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ILRI remarks to UN Committee on Food Security commending newly agreed livestock recommendations


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The following statement and question were delivered by Susan MacMillan on behalf of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at the 43rd session of the Committee on World Food Security, held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in Rome, 17–21 Oct 2016.

Plenary session on 17 Oct 2016 entitled: ‘The Policy Convergence: Sustainable Agricultural Development for Food Security and Nutrition, Including the Role of Livestock (Discussion)’.

I’m honoured to speak today on behalf of the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

ILRI welcomes these Committee on Food Security (CFS43) negotiations and supports the remarks made today by Kenya, Switzerland and many others.

My colleague Delia Grace was honoured to be a member of the High-Level Panel of Experts that produced the livestock report that has just been finalized; other ILRI researchers were grateful for the opportunity to make other substantive contributions.

ILRI is thankful that the Committee on Food Security has taken up global livestock issues, which impinge so heavily and on so many global challenges—from food security to poverty reduction to human health to environmental protection; from the education of girls to the employment of youth to the empowerment of women to the livelihoods of men.

We’re particularly pleased by these negotiations as livestock issues have so often been neglected in fora such as this one in the past.

That neglect has been more than strange. Rather than neglect, ILRI believes the diverse livestock systems of the world need more attention and greater

Some one billion people depend on farm animals—on cows, goats, sheep, camels, buffaloes, chickens and pigs—for their livelihoods.

For some one billion people, animal husbandry is a main pathway out of poverty and a major way to better household nutrition and health, particularly for mothers and infants.

Consumption of even very modest amounts of meat, milk and eggs can stop the physical and cognitive stunting of children and the pernicious anemia that afflicts their mothers.

We have a window of opportunity right now, in the midst of big changes driven by a fast-rising demand for livestock products occurring across the developing world, to help shape the trajectories of livestock futures so that they are both sustainable and equitable.

If we fail to act now, markets will fill the void. This demand for livestock foods is not going to go away.

Doing little to nothing is not an option. Too much is at stake—not only eradicating poverty and hunger, but also restoring degraded lands, protecting the safety of our food supplies, and preventing potentially catastrophic future infectious diseases such as Ebola and HIV-AIDS from emerging and jumping species, from animals to people.

With so much at stake, it’s unnerving to recall that while the livestock sector makes up nearly half of the agricultural gross domestic product of developing countries—with an average of 40%—it receives just 4% of agricultural official development assistance. 4%!

‘Do no harm’, we say. And ‘Do some good’. If we mean what we say, with this report, we’ll start paying immaculate attention to the livestock sector.

Thank you very much, Madame Chair.

Side session on 18 Oct 2016 entitled: The Role of Livestock in Sustainable Agriculture: Delivering for People, Animals and Planet, organized by Senegal, Kenya, University of Winchester and The Brooke.

I’m representing here the International Livestock Research Institute, or ILRI, based in Africa.

My question regards not one but two elephants in the (livestock) room (or should I say, ‘cows’?).

I refer to the two major challenges in making good on the huge—and as yet largely underexploited—opportunity that livestock present as instruments of sustainable development.

The first challenge is the low level of investments in livestock development compared to agricultural and other forms of development assistance.

While the livestock sector provides an average of 40% of the agricultural gross domestic product of developing countries, it receives just 4% of agricultural official development assistance. That must change.

The second challenge is the low level of understanding of livestock issues, represented most dramatically in the on-going negative press statements about livestock.

We find ourselves in public debates as to whether the world should give up all meat, or all meat and milk, or even all meat, milk and eggs, so as to reduce the environmental ‘hoofprints’ of our farm animals.

If one were to propose that the world give up all motorized means of transport, from cars to trains and airplanes, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, that would give us pause. If one were to propose planting no more rice fields so as to reduce the substantial greenhouse gases that those fields emit, that would give us pause. We would immediately see how difficult, how complex, effecting such transitions would be.

How, then, can we encourage the same level of understanding when it comes to livestock? Those proposing that all farm animals be removed from the earth are proposing not only something improbable for the near future given our current socio-political constructs, but also something that would devastate crop and vegetable production as well as meat and dairy, since most of the grains grown that feed the world are grown on mixed crop-and-livestock farms.

And, of course, removing all livestock from the earth would be catastrophic for the more than one billion of the world’s poorest people who rely on farm animals for their farm production, for their food, for their nutrition, for their incomes, for their savings, for their children’s educations, for their ability to cope with climate change, for their livelihoods—in short, for their lives.

In brief, it seems that we are losing the messaging battle.

My question is, How can we do a much better job of educating the public on the world’s diverse livestock systems and people and issues?

The report is here: Proposed Draft Recommendations on Sustainable Agricultural Development for Food Security and Nutrition, Including the Role of Livestock, UN Committee on World Food Security, Oct 2016.

Follow the discussions with the tag #CFS43.

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