Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Smallholder farming benefits nutrition in under-fives

Small-scale livestock agriculture supports nutrition and health in young children and women, a wide-ranging review shows.

Families who keep livestock are helping to reduce the risk of malnutrition in their children, a large-scale research study has found.

Smallholder farming brings many benefits for nutrition and health in children, but efforts should be made to limit the associated risk of disease from livestock animals, the outcomes show.

Results from a systematic review on the practice of smallholding, which is common in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), suggest that a one health approach, which aims to safeguard the health of people, animals and the environment, may help optimise its impact.

The outcomes could help inform policymaking and smallholder practices at a time of rising populations and international efforts towards sustainable development.

Extensive research

A team of researchers led by the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems carried out a comprehensive review of references across 12 databases relating to livestock keeping, nutritional status and disease among women of childbearing age and under-fives over three decades, in LMICs.

The study, carried out with the International Livestock Research Institute, is the first to examine the associations between smallholder farming and nutrition and illness in both women and children – who constitute a significant proportion of the populations studied and are at direct risk from contact with animals and each other.

Livestock keeping was found to be associated with improving levels of both acute and chronic malnutrition in children, according to standard measures based on their height, weight, and age.

Keeping animals did not often lead to a positive effect on women’s health, the review showed.

A strong association was found between smallholdings and disease risk, which researchers say highlights the need for effective practices to support health and wellbeing in animals and people.

Researchers found several routes of infection between people and their livestock, which could inform ways to enable scientists, policymakers, and local communities to minimise the risk of disease spread.

The results, published in Nutrition Research Reviews, highlight the risks from direct contact with livestock, and the relative harm associated with keeping ruminants. These can harbour many diseases that are easily transmitted and whose waste represents a more serious risk to health compared with that of species such as poultry.

Understanding the relative benefits and risks for smallholder farming in low- and medium-income countries, and the routes by which disease can spread, is valuable for putting in place measures to optimise the outcomes for farmers, their families and their animals, at a time when efforts are under way to feed a growing population and enable the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

Dr Taddese ZerfuGlobal Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

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