Livestock products provide one third of man’s total protein intake. Lately, there has been an increase in demand for livestock products due to growing population, increase in disposable earnings and changing food preferences. Cows, buffaloes, goat, sheep, duck and poultry constitute domesticated animals (livestock) which represent not only a source of income,but also serve as the main provider of animal protein.
Dairy farming is one of the most important livestock activities in India, the largest milk producing country in the world. Several factors have contributed to this increased milk production, such as dairy products having large cultural significance in the Indian diet and amajority of the population being lacto-vegetarian, making milk and dairy products an important source of protein.
Dairy production is an important enterprise in rural and peri urban settings, creating economic opportunities and therefore contributing to poverty alleviation, food security, improved family nutrition, asset accumulation, income and employment generation. Within these settings, the activities related to livestock rearing and dairy farming have their own unique associations and interplay with communities and household members. Studying the patterns and dynamics provides insights into larger issues related to nutrition levels of families as a whole and specifically of vulnerable groups within, like the women, children and elderly members.
Role of livestock in household nutrition
Animal-source foods (ASF), including dairy products, are rich sources of essential micronutrients and high-quality protein. Important micronutrients which are present include calcium, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and vitamin A. Selling animal products like eggs and milk may provide a small but guaranteed and regular income, which is more likely to be reinvested in nutrition as compared to the income that would come from selling a cow or cash-crop. On the other hand, resource-poor families are likely to sell more milk from their dairy farms and the money so earned may be invested in non-food items which affect the household nutrition level negatively. Livestock provides protection from social depression by bringing money to the families. Cattle ownership, either by increasing milk availability or by increasing household incomes,has a high probability of improving child nutrition. This calls for increase in understanding allocations of milk and control of resources within households.
Nutrition security in households: Women and children can be marginalised and neglected with respect to allocation of food in the family. Social, cultural and deep-rooted traditions may come in the way of a fair and just treatment. Since women are traditionally more aware of nutrition aspects, they tend to assure family needs first, through direct consumption of livestock products or selling and acquiring of complementary products. There are differences in the way income generated from livestock is used by men vis-à-vis women within similar socioeconomic settings. When controlled by men, an increased income may not necessarily translate into improved household nutrition because unlike women, their focus is on reinvestment or reutilisation of the fund rather than spending it on household well-being.Vulnerability of households to normal seasonal food and income deprivations maybe decreased by selling and consuming animal products.
Poor nutrition in women engaged in livestock sector: Women play a central role as producers of food, managers of natural resources, income generators, and caretakers of household food and nutrition security. With regard to decision making, women decide how much milk will be kept for household consumption. Yet in many places in South Asia women face the brunt of being marginalised, discriminated, overworked, under compensated and poorly cared for. Low status of women in South Asian countries, compared to other countries and regions of similar economic development, is partly responsible for low birth weight and excessively high levels of childhood undernutrition in the region.
Food security within peri-urban settings
It has been reported that in many cities in developing countries, urban and peri-urban agriculture contributessubstantially to the urban demand for vegetables, milk, poultry, eggs and to a minor extent- pigs, fruits and fresh water fish. Also, self-sustaining households tend to achieve greater food security and their nutritional status is better compared to non-farming households of similar socio-economic profiles. Urban agriculturecontributes to the food security of many major cities as an important component of the urban food system and as a means for vulnerable groups to minimise their foodsecurity issues apart from making a vital contribution to the food self-reliance of many cities.
Household and individual food security can be assessed through indirect measures such as agricultural production, use of coping strategies to overcome food deficits and nutritional assessment measures related to food consumption and direct measures like household and individual food consumption data.
Increased access to food and greater dietary diversity will improve the nutritional status of vulnerable groups. Stepping up studies that rigorously test the link between urban agriculture and nutrition by comparing the nutritional status of women and children from farming and non-farming households will provide insights into policies and programme that are dedicated to women and child health, amongst others.
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