RELENTLESS demand for meat, milk and eggs across the developing word is forcing the hand of nations like Australia, which have production expertise and the ability to invest in global livestock policies.
Kenyan-based research chief, Dr Jimmy Smith, says the livestock business, on a world scale, is at a tipping point.
That skyrocketing appetite is not going away - by 2050 the world will have 10 billion to feed and demand for animal-sourced food will at least double in developing countries.
We have two choices, says Dr Smith, who heads up the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
“We can invest a modest amount now in the world’s diverse livestock sectors, generating large benefits for all,” he said.
“Or we can wait another 10 to 20 years, when most of the world’s poor and malnourished people will have been left behind.
“Then we'll need investments several orders of magnitude greater to play catch up - to reverse poor livestock policies and planning, to feed and nourish the world and to manage global threats rising on several fronts, from environmental pollution to climate change to pandemic diseases.”
Dr Smith was in Australia for the November International Tropical Agriculture Conference.
Speaking afterwards, he said whether it be building resilience against disease, fighting an emerging crisis, better understanding the links between human and animal health, or coping with the aftermath of an epidemic, tackling livestock issues demanded approaches that involved government, civil society and business.
Most of all, a successful approach must facilitate the sharing of both resources and information, he said.
“While the impacts of a polluted water source or a natural disaster or a new disease can arise in a moment, the research needed to prevent these takes years to decades to bear fruit,” he said.
“Few sectors are growing at the rate of livestock in developing countries.
“Few give us so many opportunities to do so much good on so many fronts as the livestock sector in developing countries. We must not waste this unparalleled opportunity to make livestock an equitable, safe and sustainable sector for the coming generations.”
The developing-country tropics have much to learn from Australia’s livestock technologies and management practices and policies.
Equally, Australia benefits from much of the research conducted in, and for, low-income countries, Dr Smith said.
“Australia makes great use, for example, of the Improved Boran cattle breed developed over decades in East Africa and of the Brachiaria grass that originated in Africa and has improved rangelands in Australia and Brazil,” he said.
Some of the areas in which Australian expertise, as well as funding, was supporting ILRI and partner research are:
- correcting erroneous perceptions about the ‘water footprint’ of livestock production
- development of a promising experimental thermostable vaccine against goat plague
- training the next generation of Africa bioscientists working to improve the continent’s food production
- enhancing the smallholder pig sector and better managing food safety risks in Vietnam by applying risk rather than hazard-based approaches
- assessing the animal fodder markets of Indonesia to determine the most optimal ways of enhancing them
- managing dry rangelands to improve pastures and to sequester carbon
- controlling aflatoxin contamination of foods in East Africa
- increasing yields on the mixed crop-and-livestock farms of Zimbabwe