By: Dr. Khursheed Ahmad Sofi

Khursheed_ahmad_SofiLivestock plays an important role in food security by directly contributing to it by transforming vegetation, crop residues, by-products from food processing, and organic waste into human food that is of high nutrient density and nutritional quality. Animal source foods (ASFs) are energy-dense, contain high-quality protein and are a good source of a number of micronutrients. Animal proteins have higher digestibility (96 to 98 percent) than most plant proteins (65 to 70 percent), and the amino acid composition of animal proteins is superior to that of plants. The biological values for animal proteins range from 90 to 100 relative to egg protein (the reference protein conventionally set at 100), while values for plant proteins range from 50 to 70. The bioavailability of important minerals (calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, magnesium and manganese) and vitamins – thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine (B6) and B12 – are much higher in animal than in most plant products. These characteristics make ASFs important for population especially for those with limited food intake capacity relative to their needs, such as young children, pregnant and lactating women, and people with HIV/AIDS. 

Livestock offers one of the most efficient means of utilizing resources that would otherwise go unexploited, in both rural and urban areas. The role of livestock in food security is of special importance in mountainous and dryland areas like J&K where there is low and highly variable rainfall, which makes much of the land unsuitable for crop production but can be exploited for livestock production to support human livelihoods besides its contribution in food security. Livestock adds value to large amounts of plant materials associated with the production of food crops (e.g., straws) and to by-products of food and fiber processing (e.g., oilseed cakes, brewers’ grains) that are not edible for humans but can be used as animal feed. It has been estimated that in 1993, crop residues of wheat, rice, maize and barley provided more than 650 million tonnes of animal feedstuff, equivalent to 27 million tonnes of crude protein and 4194 billion megajoules (MJ) of energy, while the feed energy produced from the global supply of by-products (excluding crop residues) would support the production of more than 500 million tonnes of milk. Other low-value feed transformed into human-edible material by livestock includes organic kitchen and other wastes, which low-income households often feed to their animals with little or no cultivated land for fodder production. Livestock also contributes indirectly to food security by increasing crop output by providing manure, which is a valuable source of organic plant nutrients and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Livestock enhances the flexibility and thus the stability of food production as they can be kept for variable lengths of time and be maintained on a variety of diets thus serve as a buffer to mitigate the impact of fluctuations in crop production on the availability of food for human consumption.

 A rough indication of poor diets in the developing world, and hence of the need to improve food and nutrition security can be derived from the average daily food energy intake measured in calories per person (FAOSTAT, 2010). In all developing country regions calorie intake is lower (2348 Cal/day in India) than it is in high-income countries (3362 Cal/day) like USA, UK, Canada etc and the percentage of calories from ASF per day is only 8.3 in India versus 26.1 in high-income countries. While developing country diets are poorer in quantitative terms than those in high-income countries, the difference in terms of quality is even more marked. The poorer quality of diets in developing countries is reflected by the low average levels of supply (and consumption per head) of meat and dairy products. Low levels of consumption of livestock products such as meat, milk, and eggs may be explained by the higher cost of production, and hence price per unit of food energy than for staple crop products. To some extent, in providing food energy, higher levels of cereal consumption per person compensate for the low levels of meat, milk and egg consumption. However, many of the poor in developing countries suffer from not only low energy supply but also micronutrient deficiencies, partly owing to their mainly cereal-based diets. Given the high bioavailability of protein, iron and vitamin A in meat, eggs, and milk, increasing the availability of ASFs for poor populations in developing countries could significantly reduce the burden of diseases attributable to protein and micronutrient deficiencies. The estimated disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) that the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes to protein-energy malnutrition, vitamin A deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in the developing world are 17.4 million, 0.6 million and 15.6 million respectively (WHO, 2004), arising mostly from disability, while an estimated 460 000 people per year die from nutritional deficiencies. 

Further, the growth in demand for ASFs because of large and rapidly growing population, particularly in the burgeoning urban areas of developing countries like India, presents potential opportunities for economic growth and poverty reduction with an increase in the livestock sector’s contribution to national GDP and the corresponding national income, while consumers get the nutritional benefits associated with ASF dietary intake. With respect to our state (J&K), 23.56 lakh metric tons of milk, 429.04 million eggs and 323.57 lakh kilograms of mutton were produced in 2016-17. The state consumed around 25 lakh metric tons of milk, 1209 million eggs in 2016-17 only with the expenditure of about Rs 2,000 crore annually to import meat and poultry to meet the nutritional requirements of people. Thus, regarding human food and nutrition security, livestock provides an important opportunity by naturally transforming vegetation from non-arable land, crop residues, food processing by-products, and organic waste into human food of high nutrient density and nutritional quality for improving the overall quality of human life. 

(Author is working as an Assistant Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Science, SKUAST-K and can be contacted at The views are of the author and not the institution he works for).