Animal Production / Books and chapters / Consumption / Food Security / Human Health / Livelihoods / Pro-Poor Livestock / Research / Zoonotic Diseases

New FAO book spells out rationale, priorities for investing in livestock development to reduce poverty

Boy and cow in Niger

A new FAO study reports that more than 85 per cent of poor livestock keepers in sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty; here, at a Toureg encampment near Fakara, in Niger, a boy herds a prized animal, and asset, of his family (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

A new book on the intersection of poverty reduction and livestock development from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) begins with this epigraph, a quote by Philip Mellor, retired professor of Pirbright’s Institute of Animal Health, in the UK:

All too often livestock are seen as something prosperous people consume, not something poor people produce.

FAO’s partners in the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other pro-poor research and development organizations would agree, and add that the other fact often forgotten in the West is that the world’s undernourished people should be eating as well as producing livestock foods.

FAO’s new book, Livestock sector development for poverty reduction: An economic and policy perspective—Livestock’s many virtues, says FAO’s Media Centre, ‘collates evidence from a broad array of sources[including ILRI] and perspectives showing that investing in livestock can sustain livelihoods and spur economic growth’.

It will be remembered by many in development and conservation circles that this same United Nations food and agriculture agency six years ago published a widely cited book on the various harms caused by global livestock production, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. That FAO is now publishing a study on how livestock production can be used for global public good, subtitled ‘Livestock’s many virtues’, serves as a welcome addition (and, from ILRI’s livestock-development-for-the-poor perspective, welcome corrective) to its preceding volume on livestock’s environmental ‘bads’.

While a valuable and reliable compilation of the various environmental harms caused by the global livestock sector, Livestock’s Long Shadow cast a shadow of its own on livestock development for the poor, largely because the global datasets it reported on, and much of the media fell upon, fail sufficiently to distinguish the large, and often drastic, differences in livestock production, marketing and consumption between rich and poor nations. That is to say, what policies and incentives may good for one may be downright harmful to the other.

This time, the FAO authors have put on a ‘poverty lens’, through which livestock issues appear very differently than when viewed solely through environmental perspectives.

Here, for example, is a sample extract from the book’s executive summary.

‘. . . Smallholders, however defined, account for a large share of agricultural production throughout most of the developing world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. . . . In African and Asian countries . . . , farms with less than 2 ha of land or fewer than 2 tropical livestock units (TLU) are responsible for between half and three-quarters of total livestock production, and even more in some instances. With the exception of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, mean landholding sizes are in the order of 1 ha or less.

‘Livestock ownership is usually slightly more prevalent and equitable than landownership, but mean herd/flock size is small, normally between 1 and 2 TLU. Livestock are kept by households across all wealth groups, but households in the bottom expenditure quintile are more likely to have livestock in their asset portfolio than wealthier households are.

‘Livestock are also an important means of conferring income and status to women. Although women seldom hold property or usage rights to land they often independently own livestock. However, the promotion of animal production in which women are heavily involved does not automatically improve women’s control over livestock-related income. . . .

‘[G]rowth of the livestock sector in response to increased urban demand can launch a self-perpetuating process of economic growth and development.

Governments rarely appreciate the complex roles livestock play in rural household economies, and livestock development policies tend to focus singularly on marketed products. This perspective is obviously far too narrow, as livestock keepers are often willing to keep animals of low physical productivity in their herds, owing to the many collateral services they provide. This apparent divergence between the livestock assessment criteria used by policy-makers and those used by livestock keepers is a root cause of livestock sector development policies that contribute little to poverty alleviation. . . .

The multiple dimensions of the livestock-poverty interface, including technical, policy and political economy aspects, have been addressed and debated in disparate contexts and from different perspectives (e.g., Ahuja and Sen, 2006; FAO, 2009a; Perry and Grace, 2009; Thornton et al., 2007), but poverty has rarely been the entry point of analysis, and issues have been looked at predominantly from either the technical or the policy perspective. This has created difficulties for appreciating the intricacies of livestock-poverty relations and, consequently, for formulating policies that stimulate unambiguously pro-poor investments in the livestock sector.

