March 2, 2010
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has clearly had second thoughts on livestock production’s contribution to environmental degradation and climate change. In its report ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ published four years ago it uncompromisingly blamed the world’s beef, dairy, pig, poultry and sheep producers for making a major and too often unnecessary contribution to AGHG emissions and to destroying large areas of environmentally sensitive natural habitat. Less attention was given to the issue of the importance of livestock production to small farmers in poor countries.
The latest in the Organisation’s annual state of world agriculture reports is however more cognisant of the importance of stock farming to small, poor farmers in the poorest countries. It admits that smallholders still dominate production in many developing countries. It points out that in such areas livestock provide income, quality food, fuel, draught power, building material and fertiliser. This form of production contributes to household livelihood, food security and improved nutrition.
Beyond the smallholding, strong demand for animal-based foods, from particularly the more prosperous developing countries, stimulates export industries which provide employment and income through processing and marketing systems. Such primary industry growth results in poverty reduction at every stage in the production chain.
Significantly, the FAO’s figures show that the major growth in livestock production during the last four decades has not been in beef cattle, the major obsession of the eco-warriors, but in pig and poultry production. Overall, world beef production has been more or less static since the 1970’s,while poultry production has increased by more than 900 per cent and pig production by more than 400 per cent.
The point which this latest FAO report illustrates very clearly is that livestock production is not only essential to rural incomes in poorer countries, but is also essential to improving the diet in those countries and to the dietary standards of the urban populations of the expanding developing economies, Clearly, choices have to be made in reducing GHG emissions. In terms of optimum human welfare it is probable that improved nutrition is more important than air travel or the manufacturer of ephemeral consumer goods.Brian Gardner