Food From Livestock Plays Key Role in Combating World Hunger.

Livestock are part of an integrated food-diversification strategy that is sustainable and empowering, says panel of experts at World Food Prize event.

Published on: Oct 13, 2010

Food derived from animals is an important source of protein, energy, calcium and micronutrients - all of which can improve people's health, their economic status and the environment. That was the conclusion of a panel of experts at the Fourth Annual Iowa Hunger Summit, held October 12 in conjunction with the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.

This year's World Food Prize "Borlaug Dialogue" takes place October 13 to 15. However, there are a number of other related events and meetings - such as the Iowa Hunger Summit - also being held this week as 1,100 registered World Food Prize Symposium attendees from 65 countries are gathered to hear experts discuss food and agricultural issues and policy topics.

Evaluating food alternatives in the fight against world hunger

Terry Wollen, a veterinarian and interim vice president of advocacy for Heifer International, and Kevin Watkins , Ph.D. and co-chair of the Elanco Hunger Team and Hunger Board, discussed the role of livestock in reducing food insecurity during a presentation to the Hunger Summit's more than 500 attendees on Tuesday. They shared information about a multi-year collaboration between their two organizations, and emphasized the need to consider four dimensions when evaluating food alternatives in the fight against world hunger.

"Thoughtfully evaluating how foods and food systems affect all four dimensions - human nutrition, people's health, their economic status and the environment - is critical as we take on the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) challenge of producing 100% more food by 2050," says Watkins. "The good news is both research and real-world experience show that animal-source foods deliver on all four of these dimensions."

Based on FAO projections, in 40 years the world's growing population will need twice as much food as is being produced today. While some of this food will come from additional farmland and cropping intensity, 70% of the increase in supply must come from the use of new and existing agricultural technologies.

A case study: improving nutrition in Zambia

Despite farmers' best efforts, today nearly one billion people throughout the world are hungry. These people and others struggle with deficiencies of protein, energy and calcium (macronutrients), and iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B-12 (micronutrients).

To understand how adding livestock-based foods to a diet affects nutrition, Heifer International analyzed the scenario of a typical 40-year-old man living in Zambia. Today, this moderately active 165-pound man would eat a basic diet of cereals along with small amounts of fruits, vegetables and meat. Unfortunately, this diet delivers less than half of the recommended amounts of calcium, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A, and less energy and protein than he needs.

Adding 18 ounces of milk, two ounces of beef and one ounce of chicken to this man's basic daily intake gives him 100% or more of the recommended amounts of energy, protein, lysine and vitamins A, B-2 and B-12, and increases his calcium levels to 75% of the recommended amount.

The cycle of human hunger and poor health are related

"Even just a moderate increase in the consumption of animal-source foods provides critical nutritional benefits for people," says Watkins. "This is one of the best ways to stop the cycle of undernourishment that leads to poor health and disease - a syndrome called the poverty micronutrient malnutrition (PMM) trap."

The PMM trap starts with hunger, he explains. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and impaired development, which alter metabolism and can compromise people's immune status, making them more susceptible to disease. When people become sick, their illnesses often are more severe and last longer, leading to a reduced appetite and poorer absorption of nutrients. This creates even more hunger and malnutrition.

"Through our work at Heifer International, we've found that providing living gifts of livestock along with training in sound agricultural practices can break this cycle of hunger and poor health," says Wollen. "Bringing these inputs to developing countries has proven to be an excellent investment that truly helps communities improve their nutrition and health status."

Improving people's economic status in a sustainable way

In addition to showing improved nutrition and health, research links societies that consume higher levels of animal-source foods to higher per-capita levels of gross domestic product. Published in The Journal of Nutrition, an FAO study concluded that eating food from livestock improves human productivity and economic growth. However, while consumption of animal proteins is increasing in many places, consumption levels in some poorer countries actually have been decreasing.

Wollen says an ongoing project in the mountains of western Honduras is an excellent example of how an integrated food-diversification program can empower families to produce nutrient-rich foods, ultimately lifting them and their community to self-reliance.

"Impoverished people often make short-term choices based solely on their desperate need for food," notes Wollen. "Introducing management practices like zero-grazing, terracing, tree-planting and biogas generation creates an ecosystem that is both environmentally friendly and culturally acceptable. This focus on livestock and agro-ecology is transforming the lives of 2,058 families in 43 Honduran communities."

These two organizations are collaborating to end hunger

Wollen and Watkins agree that a collaboration between their two organizations is making a similar difference for 2,100 families in Lampung, Indonesia.

"Donations from Elanco employees and funds from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation have provided cattle, poultry, ducks, seeds, trees and latrines to people who live with a 24% poverty rate and just 100 veterinarians to serve 1.1 million farming families," says Watkins. "Just as important is the personal touch from our veterinarians and other specialists who have worked side-by-side with the people of Lampung to transfer knowledge of animal husbandry, composting, biogas production and forest conservation."

Because of the nutrition and other benefits they provide, animal-source foods are at the heart of Heifer International projects like this.

"Today, through integrated food-diversification initiatives, millions of people who once were hungry now are nourished by milk, meat, eggs and fresh vegetables," says Wollen. "Even though there has been a resurgence of hunger and poverty, we know that working together using the Heifer International model of integration will move us closer to eradicating hunger - one community at a time."

Information about Heifer International. Heifer's mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. Since 1944, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound ag training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in 50 countries, including the U.S., to help families and communities become more self-reliant. For more information, visit www.heifer.org or call 800-696-1918.

Jo Luck, president and chief executive officer of Heifer International from 1992 to 2010, is one of two recipients of the 2010 World Food Prize for her landmark achievements in building Heifer International into one of the world's foremost grassroots organizations leading the charge to end hunger and poverty for millions of people around the globe. She will receive this award at the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony and Dinner on Oct. 14 in Des Moines.