“Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock” meeting this week in Addis Ababa

The 7th multi-stakeholder partnership meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock opened in Addis Ababa on Monday (May 8) at the Hilton Hotel. The all-week meeting brought together more than 250 livestock specialists from 50 countries to discuss ways to strengthen the role of livestock in supporting livelihoods, producing safe food and protecting the environment. It focused on demonstrating the positive contribution of livestock to the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the world and fostering the sustainable development of the rapidly growing sector.

Officially opening the meeting, Professor Fekadu Beyene, Ethiopia's Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, said the meeting would "enable us to share the multiple benefits we're deriving from sustainable livestock initiatives, including those supported by the Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan (2015) and Growth and Transformation Plan Two (GTP 2)". The Minister highlighted the government's steps to efficiently utilize the country's vast livestock resources and make the sector a driver of transformation of the country's agriculture-based economy. These measures include providing good-quality farm inputs at affordable prices, boosting small-scale irrigation schemes, minimizing post-harvest losses and controlling and eradicating major livestock and livestock-transmitted human diseases.

The Minister said the success of livestock sector was critical in achieving food security, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability at different levels. "Beyond its impact on rural people, the anticipated transformation of the livestock sector holds huge potential to impact positively on urban populations through reductions in food prices and increases in the supply, as well as growing availability of employment opportunities in livestock-related sectors," he said. The Minister said Ethiopia was keen to learn from others' knowledge and experience to enhance its capacity to practice sustainable livestock to reduce poverty and increase food security. He noted the drought resilience initiatives supported by the government and its development partners. These had been of major importance in helping the country better manage the impacts of the severe drought Ethiopia and other countries of the Horn of Africa have been experiencing in recent months. Other measures included boosting livestock production by irrigating pasture lands, creating fodder banks and improving livestock husbandry practices and market access for pastoralists and subsistence farmers.

The head of FAO AGAL, Henning Steinfeld, delivered the keynote presentation on Multiple Benefits from Sustainable Livestock on the first day. He underlined that while the livestock sector was a major driver of environmental change, because of its interface with common property resources, it was also much more than something merely expressed in economic terms and GDP. It provided income and employment, of course, but also a range of less tangible but equally crucial benefits for cultural and social cohesion. Mr. Steinfeld said policy makers around the world should look at the diversity of livestock systems and interactions, keeping in mind that at times there could be clashes between private and public goods. It was important to bear in mind that sustainable livestock systems involved multiple objectives, that these changed over time and that they differed in different locations. The only way to capture the multiple benefits of livestock, he said, was to integrate the tools used. Mr. Steinfeld pointed out that everyone needed to "collaborate with the future", that is to work to provide future generations, at a minimum with the same level of opportunities enjoyed today.

He looked at the bio-physical and socio-economic dimensions of livestock production as well as the outside pressures such as population growth, urbanization, climate change and resource competition and scarcities. He also underlined the need to increase resource-use efficiency, protect and enhance critical resources, balance human benefits, and build reliance. Mr. Steinfeld noted the importance of developing new governance and institutional models and emphasized the benefits to be gained from integration, connecting up life-cycles, value chains and One Health analyses, to optimize livestock production. The aim should be to shift away from merely maximizing livestock production and productivity to generating and capturing the multiple benefits offered by livestock

Among other speakers, Fritz Schneider, the chair of the Global Agenda, noted that the meeting provided livestock specialists with the tools and knowledge to make inroads in realizing the potential of the sector. "The Global Agenda provides a platform, regionally and locally rooted, to comprehensively address the multiple opportunities the livestock sector presents for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals."  He noted that participants would discuss the tools to facilitate sustainable livestock sector development. Cases of practical change would be demonstrated and learning tours during the week would show successful local efforts in sustainable sector development. He said: "We recognize that for livestock to be sustainable, the sector worldwide needs to respond to the growing demand, enhance its contribution to food nutrition security and address its potential impacts on human, animal, and environmental health and welfare."

