The hottest year on record and a global pandemic are fuelling fast-rising food insecurity and malnutrition around the world. Almost 690 million people suffered from hunger in 2019, a figure that was projected to rise by 130 million by the end of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the United Nations.
About one in 10 people are currently experiencing severe food insecurity globally, with hunger most prevalent in Southeast Asia and expanding fastest in sub-Saharan Africa. Water scarcity and regional conflicts have only deepened the crisis.
The meat of food insecurity
Sustainable livestock farming will be central to tackling food insecurity in these regions, say experts at this week’s Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), which is themed “How to Feed the World in Times of Pandemics and Climate Change?”
Despite the push to rein in the over-consumption of meat and dairy in the Global North, animals remain a vital and yet diminishing source of nutrition and food security in low income nations — especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Grazing animals convert low quality feed into high quality proteins with essential amino acids that are not found in plants. Pastoralists guide livestock to eat grasses, forages and unused crop by-products and waste that humans cannot eat, transforming this low nutrition food into high-quality meat and dairy proteins — often on marginal, non-arable land.
But while there is “an overconsumption of some meat products in high income countries,” there is in fact “under-consumption in low income countries,” said Claudia Ringler, deputy division director at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Ringler says “stunting” and “cognitive health” issues linked to malnutrition are often the result of limited access to the more complete proteins that plant-based proteins lack — a point supported by the fact that chronic malnutrition contributed to the stunting of 144 million children under age 5 in 2019.
Human, animal health
Under the mantra of One Health, a cross-disciplinary approach to health and nutrition that preaches the unity of human, animal and environmental health, food and agriculture experts insist that sustainable livestock farming is a fundamental part of food systems in low-income countries that needs to be harnessed and improved.
“If we are looking at a holistic one health approach, livestock is an integral part of agriculture and one cannot do without the other,” said Björn Niere, deputy head of “Pandemic prevention, one health, animal health, biodiversity” at Germany’s Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry.
“Some one billion very poor people rely on food-producing farm animals for their lives and livelihoods,” he added.
Niere acknowledges that “pastoralism is sometimes unsustainable due to land pressure and overgrazing” — which is exacerbated by dwindling land ownership in Africa among smallholder farmers. He instead promotes a sustainable farming model known as agroecology that combines mixed livestock and arable cropping systems as the best means to ensure food security. Resilience to water scarcity and drought is another goal, with rising temperatures having recently been linked to increased child malnutrition and less diverse diets.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle