Milk and dairy products hold huge potential to improve nutrition and livelihoods for people across the world, according to a new FAO publication launched today.
The book, Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition, advised that governments should be investing more in programmes that make milk and dairy products available to families
“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,” said FAO Senior Nutrition Officer Ellen Muehlhoff, who co-edited the publication.
Muehlhoff underlined that a combination of food was necessary for a healthy diet, adding that milk and dairy products were not the only sources of essential nutrients.
“But while animal milks are not recommended for infants under 12 months, they are an efficient vehicle for delivering vital nutrients and improving growth for young children, whose nutrition is critical in the first 1,000 days of life,’’ she said.
However, in spite of the benefits they could be providing, the book warned that milk and dairy products were still too expensive for the poorest families to buy.
It projected that while dairy consumption in developing countries was expected to increase by 25 per cent by 2025 as a result of population growth and rising incomes, milk and dairy products were still likely to be out of reach for the most vulnerable households.
Governments need to address the issue by making nutrition a specific objective in dairy sector development and by investing in programmes that help poor families keep small dairy livestock like goats at home, according to the publication.
“Small-scale dairy farming is especially beneficial to poor households as it provides food and nutrients, but also a regular income,” said FAO Livestock Industry Officer Anthony Bennett, 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,” Bennett said
According to the book, 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.