At the African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in June 2014, African governments adopted the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.
This Declaration set forth a series of concrete development goals to be reached by 2025, including achieving a 6 per cent annual agricultural growth rate and a 10 per cent agricultural expenditure share.
In Kenya, Food Security and Nutrition is part of the President’s Big Four Agenda which seeks to align itself with the Malabo Declaration's two commitments.
However, with only four years remaining, one wonders whether farmers are aware of the crucial role they play in realizing the two commitments and agenda.
Food Security and Nutrition does not merely look at the availability of food but also its quality and accessibility. Whereas the farmer's ability to influence consumer access to food may be limited, they have a great influence on food quality.
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The World Health Organization describes animal source foods (meat, milk, eggs) as the best source of high-quality nutrient-rich food for children.
Livestock farmers can maintain food quality by simply applying the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) welfare standards for production animals.
The OIE welfare standards are guided by five key components; nutrition, health, environment, mental state, and behaviour.
An animal’s nutritional needs are determined by its energy requirements. For instance, broilers require energy to gain desirable market weight while layers require energy to produce quality eggs. Farmers should seek guidance from qualified veterinary professionals on their animal’s feeding plan at the different growth stages.
Farmers must ensure that their livestock receives timely vaccination and parasite control. Prevention of diseases minimises production losses.
They should also demand more resources to be availed to County veterinary departments to carry out their role in disease surveillance and control.
Currently, the government agricultural expenditures as a share of total government expenditures remained relatively stagnant growing only from 3.8 per cent to 4 per cent. This is well below the Malabo Declaration target of 10 per cent. This has affected negatively the overall performance of the sector.
The environment in which the animals are housed affects their growth and production. Animal shelters should be clean, well ventilated, and spacious for the animals housed.
The world is currently facing challenges of antimicrobial resistance and a significant amount of this resistance has been traced back to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock.
In most cases, farmers are not concerned with the drug withdrawal periods, which determine when animal products can be consumed following treatment.
Ideally, milk from a cow undergoing treatment for mastitis is not fit for human consumption for 48 or more hours depending on the drug used.
Finally, livestock should be allowed to express their normal behaviour. Chicken should be able to scratch the ground in search of food as opposed to being locked in cages. Cattle should be able to graze in fields where they can run free.
With the support of the government, NGOs dealing with livestock production systems, and other stakeholders in the livestock sector, farmers can improve on their animal welfare best practices for improved quality animal source foods.
Dr Samantha Opere, Veterinary Officer/Project Manager, Kenya Network For Dissemination Of Agricultural Technologies.