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Five ways healthy livestock supports #ZeroHunger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 800 million people worldwide are undernourished.   

Each year, around 150 countries unite to promote worldwide awareness of hunger to mark the founding of the FAO in 1945. Investing in food security and rural development to change the future of migration is the focus of World Food Day 2017. 

With more than 50% of the world’s extreme poor living in rural areas dependent on agriculture , maintaining healthy livestock offers a path out of poverty, starvation and malnutrition. Currently, 161 million children under the age of five years old have stunted growth , while a lack of essential nutrients can damage the health and futures of generations of youngsters. Malnutrition can impact their learning capacities, thereby potentially restricting what their futures look like. This means access to foods that are nutrient dense, such as animal proteins, are key.

However, disease prevention can help guarantee the quality, safety and availability of vital food sources that provide essential nutrition to those suffering chronic hunger. 

We outline five ways that healthy livestock, enabled by animal medicines, supports the FAO’s ultimate goal to eliminate world hunger by 2030.  

1. Enhancing food and nutrition security 

Food security – defined as access to a basic and nutritious diet – is something many in the developed world take for granted, yet 815 million people are experiencing chronic hunger worldwide and 161 million children under 5 suffer from malnutrition. Milk, meat and eggs are rich in protein and essential components of a nutritious diet. Livestock disease threatens these vital resources, limiting the availability of safe, nutritious food. 

2. Protecting vulnerable children 

In the 21st century, 45% of childhood mortality is still caused by malnutrition. This is a tragedy that must be stopped and livestock can play a key role. Evidence shows that animal-sourced protein has a positive effect on childhood nutrition, health and development.

Children in rural east Africa who regularly ate meat and milk were found to perform better in cognitive, physical and social tests than children who weren’t able to access these foods.  

In Rwanda, where stunted growth is a major nutritional issue, children under five were found to be less wasted, stunted and underweight following increased dairy consumption.  Similar results were found in Kenyan children with access to dairy foods.  

3. Tackling poverty  

Ownership of a single animal can transform lives in a rural community, providing food, manure for crops and help with field labour. The loss of that animal can be catastrophic for a smallholder farmer and their family, so protecting its health is a priority in these communities. 

Farming also provides a vital source of income – breeding five hens in sub-Saharan Africa can earn more than US$1,000 a year, and with nearly 400 million people in the region living on less than US$700 a year, this income can be life-changing.  

4. More people, less waste 

It’s predicted that the population will reach 10 billion by 2050, and with hunger on the increase, impacting 11% of the population, it will be a huge challenge to produce enough food to feed everyone.

Currently, one in five livestock animals die of entirely preventable diseases,  which represents a huge waste of food. This fall in food production in turn increases food prices and impacts availability in vulnerable regions. Preventative medicines make food production more efficient, reducing the impact of disease on animal welfare, and treatment costs.

5. Empowering communities

Supporting rural communities to be self-sufficient can improve thousands of lives. The ‘One Cow per Poor Family’ program in Rwanda helped more than 200,000 families, reducing malnutrition and increasing household income through dairy cattle farming and dairy consumption.iv  

The program, founded on the Rwandan principle that the gift of a cow establishes trust and respect, promoted unity and reconciliation within communities.