PRICING mechanisms to farmers that capture the value of nutrients in animal-sourced foods are needed to ensure sustainable livestock production as the world heads down a path of growing demand for meat and dairy.
This was a key message from a senior scientific advisor, Dr Robyn Alders, during discussion about sustainable, healthy diets for all at this year's big science conference TropAg 2019, held in Brisbane this week.
Dr Alders, a veterinarian by trade, is working with the Centre for Global Health Security within Chatham House on a project to identify policies that support financially, environmentally and socially sustainable animal and aquaculture systems around the world.
Most livestock producers were paid by weight and that did not reflect quality, she said.
"We know with animal-sourced food you get multiple nutrients, from micro-nutrients to high quality protein, in a 100 gram serve," Dr Alders said.
"Most of data around animal-sourced food talks about calories or protein, it doesn't talk about the multi-nutrient value.
"We have to pretend we are in the 21st Century and start paying farmgate prices that capture the nutrients produced and their value."
Dr Alders said animal-sourced food and income from livestock and acquaculture had a significant role to play in enhancing diet quality and quantity in resource-poor settings where cereal-based diets were common.
She reported the number of people living with chronic hunger had risen for the third consecutive year to over 820 million in 2018 while incomes for men and women smallholder farmers were not increasing in line with targets.
"It's a worldwide trend that the numbers of family farmers are declining significantly and the major reason is farmgate prices that are not adequate," Dr Alders said.
Sustainability had to be viewed across a triple bottom line - economic, environment and social, she argued.
"It's all very well to talk about what we need to feed the world but who will do it and will they get a fair return?" she said.
"In low-income countries you won't get any argument about the need to access affordable animal source food, however people who need it most don't have the voice.
"Those who make the decisions are being influenced by global discussions that are not necessarily appropriately informed."
The high-profile Eat Lancet report, which recommended significantly reducing red meat consumption, was an example.
"It was a great report in that it got us all talking but one of my big disappointments was they had a single diet - that of an adult male," Dr Alders said.
"In most cases these are not the people suffering from the nutritional burden, it's either women or children."
While there are so many people in the world not receiving the nutrients they need, since the second World War the increase in livestock production had been dramatic, Dr Alders pointed out.
"Our problem is the way we distribute it," she said.
"In low income countries, we are seeing a lift in production but it's not matching what the markets can absorb.
"Smallholder producers are investing, taking on risks, and producing for markets that can't take their product and it's the farmer who loses out."
To move forward efficiently, Dr Alders believes one of the keys will be to have "the right people in the room" working out policy and public expenditure to support sustainable livestock production.
That must include producers, who know what's possible and the constraints under which they operate, plus all those along the food supply system, she said.
"And just having a policy doesn't mean it will work, you must have operational plans and roundtable discussions to ensure ongoing input as you implement the policy," she said.
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