Cattle farmers in Vientiane, Lao PDR

Livestock perspectives in food systems: a vision for sustainable agriculture

Today, 24 November 2023, the International Conference on Sustainable Animal Agriculture for Developing Countries (SAADC2023) observed a presentation co-authored by Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Fred Unger, regional representative for ILRI East and Southeast Asia, and Anthony Whitbread, program leader for the Sustainable Livestock Systems Program under the theme 'Sustainable Animal Agriculture for a Sustainable Tomorrow'. The presentation on ‘Livestock perspectives in food systems’ provided a comprehensive overview of the challenges, opportunities, and transformative livestock research required to ensure sustainable livestock contributes to food systems transformation.

Shirley Tarawali, ILRI assistant director general provides insights on the livestock perspective in the food system at SAADC 2023 in Lao PDR (photo credit: ILRI/Chi Nguyen).

Tarawali began the presentation by highlighting the critical role of food systems in the context of global challenges. Referencing the Food System Summit 2021, she emphasized the importance of a food systems transformation lens. The statistics presented taken from the recently published State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2023 were alarming with 735 million people facing hunger, 2.4 billion experiencing food insecurity, and 3 billion unable to afford a healthy diet, including essential items like milk, meat, and eggs. Additionally, 148 million children suffer from stunting.

Cattle farmers in Vientiane, Lao PDR (photo credit: ILRI/Chi Nguyen).

Why a food systems perspective for livestock?

The presentation underscored the urgent call for adopting a food systems approach for livestock, especially as the world is off track in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable livestock plays essential roles in multiple development aspects, alongside a need to incorporate preparedness to respond to unexpected drivers. Tarawali argued that sustainable animal agriculture for a sustainable tomorrow requires taking a food systems lens.

Livestock-derived foods and food systems

The presentation explored the dynamics of livestock-derived foods within food systems. Tarawali highlighted that demand for milk, meat, and eggs is rising, primarily in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) due mainly to population growth, and to some extent, increased incomes, and urbanization. Notably, 70% of livestock-derived foods consumed in LMICs come from informal markets, where smallholder farmers play an important role. For some half a billion people, livestock, are essential for livelihoods, and form the backbone of economies, providing income, jobs, and supporting risk mitigation.

Opportunities and examples

Using examples from work undertaken by ILRI and many partners in initiatives, the presentation highlighted opportunities and examples for livestock-based food systems transformation research. Several examples are the CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Animal Productivity (SAPLING), which aims to transform livestock-based food systems while considering environmental, livelihood, and gender aspects. The CGIAR Initiative on Livestock and Climate focuses on adapting livestock production systems to climate change while reducing emissions. The CGIAR Initiative on One Health addresses food safety, antimicrobial resistance, and zoonosis through institutional coordination.

Climate-smart research for livestock

The presentation also highlighted opportunities for climate-smart research for livestock, emphasizing options for greenhouse gas mitigation, genetic selection for climate resilience, and adaptation strategies. Tarawali highlighted that especially for livestock systems, many mitigation and adaptation options are often synergistic, contributing to both environmental sustainability and improved livestock productivity.

Research impacts in Southeast Asia

The presentation concluded with examples of research impact in Southeast Asia. These included research in Vietnam and Cambodia that provided simple, practical solutions to address food safety challenges in traditional retail environments. The research also highlighted the interconnectivity of livestock with nutrition, climate, and land management, showcasing the multifaceted contributions of livestock research to addressing global challenges.

Tarawali's presentation provided a perspective on the role of livestock in sustainable agriculture. By emphasizing the importance of a food systems lens, addressing challenges, and presenting opportunities, the presentation contributed significantly to the ongoing discussion on achieving a sustainable development through livestock sector. 

Beyond the presentation, ILRI made a significant contribution at the conference by hosting a side event on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to support food safety, market access, genetic improvements, and climate change in livestock’. The institute actively participated in a poster session, showcasing its commitment to fostering collaboration and advancing research for better agricultural sector. 

See the presentation on this link 

View additional photos from SAADC 2023 on ILRI Flickr