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Harnessing the power of livestock to drive sustainable development

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  • Sector can make major contributions to the 2030 agenda, but important choices have to be made

Rome: A new FAO report highlights the multiple contributions made by the global livestock sector — especially to the lives of millions of poor, animal-dependent small-scale producers in developing countries — but also says that changes in policies and practices are needed in order to optimise those contributions.

According to World Livestock: Transforming the livestock sector through the Sustainable Development Goals, the debate around livestock production has so far been largely focused on how the sector can produce more to satisfy surging demand for animal products and feed a growing global population while at the same time reducing its environmental footprint.

While that is a worthwhile objective, FAO’s new report argues for a broader and more ambitious approach.

By realigning the livestock sector to better support the UN’s 2030 sustainable development agenda, it says that a wider range of benefits can be achieved – these include improved food and nutritional security but also extend into other realms, including access to energy, gender equality, improved environmental management and spreading peace and stability.

Noting that “even the most modern post-industrial societies remain critically reliant on animals for food and nutrition security,” FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said the livestock sector is of “enduring importance” and “can play a key role in improving the lives of millions” by providing food, jobs and income, resilience, and economic opportunities. “Before all of this can happen, a number of complex interactions need to be addressed,” he noted, including that “competition over land for the production of feed can constrain the availability of resources to produce food” and that “promoting a more competitive sector through higher levels of market concentration will likely hamper the capacity of small-producers to participate in markets.” 

“There is also an urgent need to stop the improper use of antimicrobials in animal rearing,” the FAO Director-General added, referencing the role of antibiotic use in the rise of dangerous antimicrobial resistant micro-organisms.

Meeting these challenges will require countries to look closely at their national livestock sectors and develop policies tailored to local circumstances and designed to promote equitable growth.

In particular, measures will be needed to empower smaller-scale producers to ensure they are primary actors in and beneficiaries of the livestock sector’s continued growth.

Overcoming challenges

One key challenge in developing countries is that the livestock sector is highly segmented, with sharply different levels of labour productivity in processing versus production and, within production, between commercial and subsistence farmers.

Sectoral policies should therefore emphasise improving labour productivity of small-holders and focus on high-value-added and labour-intensive activities in order to unlock the sector’s “multiplier effect” in job generation and poverty reduction, the report says.

Additionally, rapid livestock growth does not always translate into fast poverty reduction, it warns.

It will also be necessary to acquire a better understanding of the relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as of the factors that can make livestock growth do more to reduce poverty. Policies will necessarily include measures to improve access of smallholders and pastoralists to productive resources, information, technology, training, assets, and credit and to strengthen producer groups.

Trade reforms, investment and innovation will also be needed. Policies and practices that increase the livestock sector’s efficiency and reduce its environmental footprint should be vigorously pursued. For example, FAO studies have estimated that wider adoption of existing best practices and technologies in feeding, health and husbandry, and manure management — including greater use of currently underutilised technologies such as biogas generators — could help the global livestock sector cut its GHG emissions by as much as 30%.

Numbers of note

  • Currently, livestock production employs at least 1.3 billion people worldwide.
  • About 600 million of the world’s poorest households keep livestock as an essential source of income
  • Between 2000 and 2014, global production of meat rose by 39%; milk production increased by 38%.
  • Meat production is projected to increase another 19% by 2030, and milk production another 33% in the same period.
  • Livestock production accounts for 40% agriculture output in developed countries and 20% of agricultural output in developing countries
  • Animals remain an important source of power. In India, for instance, two-thirds of the country’s cultivated area is ploughed using animal energy, and 14 million animal-drawn carts haul up to 15% of the country’s total freight.
  • The introduction of advanced genetics, feeding systems, animal health controls and other technologies over the past four decades allowed industrialised countries to reduce their overall land requirements for livestock by 20% while doubling meat production.
  • Wider adoption of existing best practices and technologies in feeding, health and husbandry, and manure management - as well as greater use of improved technologies - could help the global livestock sector cut its GHG emissions by as much as 30%.



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