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Lan Thi Lang, 55, displays eggs she gathered at her home. Photo by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International.

This World Food Day, as we focus on “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition,” I’d like to reflect on the role livestock and animal-based foods can have in sustainable food systems and solutions to world hunger and poverty.

Many ask, Why livestock? Why animal-based foods?

For those of us living in wealthy countries where obesity is the overshadowing health crisis, it’s easy to forget: hunger is about more than not having enough calories. 

The hunger experienced by the extremely poor of the world is not only about caloric deficiencies, but also not having the right nutrition. Inadequate micronutrient intake has far and wide-reaching effects – from cognitive impairment, poor immune systems and decreased productivity, compounding into global economic losses and worse. Micronutrient malnutrition attacks even before birth, as hungry mothers give birth to malnourished babies with low birth weights, leading to infant mortality rates that are disgraceful. In 2012 alone, nearly 5 million babies died within their first year of life (nearly half of those deaths are linked to malnutrition).

Calcium, protein, vitamin B12 and iron are essential to human health. Animal-based foods are an important source of micronutrients, and where Heifer works, sometimes the only source readily available. For example, outside of commercially fortified grains, the only source for B12 is animal products

The world’s poor cannot buy vitamin-fortified bread at the corner grocery, and they don’t live on prime agricultural real estate. They are often limited to steep terrain; rocky, acidic soil and very small plots of land. The communities and families with whom we work both ask for and benefit from the inclusion of livestock. 

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Livestock provides food for families in more ways than one. Click the image to see how different countries benefit from these animals.

When raised in balance with crops and trees, livestock can be both a source of highly nutritious food (milk, eggs, meat) and a tool to secure other sources of food (manure enriches soil, draft power increases yield, income from selling surplus milk, eggs and meat pays for other food). This delicate balance is what we help small farmers develop and maintain. 

Ending world hunger is the mission of Heifer International. Livestock and sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture are the tools we use to empower smallholder farmers–especially women–around the world. Families no longer facing starvation are less likely to destroy forests or overwork land in the desperate quest to feed themselves. The opposite becomes the reality: they plant trees, protect water sources and enrich the soil.

We make every effort to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the livestock we place through training, education and evaluation. Since all recipients of Heifer animals are obligated to Pass on the Gift (give their animal’s offspring to another community member), the whole community becomes attentive to the well-being of the animals.

For nearly 70 years, Heifer has worked to create sustainable food systems and to improve the food security and nutrition of the world’s poor and hungry. We have helped more than 22.6 million families to date, and every year we strive to bring our model to more families with greater efficiency.

Please check out and share our “Meat of the Matter” infographic above to spread the word about the importance of animal-based foods in ending global hunger.



Pierre Ferrari

Pierre Ferrari is president and CEO of Heifer International. Pierre is very passionate about empowering the families and communities with whom Heifer works: “It took me decades, but I have come to know that the only way to happiness and joy is to be of service to others.” Pierre’s other joys are his wife, Kim, his two sons and two stepdaughters. In his free time he enjoys golf, squash, reading and travel.