Livestock, an essential solution for sustainable food systems
Scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the United Nations pre-summit on food systems in late July, the World Farmers Organization organized a diverse roundtable on livestock and its central position in sustainable food systems.
Four areas for improvement
Speaking online from Switzerland, Peer Ederer, a member of the scientific council of the World Farmers Organization, described four areas of animal production that could be improved in the future.
The first area is the diversification of species. Of the 40 different species that humans use, there are around 7,000 species that could be used in almost any ecological niche, Ederer said.
The second area that could be improved is the use of innovations. Ederer said that while innovations that improve production are available, their use should be accelerated. These innovations take the form of genomics, data science, artificial intelligence, robotics and precision breeding, but also in the form of business models that bring together the public and private sectors.
The third area that could be improved is in accounting systems, said Ederer, highlighting the ways in which economic, social and environmental performance is measured.
“Because you can’t handle anything that you don’t measure,” he said.
The fourth area of interest for future improvement is the increased emphasis on national or bioregional strategies. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for all farmers around the world.
“The challenges facing us in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity are very difficult,” Ederer concluded. “We have to meet these challenges. We believe that with innovation and building on diversity, we can master these challenges, but we have to agree on strategies, strategies that are reliable – and these reliable strategies can only be created by consensus. national level of all stakeholders involved.
EthioChicken empowers small farmers
Ethiopia’s largest poultry and egg producer, EthioChicken, works in Ethiopia, but also in neighboring countries, to enable thousands of micro-entrepreneurs and three million small farmers to improve poultry production and eggs. EthioChicken has tripled Ethiopia’s egg consumption in just five years. Justin Benade, poultry and egg producer and CEO of EthioChicken, explained.
Launched in 2010, EthioChicken’s vision was to increase the production of healthy chickens and improve the incomes of participating smallholder farmers. The company has eight breeding breeders with parents where 160,000 parents of a dual-use breed are bred for production. They have six hatcheries with a capacity of about 1.5 million eggs per week. The chicks are incubated and vaccinated, then shipped in minibuses to 9,000 agents managed by 73 zone sales managers.
Officers receive the day-old chick and then grow it up to six weeks of age. From there, they are responsible for selling the chickens to up to 5 million small farmers, most of whom live on just an acre of land. As a dual-purpose breed, each hen provides around 200 eggs, and later some meat.
“These families are really our target market,” said Benade. “These families are quite often where people are suffering from nutritional deficiencies and where they really need support.”
EthioChicken is currently working to develop an export market. Similar models are in place in Rwanda and Uganda.
Dutch pig farmer focuses on welfare and sustainability
Annechien ten Have runs a family pig farm in the Netherlands. The farm houses 6,000 mother sows and 5,000 piglets. Ten Have focuses on the farm’s well-being and long-term sustainability. Over 15 years ago, she started to think about how she could give her pigs a better life. To do this, she focused on their needs, particularly in terms of housing. The pigs at Ten Have Farm are reared in open housing systems and the piglets are reared in farrowing pens. The straw bedding is distributed using an automatic system, which keeps the pens constantly refreshed.
Later, Ten Have created a market concept, Hamletz, selling its end product at a higher price to compensate for the improved sustainability of the farm, to give the pigs a better life and for the better tasting product it produces.
To improve sustainability on the farm, Ten Have provides pigs with outdoor access, uses more sustainably produced feed, and operates a biogas facility that processes the collected manure. The biogas plant supplies more than five million kilowatt-hours to the grid each year, and Ten Have uses some of it to heat its stables and home. For her efforts, she received the Dutch Agri-Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2019.
“What you do has to be right,” she said. “You have to be transparent and accessible to the consumer. We want to make sense of what we do – a better life for yourself, for the animal and good for the environment.
Canadian beef producer reaping rewards from sustainably produced beef
Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, a fourth generation beef farmer in Alberta, Canada, spoke about sustainable beef production in Canada. Copithorne-Barnes operates a 26,000 acre farm that houses 1,500 head of cattle. She is the president and founding member of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which first joined forces in 2009. She believes that sustainable beef is a socially responsible, environmentally friendly and economically viable product that gives priority to the plant, people, animals and progress.
“We did this by focusing on five main principles, namely natural resources, community members, animal health and welfare, food and finally, efficiency and innovation.” , said Copithorne-Barnes.
It was crucial, she said, that no part of the supply chain was left behind. Joining forces was the best course of action to avoid unintended consequences and to ensure that no one felt left out. In 2016, the Roundtable began by comparing the entire beef supply chain in Canada. This exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the sector and helped forge a plan for the future. Once the benchmarks were established, Copithorne-Barnes said she was able to see her farm’s strengths more clearly.
“Our grasslands end up sequestering more carbon than our forests,” she said. “And so it is through rotational grazing, improved genetics – both of livestock and introduced grass species – that we are able to keep the grasslands thriving. “
But she also saw areas that needed improvement, especially riparian lands that needed protection from grazing cattle. Copithorne-Barnes’ efforts have paid off economically, as sustainably produced beef sells for a higher price in Canada. All sustainable beef is audited and certified by a third party.
Embracing innovation keeps the U.S. dairy farm sustainable
As a dairy farmer, president of Dairy Management Inc. and director of the United Dairy Industry Association, Marilyn Hershey knows how important sustainability is on the farm. She said they need to be able to continue to provide high-quality protein in a more sustainable way. Farmers, she said, are very concerned about the environment. Healthy soils produce healthy crops, and healthy crops are needed to feed cows.
Hershey milks 800 cows at a farm 40 minutes north of Chesapeake Bay. They are part of a large watershed that runs from their farm to the bay, making nutrient management all the more important
As part of their sustainability story, she and her husband installed a biodigester in 2017. The biodigester captures methane from cow manure and converts it into electricity, which is then sent to the grid. Their biodigester can also absorb 45-49% of food waste. They divert waste from a local potato chip company and nearby grocery stores to generate energy. The waste created by the biodigestion process is used in the stalls as bedding for their cows. While it’s not economical on all farms, Hershey said it is on theirs.
Their approach is unique to their farm. This includes the production of a diversity of breeds and the use of a diverse feeding system from feed produced in no-till culture. Hershey said it’s important for the world to understand and care about what farmers are doing.
“It is very important for farmers to have a voice, not just at the UN, but to continue these conversations after the Food Systems Summit, and to ensure that our farmer voice is heard,” a- she concluded. “You know, you talk to any farmer and they care about the environment. We care about our animals.