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Unpacking the tensions between the nutritional and economic goals of pro-poor livestock development


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ILRI’s Delia Grace (left) and Shirley Tarawali (right), made two of the three presentations at the second of a four-part series of meetings-cum-webinars on enhancing nutrition through market-led livestock development in developing countries. This series is being organized by Land O’Lakes International Development and ILRI (photo credits: left, ILRI/Susan MacMillan, and right, ILRI).

On 17 Oct 2016, Land O’Lakes International Development and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) hosted a one-day meeting and webinar in Washington, DC, on the challenges of increasing consumption of meat, milk and eggs in poor rural and producer households in low-income countries through improved development of local, and largely informal, livestock markets.

While donors and implementing agencies continue to promote economic gains though market-led livestock programs, less is known about how these programs can maximize the potential for animal-source foods to improve nutrition and health while also contributing to sustainable and nutritious food systems.

Bearing in mind the many ways livestock enhance household food and nutrition, as well as the livelihoods, resilience and cultures of low-income communities, discussants at this event unpacked the tensions inherent between developing livestock markets to meet the economic goals of the poor and meeting the nutritional needs of poor households raising livestock.

Leaders from public, private and research institutions explored private-sector led investments in communications to change nutritional behaviour and to market food products. They discussed how markets can help enhance food safety, quality, nutrition and health for the poor while maintaining equitable access to animal-source foods and avoiding harming livestock development programs. ILRI staff made two of the three presentations.

Presentation by ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali
Carmen Jaquez
, practice area manager for livestock and environment for Land O’Lakes International Development, introduced Shirley Tarawali, ILRI’s assistant director general, who gave an overview of livestock and nutrition issues. Tarawali focused on the conflicting perspectives and messages in the media and other public fora about the livestock sector; the huge demand for meat, milk and eggs growing in developing countries; and the fact that that demand will be met one way or another and with private-sector engagement.

Tarawali then described three probable scenarios for how the rising demand for livestock-source foods will be met—by importing livestock foods, by importing industrial livestock production know-how, and by transforming smallholder livestock production systems. She explained the different ways these different scenarios would likely affect people in low- and middle-income countries and outlined some of the great opportunities available to transform the smallholder livestock sector.

Click the arrow above to listen and watch Wealth, Health and Culture: Complementarity and Competition in Livestock Pathways to Meeting Demand for Animal-Source Foods, a 22-minute audio slide presentation by ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali.

Presentation by ILRI’s Delia Grace
Delia Grace
, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert who leads ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses Program, then spoke on balancing need for household nutrition and safe livestock products. Below are excerpts of her presentation.

Animal-source foods are full of promise for improving both the nutrition and livelihoods of some one billion poor people. But the challenges facing this ‘sunrise sector’ are big and include the dual burden of over- and underweight people; the environmental harm livestock production can cause, such as its contributions to the greenhouse gases causing global warming; and the human diseases caused by livestock, either directly through the transmission of pathogens infectious to both people and animals or though the emergence of new diseases originating in animals and jumping species to infect people.

Some 75% of all new human infectious diseases originate
in animal populations, with livestock being a stepping stone
in 90% of the most important of those new human diseases,
such as HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu),
MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome),
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease).

The ways I’m going to outline here for managing food safety in developing countries can serve as templates for managing these other ‘negative externalities’ of livestock systems.

ILRI has been working for the last ten years to enhance livestock food safety in the traditional so-called ‘wet’ markets on which poor people heavily depend for their livelihoods as well as their nutrition. As demand and consumption of meat, milk and eggs continue to rise rapidly among the growing populations of the developing world, we have to manage this, to make this ‘livestock revolution’ work.

Do no harm
A recent ILRI review in 20 countries revealed that poor women play particularly large roles in smallholder production and marketing of pigs, poultry, goats and sheep. There is a risk that as these livestock value chains professionalize and become more formal and profitable, women will be forced out. Because almost all processing and household food decisions in low- and middle-income countries are made by women, unless we apply a smart and intentional gender lens to our work in these value chains, we’re likely to get things wrong and to make things worse.

‘Do no harm’ is a big motive behind this presentation.
In our desire and rush to get things done, to make things happen,
we can make things worse.

Our experience at ILRI is that when we do that,
we don’t make things worse for rich urban men
but rather for poor rural women.

So being intentional about doing no harm is crucial.

The huge foodborne disease burden
We’ve only recently begun to become aware of the enormous burden posed by foodborne diseases. A 2015 seminal report from the World Health Organization showed that this burden is similar to that of malaria, HIV-AIDS or tuberculosis. That finding surprised many people, as did the finding that the greatest harm, by far, in foodborne disease is caused by biological organisms and not by pesticides, chemicals, GMOs or other factors feared most by the general public.

