A new publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says milk and dairy products hold huge potentials to improve nutrition and livelihoods for poor people across the world.
The book, dubbed; “Milk and Diary Products in Human Nutrition,” said governments should be investing more in programmes that made milk and dairy products available to poor families and help them to produce milk at home.
The FAO made a copy of the publication available to the Ghana News Agency at the weekend.
Ellen Muehlhoff, FAO Senior Nutrition Officer, who co-edited the publication, said; “As part of a balanced diet, milk and dairy products can be an important source of dietary energy, protein and fat.
“They are also rich in micronutrients critical for fighting malnutrition in developing countries where the diets of poor people are often starch or cereal based and lack diversity.”
A combination of food is necessary for a healthy diet and milk and dairy products are not the only sources of essential nutrients, Muehlhoff said.
But while animal milk was not recommended for infants under 12 months, it was an efficient vehicle for delivering vital nutrients and improving growth for young children, whose nutrition is critical in the first 1000 days of life, she said.
However, despite the benefits they could be providing, milk and dairy products are still too expensive for the poorest families to buy.
The book said dairy consumption in developing countries was expected to increase by 25 per cent by 2025 as a result of population growth and rising incomes, but milk and dairy products would likely still be out of reach for the most vulnerable households.
Governments needed to address the issue by making nutrition a specific objective in dairy sector development and by investing in programmes that helped poor families keep small dairy livestock like goats at home, it said.
“Small-scale dairy farming is especially beneficial to poor households as it provides food and nutrients but also a regular income,” said Anthony Bennett, FAO Livestock Industry Officer, and co-editor of the new publication.
“Whereas crop agriculture means getting paid once or maybe twice a year, dairy is produced and sold daily so smallholders have cash in hand for immediate family needs such as food, household goods, clothing and schooling – and that changes lives,” he said.
Currently about 150 million households – some 750 million people – are engaged in milk production around the world, the majority of whom are in developing countries.
“A major challenge is for governments to develop inclusive policies and encourage investment from the private sector that helps these small-scale farmers take advantage of the escalating demand for milk and dairy in developing countries to improve their livelihoods,” Bennett said.
The book also addresses environmental and health concerns that have arisen around milk and dairy in recent years.
It called for new collaborative initiatives to address the environmental effects of the dairy sector, which accounts for some four per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in addition to increasing pressure on land and water resources.