Interview with Thanawat Tiensin, Director of the FAO Animal Production and Health Division
Thanawat Tiensin, Director, FAO Animal Production and Health Division at the FAO Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation.
Rome- The first-ever Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation is taking place this week at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) headquarters in Rome. The conference provides a neutral platform for stakeholders to explore innovative approaches for efficient, nutritious, and environmentally friendly animal-source food production. It aims to bolster resilient local livestock systems, aligning with FAO's commitment to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The event's key themes include enhancing livestock production systems, improving animal source food for nutrition, implementing livestock solutions for a better environment, and enhancing livelihoods, particularly for small-scale livestock producers.
The conference will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of sustainable livestock production and is expected to contribute significantly to global discussions on climate action and sustainable agriculture.
But what exactly is sustainable livestock? ahead of the conference, FAO Newsroom interviewed the Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division, Thanawat Tiensin, to delve into these practices and the journey toward achieving them.
What does sustainable livestock production entail, and why is it crucial for agrifood systems and national economies?
Livestock production is a vital component of our agrifood systems, providing essential nutrients, livelihoods, and economic opportunities for millions of people around the world. However, the livestock sector is facing several complex challenges and has garnered criticism in various aspects, including environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and its impact on climate change.
With global population growth expected to reach almost 10 billion people by 2050, the global demand for animal food products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, will increase by 20% during that time. Sustainable livestock production encompasses practices that aim to meet the needs of raising animals for food while minimizing negative environmental impacts.
Sustainable livestock production promotes the long-term availability of the agrifood system, protects natural resources, enhances economic resilience, and contributes to a more sustainable and resilient future. It also helps increase productivity, reduce production costs, and enhance market competitiveness, ultimately contributing to economic growth and rural development.
In what ways can livestock production contribute to the transformation of agrifood systems and promote climate action, and how is FAO aiding countries in this endeavour?
Livestock production is a vital component of the agrifood system. To achieve higher productivity with reduced impact, we must first prioritize enhancing the efficiency of livestock systems. This involves optimizing feed conversion, reducing feed waste, improving nutrient utilization, minimizing land and water resource degradation, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating environmental degradation. Additionally, there is a need to prioritize the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and livestock practices.
Effective management of livestock manure in livestock production can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, incorporating trees into livestock production systems through practices like agroforestry, agroecology, and agro-silvopastoral systems can yield multiple benefits. Silvopastoral systems, which integrate trees, forage crops, and livestock, promote biodiversity and enhance carbon sequestration.
FAO plays a crucial role in supporting countries in promoting sustainable livestock production and climate action through various initiatives. This includes providing technical assistance to countries in the development and implementation of policies and strategies for sustainable livestock production, encompassing climate-smart practices. FAO also conducts training programs and workshops aimed at enhancing the capacity of farmers, extension workers, and policymakers to adopt climate-friendly livestock production techniques.
FAO also fosters the exchange of knowledge and experiences among countries, with a focus on promoting best practices and sharing successful case studies related to sustainable livestock production and climate change mitigation. The Organization supports research and innovation in livestock production systems, including the development and dissemination of climate-smart techniques and practices.
How significant is animal-source food in maintaining a healthy diet?
Animal-source foods play a crucial role in maintaining healthy diets as they provide essential nutrients crucial for human health. However, it's important to emphasize that a healthy diet can be achieved through a variety of food sources, including plant-based options. Achieving a sense of well-being and a nutrient-dense diet involves striking a balance between the consumption of animal and plant-based foods.
Animal-source foods, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, serve as excellent sources of high-quality protein, which is essential for various bodily functions, including growth, tissue repair, and the production of enzymes and hormones. These foods are also rich in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Notably, animal-source foods often contain nutrients that the human body can readily absorb and utilize, in contrast to plant-based sources.
Furthermore, animal-source foods provide all the essential amino acids required by the body for various physiological processes.
What key challenges are currently faced by small-scale livestock producers?
