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Why livestock are essential for Agenda 2030—Jimmy Smith at the High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development


Ram-bearer, Cypriot, 6th century BC,
said to be from the temple of Apollo Hylates at Kourion
(photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City).

United Nations High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development
Special Event:
The Role of Livestock in Achieving the SDGs

Friday, 14 July, 2017
Institute of International Education (IIE)
Kaufman Conference Room
08:30–10:00AM

Opening remarks by Jimmy Smith
director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Why livestock are essential for Agenda 2030

Ending poverty
Because of livestock’s central contributions to both individual livelihoods and national development, we’re not going to end world poverty (SDG1) if we undervalue the major roles livestock play in the economies of developing countries and their peoples.

In low- and middle-income countries, up to three-quarters of a billion of the poorest people rely on small-scale livestock farming and products to make a living.

Such small-scale livestock production contributes greatly to the agricultural gross domestic product of these agriculturally based countries (40% and growing), with at least 70% of the milk in countries such as India and Kenya coming from small-scale production.

But things must change to respond to an on-going ‘livestock revolution’ due to global demand for livestock products being set to increase by 70 per cent over the next 30 years.

Small-scale livestock enterprises need to make rapid transitions if they are to respond to the growing demand and become thriving, efficient and sustainable enterprises.

If we neglect this short window of opportunity to help people meet their countries’ rising (mostly urban) demand for livestock-derived foods, we will do more than fail to eradicate world poverty once and for all. We will also miss a singular opportunity to guide a positive, equitable and sustainable transition that will impact national economies and the livelihoods of three-quarters of a billion people.

Ending hunger
Because of livestock’s major roles in sustainable agriculture and food production, we’re not going to end hunger, achieve food security and make agriculture sustainable (SDG2) without paying greater attention to the animal agriculture that makes small-scale food production viable and renewable on every continent.

Little known is that the ubiquitous small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farms of developing countries are responsible for putting more than half the grain, milk and meat on the tables of the poor and better-off alike.

Fully half the staple cereal food could not be produced without the inputs from animal manure, traction or sales.

Perhaps even less apparent are the multiple roles that animal agriculture in the hands of such small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farmers play in ensuring food security and sustaining agricultural production. For example:

a) providing 18% of global calorie (kcal) consumption and 25% of global protein consumption
b) providing a source of regular income with which to buy diverse and nutritious foods
c) providing via animal manure one-quarter of the nitrogen used to grow crops in mixed crop-livestock systems worldwide

The rapid transition that these livestock production enterprises will undergo in the coming decades means they also present the biggest (and perhaps only) opportunity to address the three interlinked high-level recommendations made in the recent livestock report by the UN Committee on World Food Security. These are: (1) improve resource-use efficiency, (2) strengthen resilience and (3) improve social equity/responsibility outcomes.

Healthy lives
Because of the lifelong difference that animal-source foods make to the world’s most vulnerable people, including the growth and cognitive development of children, healthy lives and the well-being of people of all ages (SDG3) will be unachievable without actions to ensure that healthy and safe animal-source foods are available to all.

Animal-source foods provide humans with vital micronutrients (particularly B12) and make other essential nutrients much more ‘bioavailable’ than plant foods. A regular glass of milk, or a little meat or an egg can prevent stunting in the 158 million children currently affected by it as well as improve the cognitive development of children, ultimately great benefiting the economies of their nations.

Eminent nutritional scientists studying the roles of animal-source foods in the first 1000 days of life warn that it will be impossible to reach the 1000-day SDG targets without including animal-source foods.

Because of their perishability, milk, meat and eggs do present particular food safety challenges, especially as up to 90% of these foods are sold in the so-called ‘informal’ markets of the developing world. This again is an opportunity: novel training and hygiene approaches suited to these traditional markets can make an immense difference to the safety of their products.

In East Africa’s Kenya and India’s state of Assam, over 6 million people have access to safer milk today not because stricter rules and regulations were applied but rather because informal milk processors and sellers were given the training and tools to do so much more safely.

Gender equity
Because of the unique roles livestock play in women’s lives, we’re not going to achieve gender equity and empowerment of all women and girls (SDG5) without deliberate efforts to build upon the multiple and enabling roles that livestock play in female livelihoods worldwide.

Women, who make up a significant portion of the world’s poor livestock keepers, play critical (if under-expressed, under-reported and under-valued) roles in livestock systems.

Women who cannot own land, capital or other major productive resources often can own farm animals, particularly small stock such as goats, chickens and cavies.

And what benefits women in developing countries do get from their livestock enterprises they tend to invest back into feeding their families and educating their children, with a woman’s regular income from dairy or poultry often paying for the education of her daughters.

Because evidence indicates that women’s empowerment is hurt rather than helped if men are left out of the picture, gender-sensitive and -transformative approaches to livestock development need to focus on men as well as women while supporting women in building their social as well as economic capital.

2 thoughts on “Why livestock are essential for Agenda 2030—Jimmy Smith at the High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development

  1. Quite an informative and exemplary truth, that we should all awake to and embrace it’s pursuit with complete determination and unfailing efforts.

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