Animal programs

Foods of animal origin are essential in the fight against malnutrition in Africa

Ideas & Debate

Foods of animal origin are essential in the fight against malnutrition in Africa


Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Betty Maina and Principal Secretary Johnson Weru at the Omra Meat Processing (EPZ) exhibition booth at a meat show in Nairobi in November. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Foods of animal origin (ASF) play an important role in reducing levels of malnutrition in developing countries. The benefits of consuming a reasonable amount of animal products are well known.
  • The nutrients in these foods are especially vital in countries where malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are rife.

Over a third of the world’s undernourished people reside in Africa. The number of chronically undernourished people on the continent rose to 250 million in 2019, or nearly a fifth of the population. Of that number, 235 million were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Foods of animal origin (ASF) play an important role in reducing levels of malnutrition in developing countries. The benefits of consuming a reasonable amount of animal products are well known.

Macronutrients such as protein, iron, and B vitamins are more available in foods of animal origin than plant sources. Chicken meat, eggs and milk provide high quality protein rich in essential amino acids. Cereals generally lack these characteristics.

These foods can therefore play a fundamental role in the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies. The nutrients in these foods are especially vital in countries where malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are rife.

The recommended protein requirements of 50-90g per person per day can be achieved by consuming 300g of meat, 1.75l of milk and dairy products, four eggs and 150g of fish each week. Higher amounts are recommended for people who exercise vigorously, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children.

Studies indicate that children under five, youth, women and girls, women of childbearing age, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies, including iron deficiency (anemia), one of the most prevalent micronutrient deficiencies in the world. .

Foods of animal origin are particularly critical in the first 1,000 days of life, as malnutrition experienced during this time (between conception and a child’s second birthday) has the worst long-term adverse effects on human life. individual health and academic success.

Micronutrient deficiencies increase a person’s vulnerability to infections, abnormalities, developmental disabilities, and reduced life expectancy.

Many factors increase vulnerability to malnutrition, including physiological and socio-economic factors that influence households and individuals to be food and nutrition insecure. A large percentage of the population in developing countries does not have access to these foods.

Poor communities often consume little or no ASF for a variety of reasons, including limited availability, accessibility, affordability, dietary habits, religious taboos, and lack of knowledge about the nutritional attributes of ASF.

In some regions, cultural and religious beliefs and taboos influence the consumption of these foods. There are restrictions as to when ASF can be consumed or by whom; women and children, in particular, are often subject to such limitations. Meat is more likely to be subject to food taboos than any other food.

Despite these challenges, the high potential of ASF to improve the diets of vulnerable populations makes the livestock sector invaluable for national policies and development partner programs focused on food security and nutrition. The socio-economic role of livestock is important in many societies which associate livestock farming with cultural heritage and customs.

Engaging in livestock activities can generate income for pastoralists. The sale of ASF such as meat, milk, cheese and eggs, non-food products and various paid services such as animal traction are the main advantages of animal husbandry. Livestock systems support the livelihoods of millions of people and contribute to healthy diets and resilience.

However, livestock is a neglected sub-sector and funding for livestock projects has declined significantly since 1974, mainly due to the contribution of livestock to climate change. Livestock-derived food production is believed to be responsible for 14.5% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts on biodiversity, freshwater use and disturbance of natural resources. nutrient flow.

However, it depends on production systems, farming practices and supply chain management, where there may also be opportunities to mitigate these effects. Another challenge facing livestock-derived food production is the use of fresh water.

Currently, significant efforts are being made by development actors such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to improve diets and raise levels of nutrition and integrate goals, activities and nutritional considerations in country food and agricultural policies and programs. .

Efforts are also being made to improve the contribution of livestock to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by supporting the transformation of animal production systems so that they are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

The increasing prevalence of childhood undernutrition, as well as obesity among adults and children, is increasingly evident in many developing countries. Addressing this situation requires integrated and nutrition-sensitive actions throughout the food system. Specific actions are needed to improve the diets of vulnerable population groups by increasing their consumption of nutrient-rich foods (including ASF) in order to achieve healthier diets for all.

From a demand perspective, livestock products are expected to grow nearly 50% by 2050, led by Africa and South Asia. Harnessing the potential of livestock and optimizing the efficiency of production systems is now more important than ever, given the current global food security and nutrition situation.

It is essential to create an environment conducive to strengthening the links between livestock and human nutrition. The livestock sector has great potential to help fight malnutrition, especially in areas where animal production is the main economic activity. And in areas unsuitable for agricultural production, the use of livestock as a way out of malnutrition would be an excellent opportunity.