Small-scale livestock producers are confronted with numerous challenges, and it is imperative to extend support to them as this support significantly contributes to enhancing rural livelihoods, ensuring food security, and promoting sustainable development across many countries and regions. Effectively addressing these challenges necessitates comprehensive interventions, encompassing the improvement of resource accessibility, the provision of financial and technical assistance, the reinforcement of market connections, the advancement of climate resilience, and the enhancement of animal health services.
Small-scale producers often contend with limited access to crucial resources like land, water, and other natural assets, which can constrain their capacity to expand production and boost productivity. They frequently grapple with difficulties in obtaining the financial resources and credit necessary for investing in their livestock operations. This financial scarcity diminishes their capability to acquire high-quality agricultural inputs, upgrade infrastructure, and adopt advanced technologies.
Additionally, many small-scale livestock producers lack access to essential training, extension services, and technical support. This deficiency curtails their ability to embrace contemporary and sustainable livestock management practices, resulting in reduced productivity and operational inefficiencies.
They are also particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change and natural calamities, with extreme weather events such as droughts and floods leading to livestock losses, reduced feed availability, and heightened disease risks.
Likewise, small-scale producers often grapple with challenges associated with accessing markets, negotiating equitable prices, and competing against large-scale producers. Many small-scale livestock producers encounter obstacles when implementing effective animal health management practices and disease control measures. The limited availability of veterinary services, vaccines, and diagnostic tools amplifies the risk of disease outbreaks and hampers productivity.
Could you explain the One Health approach and elaborate on the interconnections between human and animal health it recognizes?
The One Health approach is adopting a collaborative and holistic perspective that recognizes the interconnections between human, animal, and environmental health.
We require a multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach, where stakeholders collaborate to address health challenges at the interface of human-animal and environmental health. This approach underscores the importance of collaboration, data sharing, surveillance, and joint decision-making to prevent and control diseases. It also promotes the sustainability of agrifood systems and livestock production while safeguarding public health.
Human and animal health are closely intertwined in various ways. For instance, zoonotic diseases can be transmitted between animals and humans, as evidenced by recent outbreaks like COVID-19, Ebola, and avian influenza. Transmission can occur through direct contact, consumption of contaminated food or water, or via vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks. Controlling zoonotic diseases requires a deep understanding of their origins within animal populations. Additionally, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in animal production can contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which can subsequently impact both human and animal health.
This situation can result in global economic losses. Furthermore, human and animal activities can lead to environmental contamination, such as the pollution of water and soil, often stemming from agricultural runoff or improper waste disposal. This contamination can adversely affect both human and animal health, leading to diseases and other health-related issues. The safety of the food we consume is closely linked to animal diseases, as infections in animals can be transmitted through contaminated food products, posing risks to human health. Ensuring the health and welfare of animals within the food production chain is crucial for maintaining food safety.
Could tell us about the importance of the Global Conference and its expected outcomes?
The Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation represents a significant milestone in our collective endeavour to address the challenges and opportunities within the livestock sectors and the agrifood system. During the Conference, we grapple with a pressing issue: how to increase production in the livestock sector while minimizing its environmental footprint. The outcomes of this conference will be presented for further discussion at the Committee on Agriculture-Sub-Committee on Livestock (COAG).
Moreover, this conference serves as a platform to contemplate our path forward for the decade of actions aimed at achieving sustainable livestock transformation. It is noteworthy that it precedes the UN Climate Conference COP 28, offering a valuable opportunity to spotlight our findings and convey key messages. This contribution enriches the global discourse on sustainable livestock production and its pivotal role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
The conference plays a crucial role in advancing the agenda of sustainable livestock production and promoting holistic approaches that encompass environmental, social, and economic dimensions within livestock systems.
I would like to draw your attention to today’s FAO's release of a comprehensive study on Methane Emissions in Livestock and Rice Systems. We will provide further details about the celebrations for the upcoming International Year of Camelids in 2024, with additional information to be discussed during COP28.