IN a new paper written for Animal Frontiers, researchers looked beyond nutrition to see if raising livestock really does pay off in developing countries and found that animal agriculture has direct and indirect effects on income, education and even gender equality.
"Livestock are often the most important asset in poor, rural countries," wrote a team of researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya.
In some areas, animals are a better investment than land. The ILRI researchers explained that because livestock can be moved, they provide an economic buffer when harvests fail or disaster strikes.
"Refugees on the move frequently take their cattle, small ruminants and even poultry with them," they noted.
Raising livestock does not necessarily mean that the owners eat the meat, milk or eggs, however. Data from researchers in Zimbabwe show that livestock and animal products are more likely to be sold for income than consumed by poor families, which means poor families often do not receive adequate nutrition; however, the next generation can benefit.
"Many poor livestock keepers report that a key motivation for keeping livestock is to earn income so their children can attend school and, perhaps, go on to benefit from further education," the ILRI researchers wrote.
In many countries, women who raise livestock also gain economic independence. In 2009, ILRI researchers estimated that almost two-thirds of poor livestock keepers were rural women.
"In many societies, poultry and small ruminants are often owned by women, who may also control any income obtained from their sale," the researchers wrote. "This is more likely to be spent on their children or family's nutrition than if this income is controlled by men."
The researchers cited data from the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization showing that improving women's "access to inputs and services" could reduce the number of malnourished people by 100 million to 150 million.
Animal Frontiers is a quarterly magazine that explores animal science and production issues. It is joint publication of the American Society of Animal Science, European Federation of Animal Science, Canadian Society of the Animal Science and American Meat Science Assn.