Dr. Ren Wang, Assistant Director General for the FAO's Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, said the Global Agenda was "uniquely positioned to promote the livestock sector, which generates widespread benefits for people and the planet".  He noted that agriculture, including livestock, lay at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and both sectors sought to address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development simultaneously. He said the FAO was providing better recognition of the economic, social and environmental benefits of livestock and was committed to ensuring the livestock sector contributed to food security and the elimination of poverty while reducing the sector's environmental footprint and resource use. He said: "Livestock helps in our fight to end hunger and poverty, as well as to improve food security, and nutrition and health; farmed and herded animals can support peace and gender equity." He added: "Livestock can also help address environmental issues, from land degradation and biodiversity loss to climate change mitigation."The FAO is actively involved in and hosts the secretariats of GASL and the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance partnership. It also supports the Africa Sustainable Livestock 2050 and other initiatives developing tools and models, such as the Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model, and guidelines to monitor the development of the sector. Dr. Wang said: "This week's dialogue will help ensure that livestock continue to yield long-term benefits. Our goal is to work toward that for the long-term and ultimately reach a zero-hunger world."

Jimmy Smith, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said the meeting was special for ILRI, one of the founder members of the partnership. "The Global Agenda", he said, "provides a forum for ILRI to move from theory to practice at the interface of livestock and development." The meeting was taking place in Ethiopia, "one of ILRI's ‘homes'", and involved more ILRI scientists than ever before. It came at an opportune time when the Institute was seeking to ensure its livestock research solutions were utilized effectively. Misrak Mekonnen, Ethiopia's State Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, also emphasized the importance of the discussions on how livestock-based solutions could contribute to sustainable development.

Driven by population and economic growth, particularly in Africa, the demand for livestock products is expected to increase by about 70% in the next two or three decades. Although no longer constrained by weak domestic demand, the livestock sector in Africa still faces many challenges. These require long-term planning, coordination and investment and the development and implementation of roadmaps to provide the capacity to drive sustained economic growth, inclusive social and human development, and an efficient use of natural resources.
The momentum for this has been building up for some years. The UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security report followed the African Union's Livestock Development Strategy for Africa (2015–2035). Since then, Ethiopia has begun to implement a ‘livestock master plan', which highlights the possibilities for change in the policy environment. It targeted investments in animal health, breeding and feeding, of some US$600 million over a five-year period, to boost incomes and livelihoods of nearly three million smallholder livestock-keeping households. It required the involvement and engagement of all key stakeholders in partnership to ensure no one is left behind. This was a key emphasis in the meeting this week offering participants an occasion to reflect upon the initiatives that have been undertaken; highlight the lessons that might be applied to successful sustainable livestock development; clarify the tools that could be used to assess the sector's multiple benefits; and identify the areas requiring further work.

This week's meeting shared and discussed progress made in the development of tools and models to monitor sustainable livestock sector development. It articulated lessons from successful examples of practical change towards sustainable livestock systems. It identified opportunities and challenges to which GASL and its members must respond to ensure multiple benefits from sustainable livestock development. It provided participants with plenary and interactive learning sessions to explore tools to measure and guide sustainable livestock development, with case studies, learning tours and a ‘sharefair' illustrating practical changes. A policy forum provided the opportunity for ministerial-level deliberations on the role of livestock-based solutions for sustainable development in Africa. There were, of course, multiple opportunities for additional side meetings.

The FAO developed the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock in 2010, recognizing that for livestock to be sustainable, the sector worldwide needed to respond to the growing demand for livestock products and enhance its contribution to food and nutritional security; to provide secure livelihoods and economic opportunities for hundreds of millions of pastoralists and smallholder farmers; to use natural resources efficiently, address climate change and mitigate other environmental impacts; and to enhance human, animal, and environmental health and welfare . The mission of the Global Agenda, in fact, has been and remains enhancement of livestock stakeholders' commitment and investment in support of the UN Agenda 2030 by facilitating dialogue, generating evidence and supporting the adoption of good practices and policies. It actively needs to continue to engage all actors in the livestock sector worldwide, governments, civil society, private sector, donors, academia, non-governmental organizations and multi-lateral organizations, to foster sustainable development of the rapidly changing livestock sector. Since 2010 the Global Agenda has matured from an initial focus on environmental issues, broadening its interest and involvement into social equity and health issues and now aligning with the sustainable development goals of the Agenda 2030.