Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), spoke about how to advocate more effectively for livestock at the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) Community of Practice meeting held this week in Vietnam. The meeting, hosted by ILRI, brought together scientists, donors and policymakers to generate better data and develop innovative approaches to the sector, particularly in the developing world.
‘It’s easy to be defensive because we’re often on the back foot,’ said Tarawali, who acknowledged that the benefits of livestock are often taken for granted in the developed world. ‘The consumers in the developed world see a piece of meat or a bottle of milk in the supermarket,’ she said, whereas in the developing world a more nuanced and complex picture emerges, with a variety of stakeholders having a voice.
Worldwide, hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers depend on livestock for their livelihood and family nutrition, but the low productivity that is often characteristic of the sector in the developing world means that they often struggle to get by. At the same time, some of the issues associated with livestock production in the developed world inhibit the willingness of government and donors to address the concerns of these smallholder farmers.
In recent years, a growing number of donors and advocates have begun to call attention to the problems as well as the potential of smallholder livestock farmers in the developing world. Tarawali’s talk addressed the critical question of how to best make their case.
‘We have a peculiar situation where the people with the largest influence and voice regarding livestock are often the furthest removed from the experience of smallholder farmers in the developing world,’ she said.
She offered several ideas for how to remedy this situation. ‘We’ve got to mix quantitative and qualitative data,’ she said, ‘connecting the numbers to anecdotes and real stories in a way that brings them to life.’
Equally important, she said, is to avoid excessive detail and complexity, to know your audience and to not directly contradict their expectations and assumptions. Even if the discussions sometimes seem to become contentious, the important thing to remember, she said, is that ‘we are all trying to get to the same place: A world where safe nutritious food is available to all in an environmentally sustainable and economically equitable system’.
The talk was one of several at the meeting focused on how to responsibly communicate livestock messages in a time of ‘alternative facts’. Other central themes at the meeting included how data can help investors measure and improve the impact of their initiatives; and how to improve data standards and quality. Participants spent the week developing ideas for concrete actions that to be shared with the wider livestock community.