This book reviews the major aspects of the livestock-poverty interface with the objective of identifying the conditions under which livestock can be an effective tool for poverty reduction; the interventions that allow livestock’s poverty-reducing potential to be unlocked, and in what contexts; and how sustainable implementation of these interventions can be facilitated. . . .’

Below are some of the key points presented at the end of the book’s second chapter, on ‘Poverty, food security and livestock—a global overview’.

‘• Although the incidence of extreme poverty (< $1.25/day) in developing countries declined significantly, from 42 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2005, the absolute number of extremely poor people is still an alarming 1.4 billion (down from 1.8 billion in 1990). In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the numbers of extremely poor increased by 20 million and 100 million respectively.

‘• Diets in developing countries are deficient not only in quantitative terms, but even more so in terms of quality. The estimated DALYs attributed to protein-energy malnutrition, iron-deficiency anaemia and vitamin A deficiency in the developing world are 17.4 million, 15.6 million and 0.6 million respectively (WHO, 2004). Given the high bioavailability of protein, iron and vitamin A in meat, eggs and milk, increasing the availability of ASFs for poor populations in developing countries could significantly reduce the burden of disease attributable to protein and micronutrient deficiencies.

‘• Livestock contribute directly to human food and nutrition security by transforming vegetation from non-arable land, crop residues, food processing by-products and organic waste into human food of high nutrient density and nutritional quality. Livestock also contribute indirectly to food security by increasing crop output through providing manure, and serve as a buffer to mitigate the impact of fluctuations in crop production on the availability of food for human consumption, thereby stabilizing food supply.

‘• In most developing countries, the majority of the population lives in rural areas, poverty rates are higher among rural than urban households, and the rural poor constitute between 70 and 80 percent of the total number of poor people. In the two poorest regions, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, although urban populations are growing faster in absolute terms, rural populations will continue to expand until 2045 and 2025 respectively.

‘• There is consensus that to reduce poverty rapidly, interventions must be directed to the rural areas of developing countries, where most of the population and most of the poor people live, and should target rural economic activities, as most of the poor are engaged in these (World Bank, 2008). Most of the world’s poor depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods; the number of people involved has grown from 1.1 billion to 1.3 billion over the past 15 years.

‘• In all developing regions, livestock make a substantial contribution to the total net output of agriculture, averaging about 35 percent. Over the last 15 years, livestock value added has grown most rapidly in the lower-middle income regions of East Asia and the Pacific, and South Asia, where many of the extremely poor live. The contribution of livestock to agricultural net output in sub-Saharan Africa fell from 28.1 percent in 1990 to 26.6 percent in 2007.

‘• Globally, the number of poor livestock keepers (< $2/day) has been increasing by about 1.4 percent per year. In terms of absolute numbers, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa dominate, with more than 45 and 25 percent of the world’s estimated 752 million poor livestock keepers respectively. The depth of poverty among poor livestock keepers is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated that more than 85 percent of them are extremely poor.

‘• Growing populations and rising per capita incomes in developing countries will lead to major increases in the demand for ASFs in these regions. A large share of this growth will stem from rapidly expanding urban populations.

‘• Increases in domestic livestock production in response to urban demand growth, and the additional incomes generated, add to GDP and national income. Knock-on effects include increases in rural employment and in spending on productive inputs and consumer goods, generating additional trade with urban and/or local suppliers. As a result, growth of the livestock sector in response to increased urban demand can launch a self-perpetuating process of economic growth and development. . . .’

Read or download the whole of the new publication from FAO’s Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative, Livestock sector development for poverty reduction: An economic and policy perspective—Livestock’s many virtues, by J Otte, A Costales, J Dijkman, U Pica-Ciamarra, T Robinson, V Ahuja, C Ly and D Roland-Holst, 2012.

This book ‘is the last in a series of publications written under FAO’s decade-long Pro-poor Livestock Policy Initiative (PPLPI), a global endeavour funded primarily by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to improve livestock sector policy in ways that increase the benefits to poor people.’

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