While much political debate and posturing will no doubt be heard in the lead
up to the upcoming WTO negotiations, Australian politicians, farmers and the general
public would do well to take account of another major development in agricultural
trade which also offers much for Australia and its near neighbours.
Demand for meat and milk is expected to double between 2000 and 2020 in Asia.
Coined the "Livestock Revolution", much of the demand is centred in
developing countries and is fuelled by population growth, increasing urbanisation
and growing prosperity.
For people in developing countries of the region this means increased access
to high-quality animal products and micronutrients, but also offers the opportunity
for increased incomes, nutrition and health.
But the poor may not benefit and developed countries like Australia may not
profit from a greater slice of world trade unless specific actions and polices
are implemented outside any developments related to Cancun in September.
The benefits of international trade in stimulating economic growth are widely
acknowledged, particularly in south-east Asia and China. However, agriculture
is one trade sector, worldwide, in which there has been considerable protection
of domestic markets. WTO negotiations to liberalise agricultural trade seek to
establish risk-based rules to regulate trade flows and improve access to markets.
These rules need to reflect the needs of all producers and consumers, the poor
as well as the rich. In addition, economic efficiency arguments need to be linked
to broader welfare considerations, such as pollution, antibiotic and pesticide
resistance, and increased income disparities.
Outside of the much-discussed WTO round, there remains much hope for rural
development. In Asia, poverty remains a fact of life for more than 650 million
people, despite spectacular economic growth in several countries. The poor are
largely found in rural areas and many keep livestock - in south-east Asia there
are 60 million poor farmers who keep livestock. The equivalent figure for South
Asia is 200 million.
Livestock contribute to food security through their multiple roles in Asian
farming systems and eating even a small amount of animal products corrects micronutrient
deficiencies in the cereal-based diets of the poor. Livestock are an important
and regular source of income and often the only insurance against crop failure.
The poor clearly value livestock. In Bangladesh, more than 50 per cent of the
requests for loans to the Grameen Bank, which assists the "poorest of the
poor", are for the purchase of livestock, mainly for milk production and
fattening for sale. Manure provides fertilizer for crop production while livestock
convert crop-residues and other feeds not directly usable by humans into high-value
and nutritious meat and milk. In these and other ways, livestock make vital contributions
to human development and to agriculture, an industry that provides employment
for over half the workforce in countries like Indonesia and Thailand.
The development of industrialised systems to produce pigs and chickens is a
feature of the "Livestock Revolution" in Asia. In Thailand, for example,
80 per cent of the pigs are produced in industrialised systems. Urbanisation,
technologies, complex market-chains, enhanced transportation systems, and output-maximising
policies are driving these changes. To better serve society, policies need to
reflect the true economic, social and environmental costs of livestock production
systems, from small to large scale.
How can the poor capture the opportunities provided by the "Livestock
Revolution"? A range of largely public interventions outside contentious
trade negotiations, can improve their market access and incomes. These include
pro-poor policies, technologies and institutions. As examples, pro-poor policies
include targeted investment in rural infrastructure and the removal of subsidies
that favour large versus small producers. Vaccines have been an effective technology
for the poor. A thermostable vaccine against rinderpest has reduced risk for smallholders
as well as contributing to the near-eradication of rinderpest worldwide. Dairy
cooperatives in India have helped improve the incomes and livelihoods of more
than 10 million households. However, some argue that their pro-farmer milk policies
have been at the expense of poor consumers, showing that interventions need to
be assessed and re-assessed for their net pro-poor benefits.
Access to markets for the poor is a key demand of developing countries. The
challenge is to balance the protection of food safety with poverty reduction benefits.
Such tradeoffs are nothing new, as acceptable standards for safe foods have evolved
to reflect changes in food production and distribution systems. While access to
international markets will require standard safe food rules, exceptions appropriate
for individual domestic markets should be considered. For example, where consumers
boil milk, the local sale of unpasteurised milk allows small producers and market
agents to gain a living with minimal health risks to consumers.
And what are the implications for Australia? The "Livestock Revolution"
offers a great opportunity for Australia, since most of its benefits will occur
in Asia. With strategic livestock interventions, reduced poverty and enhanced
sustainable development should be achieved in many Asian countries. Richer neighbours
will demand more livestock and other products, make better trade partners and
present less risk of exporting their disease, environmental and social problems.
Recent evidence shows that it is increasingly difficult to isolate a country,
either from disease threats such as SARS or FMD or socio-political conflicts.
Thus, appropriate livestock development in Asian countries can be of great benefit
to Australia and Australia has much to offer in this process.
Dr Seré is keynote speaker at "The
Livestock Revolution: A Pathway from Poverty?" at Parliament House, Canberra
on 13 August with other speakers including The Hon. Alexander Downer, Minister
for Foreign Affairs; The Rt Hon Mike Moore, former Director, World Trade Organisation;
and Dr Chris Delgado, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington.