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January 21, 2018

Conclusion of the 10h Global Forum for Food and Agriculture: Ensuring food security through sustainable livestock farming

In 2050 two billion people will inhabit the Earth. As a result of this growth consumer behaviour will change too. More and more people live in cities and with the rise of the middle classes demand for meat, dairy and egg products is growing fast. How can we make livestock farming more productive to feed the world’s rising population, while protecting our climate and dwindling resources, i.e. soil and water? And how can we fulfil the consumer desire for high animal welfare standards? These were the issues debated by over 2,000 representatives of politics, science and society at ten panel discussions, two high-level panels and a business panel at the 10th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin.

Livestock farming provides a livelihood for 1.3 billion people

Speaking at the opening event, Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), reminded the audience that animal farming ensures a livelihood for 1.3 billion people worldwide. At the same time, production systems and consumer habits vary considerably. Whereas Europeans on average consume more than 70 kilos of meat per head annually, Africans consume barely eight kilos. Smith cautioned against demonising livestock farming and the consumption of animal products, as was often the case in the northern hemisphere: “Increasing demand for meat is a way of ensuring an income and employment in the southern hemisphere“, Smith said.

At the high-level panel of the European Commission José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, noted how important animal proteins were for the human diet. Many inhabitants of poorer countries have a low protein intake. Children, young people and the elderly in particular needed animal proteins, which were an essential and virtually irreplaceable part of their diet. Furthermore, livestock ensured the livelihoods of the very poorest around the world. The situation was particularly uncertain for nomadic cattle breeders in the Sahel region. Climate change and a lack of rainfall had caused pastures to dry up, and insects which thrived in warm climates were causing devastating animal diseases. Whenever the owners lost their herds and their livelihoods their only escape was to migrate, often to neighbouring cities and across the Mediterranean to Europe. Appealing to the other members he said, “We must help the poorest of the poor to ensure their survival at home.“

Livestock farming responsible for 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions

What is undisputed is that livestock farming has a big impact on the environment and is responsible for around 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Our national research institute has shown that we can produce meat without affecting our climate“, said Blairo Maggi, the Brazilian minister of agriculture. In that context, the use of modern technology for breeding, feeding and managing pastures and an intelligent combination of arable farming, forestry management and livestock farming was essential. Dora Siliya, His Zambian counterpart, demanded both politicians and livestock farmers rethink their approach: “Livestock farming should be seen not just as a way of life but as a business.“ To ensure this the minister proposed better advice on farming, providing loans and closer cooperation between producers and the markets.

All panel members agreed that there were no wholesale solutions for guaranteeing efficient and responsible livestock farming. Thus, farming methods which focused on animal welfare did not necessarily lead to less greenhouse gases, said EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. “We must provide farmers with proper incentives. If the amounts paid tally with the environmental and climate targets then we can get the farmers on board“, said Hogan.

Sustainable farming as a business model

Speaking to the visitors of the International Business Panel, Federal Minister of Agriculture Christian Schmidt issued a stark warning: “The agricultural sector must be prepared to change. Sustainability must become the focus of all its business models, otherwise it will completely lose the market.“ The minister criticised production methods which only had short-term profits in mind and were potentially damaging to society as a whole, such as the irresponsible use of antibiotics in livestock farming, which led to a growth in multiresistant organisms. Furthermore, it was wrong to outsource production when the only aim was to make companies more competitive, the minister added. He called upon all those participating and their colleagues to take the responsibility upon themselves. “Then we will be able to feed the world.“

The aim of the International Business Panel, which takes place at the GFFA and is traditionally organised by the German food and farming industries, was to debate the role of the retail trade and ways to improve food supply chains. Alan Wolff, the deputy director general of the World Trade Organization, stressed the benefits of open markets, while Bernd Naaf, head of Communications at Bayer AG, criticised the protectionist tendencies in certain markets as “potentially devastating for low-income nations“. Till Wahnbaeck, secretary general of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, warned against treating free trade as a panacea. “We cannot dictate our free trade terms to nascent markets that are as yet unable to compete. This is where limited-term protectionism has a case“, Wahnbaeck said. He pointed to Burkina Faso in West Africa as an example, where smallholders and herders were trying to establish a dairy market for themselves but were unable to compete against cut-price imported milk powder products.

Cees Veermann, chairman of the EU Commission’s Agricultural Market Task Force, said it was necessary to have greater market transparency and strengthen the role of producers by enabling them to market their products together. “We must clearly formulate the rules for cooperation and competition law so that a legal basis exists for agricultural joint ventures“, said the university professor and former agriculture minister of the Netherlands.

According to Arancha González, director of the International Trade Center (ITC), a livelihood in the farming sector offered good prospects, particularly in areas of high youth unemployment in the southern hemisphere. However, young people were leaving this sector because it was too risky, too regulated and there was not enough money. “We must make farming ’cool’ again“, she said to her listeners. “Nothing is more ’cool’ than profits“, was the solution proposed by Theo de Jager, president of the World Farmers Organization (WFO). However, for African smallholders the reality could not be further from the truth – with farms averaging less than one hectare in size, an annual maize harvest of less than a tonne and a daily income of half a US dollar. What the sector needed was mechanisation, modernisation and commercialisation.

Ministers call for sustainable and efficient livestock farming

The outstanding political event over the three days was the 10th Berlin Agriculture Ministers' Conference, the largest of its kind in the world. Agriculture ministers from 69 countries, representatives of the EU Commission and numerous international organisations had accepted the invitation of Federal Minister of Agriculture Schmidt to come to Berlin. Following previous rounds of discussion their task was to lay down parameters for sustainable and efficient livestock farming.

In their final communiqué the government representatives called upon their counterparts and all international organisations to take action, specifically to

• guarantee global food security, including to ensure more efficient and sustainable production and better access to food;

• take steps to improve the livelihoods of livestock farmers, by facilitating a more important role in the supply chain and working conditions in compliance with the standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO);

• protect our climate, environment and resources, by promoting resource-efficient agricultural systems and supporting a knowledge exchange with the aim of reducing livestock farming emissions.

• improve animal health and welfare, including by facilitating better access to veterinary advice and services. The ministers unanimously called for measures to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms and the unnecessary fattening of livestock.

With this communiqué the agriculture ministers pledged to actively support the Agenda 2030 with its focus on sustainable development, which the international community agreed upon in 2015. At the close of the conference Federal Minister Christian Schmidt handed the communiqué to Monique Eloit, director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) has been held at the International Green Week since 2009. High-ranking experts from around the world meet at this conference in order to discuss the major issues concerning the world's food and farming industries. Altogether, 135 of the 199 countries around the world have taken part in the GFFA. This year the conference slogan was 'Shaping the Future of Livestock – sustainably, responsibly, efficiently'.