The hottest year in history and a global pandemic are leading to rapidly growing food insecurity and malnutrition worldwide. Almost 690 million people were starving in 2019, a number that the United Nations says is expected to increase by 130 million by the end of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around one in ten people worldwide are currently suffering from severe food insecurity, with hunger being most widespread in Southeast Asia and fastest growing in sub-Saharan Africa. Water scarcity and regional conflicts only exacerbated the crisis.

The meat of food insecurity

Sustainable animal husbandry will be central to tackling food insecurity in these regions, say experts from this week’s Global Food and Agriculture Forum (GFFA), which will run under the motto “How can the world be fed in times of pandemics and climate change?”

Despite efforts to curb excessive consumption of meat and dairy products in the global north, animals remain an important yet diminishing source of nutrition and food security in low-income countries – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Grazing animals convert inferior feed into high quality proteins with essential amino acids that are not found in plants. Pastoralists lead cattle to eat grasses, fodder, and unused vegetable by-products and waste that humans cannot eat, and convert these low-nutritional foods into high-quality meat and milk proteins – often on marginal, non-arable land.

While there is “overconsumption of some meat products” in high-income countries, there is actually “underconsumption” in low-income countries, said Claudia Ringler, deputy department head at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

According to Ringler, “stunting” and “cognitive health problems” associated with malnutrition are often the result of limited access to the more complete proteins that plant proteins are lacking – a point supported by the fact that chronic malnutrition is contributing to the stunting of 144 million Children under 5 contributed in 2019.

Human and animal health

Under the motto One Health, there is an interdisciplinary approach to health and nutrition that preaches the unity of human, animal and environmental health. Food and agriculture experts insist that sustainable animal husbandry is an integral part of food systems in low-income countries needs to be used and improved.

“If we consider a holistic approach to health, livestock is an essential part of agriculture and one cannot do without the other,” said Björn Niere, deputy head of “Pandemic Prevention, Health, Animal Health, Biodiversity” at Germany’s Economic Ministry for Cooperation and development.

“Around a billion very poor people depend on farm animals that produce food for their lives and livelihoods,” he added.

Niere admits that “pastoralism is sometimes unsustainable due to land pressure and overgrazing” – which is compounded by smallholder farmers’ dwindling land ownership. Instead, it promotes a sustainable farming model known as agroecology, which combines mixed livestock and arable farming systems as the best means of ensuring food security. Resilience to water scarcity and drought is another goal, as rising temperatures have recently been linked to increased child malnutrition and diets less diverse.

This article was made available by Deutsche Welle