What is sickening and killing most people
are microbes and worms—
not toxins and pesticides.

And most of those microbes and worms are zoonotic—
that is, they are transmitted to humans from animals.

Why should people who care about nutrition care about food safety?
For starters, meat, milk and eggs as well as fresh vegetables are the main sources of foodborne diseases. Which is troubling as we’re meeting here to help more people consume more animal-source foods! Diarrhoea is a major factor in stunting; much of the food consumed in developing countries contains high levels of faecal bacteria; food allergies, often to eggs and milk, may affect up to 10 per cent of children; there are strong associations (plausibly causal) between aflatoxins and stunting; some regulations implemented to improve food safety have been shown to reduce the availability and accessibility of foods for the poor (e.g., requiring all milk sold to be pasteurized although pasteurized milk can cost double that of raw milk, or supporting supermarket retailing over informal markets); and, finally, food fears, which can provoke disease control and other measures that have unintended consequences, putting poor people’s nutrition at greater risk (e.g., culling chicken populations to control bird flu can reduce dietary diversity and lead to household substitutions with sugary foods and increased stunting).

Can we regulate our way to food safety?
While it’s clear that we need good regulations, regulations by themselves do not make food safer, and in some cases actually make food less safe (e.g., by criminalizing certain behaviours). We need to address a major disconnect in food safety policies based on ‘hazards’—the things in food that can cause harm—rather than being based on ‘risks’, which are the actual harms to human health.

Can we modernize our way to food safety?
Government experts tend to think that a move away from wet markets to supermarkets will make food safer. While supermarket foods in Europe and North America are pretty safe, this is not the case in many developing countries, where low governance and poor infrastructure can make foods sold in supermarkets no safer, and sometimes less safe, than those sold in informal markets.

The good news
Things can be improved. Capacity building, for example, can be very successful at improving food safety if the right incentives are put in place. Just telling people to change their behaviour doesn’t work. But when rewarded for doing so, people will change their behaviour to make food safer. At ILRI we have been working on what we describe as ‘incentive-based’, ‘market-based’, ‘light-touch’ interventions in the informal sector to see what is already working and what we can do to help improve that, step by step. ILRI has found, for example, that milk traders in Kenya and India are willing to be trained and certified if they can see the advantages to themselves in doing so, although this is not likely to be the whole answer to making milk safer for the poor.

Take home messages
1 Livestock food can contribute to growth and good outcomes.
But we have to remember that one of the challenges in working in multidisciplinary partnerships is that the focus of many food safety experts, who often come from medical backgrounds, is that food must be completely safe. They’re not trained to also consider food prices or nutrition or gender or people’s participation in value chains. So although I’m trying to frighten you about foodborne disease, my underlying message, which we must not forget, is that while many people are having too much livestock products, many other people are having too little.

2 Foodborne disease is important for health and nutrition.

3 Most foodborne disease is due to microbes and worms in fresh foods.

4 Efforts to reduce foodborne disease can be more harmful than the foodborne disease itself.

5 Command and control approaches don’t work.
Top-down regulations will never get you food safety—not in America and not in Nigeria. Approaches and solutions that work with the informal or traditional food sectors are more promising.

Click the arrow above to listen and watch Household Nutrition and Safe Livestock Products: Livestock Markets, Animal-Source Foods, and Human Nutrition—Considering Tensions, Maximizing Impact and Avoiding Harm, a 22-minute audio slide presentation by ILRI’s Delia Grace.

To read more about food safety in developing countries, see:
Grace, Delia 2015. Food safety in developing countries: An overview. Hemel Hempstead, UK: Evidence on Demand.

Roesel, Kristina and Grace, Delia. 2014. Food safety and informal markets: Animal products in sub-Saharan Africa. London, UK: Routledge.


To learn more this event, visit the Livestock and Household Nutrition Learning Series event page.

Read an announcement of this event on ILRI’s Livelihoods, Gender and Impact blog: Livestock markets, animal-source foods and human nutrition: Considering program tensions, maximizing impact and avoiding harm, 3 Oct 2016.

Don’t miss the third of this four-part learning series around livestock and household nutrition:

Food safety in animal-source foods for better nutrition outcomes
Date: Tentatively scheduled for 25 Jan 2017
Venue: Webinar
Sponsors: Land O’Lakes International Development, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Technical and Operational Performance Support Program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID-TOPS).
Description: Two-hour webinar outlining issues related to food safety, livestock production, animal-source foods, human health and nutrition. We will look at approaches to improving food safety and quality through livestock production methods, processing and storage technologies, reducing waste and spoilage costs, policy impacts, opportunities for the private sector and consumer education. Look for details on how to sign up for the webinar in Dec 2016 on this Land O’Lakes webpage.

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