Global Agriculture

Livestock: New Sub-Committee offers new policy pathways

21 March 2022, Rome: The first meeting of the Sub-Committee on Livestock, a technical forum for Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to advise the work of the Organization, started a three-day virtual session today.

The establishment of the Sub-Committee was agreed upon in 2020 by the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), one of FAO’s Governing Bodies providing overall policy and regulatory guidance on issues relating to agriculture (including livestock), food safety, nutrition, rural development and natural resource management. The Sub-Committee on Livestock, comprising 131 countries plus the European Union as well as observers from United Nations (UN) agencies and other international organizations, will discuss and build consensus on specific issues and priorities related to the livestock sector. The first governing body created and operationalized under FAO Director-General QU Dongyu’s tenure, the Sub-Committee will advise COAG and, through it, the FAO Council and FAO Conference, on technical and policy needs to optimize how livestock can contribute to core mandates such as poverty alleviation, food security and nutrition, sustainable livelihoods and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Globally, we are facing a number of serious issues; in particular increasing hunger and malnutrition, poverty, the climate crisis, conflict, biodiversity loss and degradation of natural resources… Livestock can help address these challenges,” Qu said in opening remarks at the session. Many of the world’s poorest people depend directly on livestock for their livelihoods, and livestock value chains constitute the third most importance global source of income after crop production and non-agricultural employment, he added.

“Sustainable livestock systems is at the interface of the Four Betters set out in the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031: Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life for all, leaving no one behind,” Qu noted.

The Sub-Committee will highlight the diversity of livestock systems and the varied roles livestock plays in contributing to food security, nutrition, livelihoods and inclusive economic growth, while minimizing negative environmental impacts when sustainably managed, he said. Its success “will depend on the collective support, active engagement and contributions from each of us,” the Director-General said, calling for efficient, effective and coherent collaboration.

Harnessing synergies, managing trade-offs

The Sub-Committee on Livestock was established to propel transformation of the livestock sector as needed to maximize benefits while managing challenges – which range from micronutrient deficiencies in some populations and the notable vulnerability of pastoralist communities to the climate crisis and on to the risks of biodiversity loss and inefficient land management as well as the growing global threat of antimicrobial resistance.

It is responsible for identifying and discussing major trends and issues in the global livestock sector, advising the preparation of technical reviews on relevant matters, advising on mechanisms to prepare, and facilitate and implement action programmes..

Global demand for livestock products is expected to increase by up to 50 percent by 2050, almost entirely in developing countries where the dietary benefits of animal sourced food are often less accessible, thereby creating many economic opportunities, more of which should be made available to women and youth. At the same time, livestock production systems are major users of natural resources, can contribute to land degradation and environmental pollution and emit greenhouse gases. Moreover, diseases such as Peste des Petits Ruminants can cause heavy losses to the sector and disrupt trade flows, while avian influenza variants can threaten public health as well as disrupt trade flows.

“We are all aware of these issues and business-as-usual is no longer an option. And we are also aware that the livestock sector can contribute to the solution,” the Director-General said, pointing to the need for careful planning to harness synergies and manage trade-offs between different priorities.

FAO’s extensive work in the livestock arena highlights the need for such planning and shows how livestock can ensure healthy diets, support resilience and livelihoods, enable food production in marginal lands where crop production is inefficient, play a central role in the One Health approach and contribute to ecosystem services through nutrient cycling and soil carbon sequestration. FAO, using evidence-based tools and guidelines, is working with governments, farmers, companies and communities on a range of issues such as food safety, inclusive markets, disease surveillance and response, feed optimization and the promotion for best practices for animal health and welfare.

The world’s livestock systems stand out for their diversity, which offers an opportunity to scale up climate solutions. FAO has pioneered research into how to reduce livestock’s carbon footprint and its research has shown how wider adoption of best practices and technologies in feeding, health, husbandry and manure management can help cut GHG emissions by as much as 30 percent. FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) and its interactive version (GLEAM-i) allows for global and national assessments of emissions and of technology and policy options to reduce them. Other technical tools FAO has developed to help Members include the Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience of farmers and Pastoralists (SHARP) tool, the EX-Ante Carbon Balance Tool (EX-ACT), the Livestock Sector Investment and Policy Toolkit (LSIPT), and the Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation (TAPE).