Over the past 50 years, FAO has given strong emphasis to the promotion of livestock sector development within the context of sustainable agriculture and rural development, improved food security and conservation of agrobiological diversity. The FAO Animal Production and Health Division has been entrusted with this responsibility, in particular, of advising member countries on the development of technologies in animal health, breeding, feeding, husbandry and processing of meat and milk products.
Livestock make an important contribution to total food production and rural economy. Animal products are a source of disposable income for many small farmers in developing countries, and livestock raising utilizes family labour while providing significant employment in off-farm meat, milk and fibre-processing enterprises. Milk and meat production is increasing at a faster rate than that of cereals and other foods The potential of livestock to enhance total food production, however, remains largely untapped and therefore the rapidly expanding demand for livestock products cannot be fully exploited.
Mixed-farming systems offer many advantages over monocropping systems. The productivity of crops, animals, fish and trees is increased through sustainable utilization of positive relationships between these groups. Where livestock and the environment are managed correctly, the benefits of livestock greatly outweigh any negative effects. The contributions of livestock include their ability to recycle what would otherwise be waste products, to produce manure as a source of plant nutrients and soil organic matter and to utilize foliage and forage growing on marginal land.
Taking these factors into account, FAO has adopted a systems approach to the development of animal agriculture. In addition, a programme for the conservation of domestic animal diversity has been initiated that comprises monitoring, characterization, in situ conservation ex situ conservation and the promotion of cooperation in the global management of the world's animal genetic resources.
A major challenge facing many nations of the world today is the need to feed their increasing populations. Over 800 million people in developing countries now face chronic malnutrition, and approximately 200 million children Under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic protein and energy deficiency. To meet this challenge and to combat the increasing pest problems of the world's plant and animal resources, FAO has recently initiated two new priority programmes, namely the Special Programme on Food Production in Support of Food Security in Low-income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) and the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases.
The tasks ahead are enormous not only in feeding the hungry, but also to keep up with the needs of the growing world population. To meet these pressing demands, the realization of livestock potential requires, among other things, fair commodity prices and trade practices that link production and post-production components with efficient infrastructures, services and marketing schemes, as well as increased commitment to the provision of funds and other requisite resources for the development of the livestock sector - a vital component of sustainable agriculture.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its founding, FAO renews its commitment to assisting member countries in developing their potentials and natural resources in order to increase the quantity and quality of food available to feed the present and future generations.