How livestock production is contributing to food security
Livestock production constitutes a very important component of the agricultural economy of developing countries, a contribution that goes beyond direct food production to include multipurpose uses, such as skins, fibre, fertilizer and fuel, as well as capital accumulation.
Furthermore, livestock is closely linked to the social and cultural lives of several farmers for whom animal ownership ensures varying degrees of sustainable farming and economic stability.
Human and livestock populations have both grown considerably over the last three decades, although at different rates. To feed the growing human population, more land will need to be devoted to the cultivation of food and cash crops and, being a finite resource, this will reduce its availability for pasture and fodder.
On the other hand, increased food and cash crops will make available more crop residues and agro-industrial by-products, many of which represent valuable animal feed resources for which there is known technology to support increased levels of production.
The direct role of livestock for food security
Livestock as an important food source
Livestock are important contributors to total food production. Moreover, their contribution increases at a higher rate than that of cereals
Livestock help to alleviate seasonal food variability. Even though milk production is seasonal and surpluses cannot be stored as easily as cereal grains, there are simple technologies that allow herders to keep milk products for weeks or months in the form of clarified butter, curds or various types of cheese. Animals, particularly small livestock, are slaughtered as the need arises. Meat preserved by drying, salting, curing and smoking can be used when other food sources are scarce.
Livestock as a source of income
Animal products not only represent a source of high-quality food but, equally important, they are a source of income for many small farmers in developing countries, for purchasing food as well as agricultural inputs, such as seed, fertilizers and pesticides.
Livestock also provide increased economic stability to the farm or household, acting as a cash buffer for small livestock and as a capital reserve for large animals, as well as a deterrent against inflation.
In mixed-farming systems, livestock reduces the risks associated with crop production.
Livestock as a supplier of production inputs for sustainable agricultural development
In mixed-farming systems, not only can farmers mitigate risks by producing a multitude of commodities, but they can also increase the productivity of both crops and animals in a more profitable and sustainable way.
Livestock as a source of fertilizer and soil conditioner
Nutrient recycling is an essential component of any sustainable farming system. The integration of livestock and crops allows for efficient nutrient recycling. Animals use the crop residues, such as cereal straws, as well as maize and sorghum stovers and groundnut haulms as feed. The manure produced can be recycled directly as fertilizer.
Livestock and weed control
Livestock, particularly the sheep, are efficient in controlling weeds.
In conclusion, improved efficiency of animal agriculture, with its various commodities and service products, is crucial to achieving sustainable agricultural development and food security, particularly in low-income, food-deficit countries.