Ruminants in sheep and goats, increasing investment to strengthen veterinary services, and recruiting and training support staff such as this will make a big difference in tackling this specific disease and animal health and productivity issues in general.

Tackling greenhouse gas emissions from livestock supply chains is another key priority of the Alliance. It is estimated that in many regions, this could be reduced by 20-30% by implementing best practices. For example, research is underway in India to produce animal feed that will generate less gas when digested by livestock. In Colombia and Costa Rica, feeding Brachiaria grass to animals has been shown reduce emissions from urine patches by 60%.

Livestock waste can also be put to good use. The nutrient-rich manure can provide a low cost source of organic fertilizer for crops. It can even be used as renewable energy. Biogas produced from livestock manure is particularly suited to household use in many mixed crop-and-livestock production systems – which make up the largest category of animal production in the world – as it improves both soil conditions and household sanitation. Biogas digester systems capture and utilize methane directly, therefore limiting total greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

Each of these interventions holds great potential, but has not yet reached scale. Livestock’s role as a potent force for sustainable development must not be overlooked any longer. With the right investment, a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector that can be a lifeline for rural farmers and an engine for growth in the developing world is within reach.

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  • Lucia De Vries

    What an ill chosen moment to publish this ad for the livestock industry – on World Environment Day. The livestock industry has been wrecking the planet and now Mr Berthe wants developing nations to join the destruction?

  • Harriet Russell

    I’m always afraid that hidden in all these sorts of promotions are incentives for CAFOs. “Biogas” is a loaded word for me, too, since I visited a local farm that had put in a digester. I went on a tour because I thought it was a great idea. But the cows were treated as simply part of the machine. They had to be fed only certain foods for the efficiency of the digester, which meant no grazing, no outdoor time at all. Always standing in one place. Tails docked for easy milking also meant they had to be washed down with poisons regularly to keep the flies down. So often our agricultural “aid” to poorer countries is just a way to export our worst practices, especially since they’ve come under increasing pressure from animal and environmental activists at home. Or else, as with the Heifer International charity, although maybe this has changed, I found that often the animals given to poor farmers are not of breeds suitable for the local environment, so become expensive to keep, and do not thrive.

  • gritona

    i agree. the livestock industry can make its contribution to ahappy planet by going out of business