Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

Liberian poultry operation

Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia struggles with malnutrition and food insecurity. While finding solutions to these problems is a major developmental goal for the country, unfortunately, the government and its international partners’ response has included a strong emphasis on livestock production. This is problematic given the negative impacts animal agriculture has in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

The problems of malnutrition and food insecurity in Liberia are quite distinct from those of East Africa, where there have been repeated climate change-related droughts in recent years. At the height of the 2011 food crisis in the Horn of Africa, 13.5 million people were facing food shortages and 3.2 million were on the brink of starvation due to a lack of food and water. Liberia, on the other hand, gets plenty of rain – in fact, during the wet season the rain can be too abundant for certain crops to thrive (the capital, Monrovia, can get up to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation annually). In the lush tropical climate of equatorial West Africa, where banana, palm nut, and mangoes grow everywhere, Liberians may not be starving, but many are not eating as much as they would like to eat and even more are lacking in certain key nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamin A.

The funding and support for livestock in the country is grounded in the fact that meat, eggs, and dairy can provide nutrients that are deficient from the diets of many Liberians. To increase consumption of these products, there has been a concerted effort to boost domestic supply. Currently, production falls short of demand since there are only a few small commercial operations and most poultry is still produced in small-scale, backyard operations consisting of a few free-roaming chickens. Because of production shortfalls, the country imports most of its poultry products; according to the FAO, 3,190 of the 6,647 tons of eggs consumed in the country in 2009 came from India, with much of the rest coming from neighboring Guinea.

The support for livestock is misguided in that there are plant-based food alternatives that offer the same nutritional benefits as animal products without the negative impacts. In emerging countries such as China, where incomes have been increasing rapidly, there has been a corresponding rise in the consumption of animal products to levels at or even above that in some developed countries. These massive dietary shifts are not only having negative impacts in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare, but the health gains are lost as populations become “overnourished” by consuming an excess of calories and animal products, which leads to a range of chronic, diet-related health problems.

So it is commendable that the UN, NGOs, and the Liberian government respond to the country’s food woes by promoting the production and access to food that can keep the population nourished, but the enthusiastic support for modern livestock seems to lack any consideration for the long-term impacts of factory farming and high meat consumption. In other words, if Liberia and its development partners were thinking about how to best develop the country’s food systems in a way that is sustainable, healthy, climate-friendly, and protective of their precious rain forests, then they would not be instructing Liberians in how to set up concentrated animal feeding operations.

This blog is two in a series of three blog posts on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Liberia Broadcasting System