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Mainstreaming human nutrition in livestock interventions: lessons learnt from a capacity-building workshop for the Sahel region

By Paula Dominguez-Salas, Domitille Kauffman, Christophe Breyne and Pablo Alarcon

Paula Dominguez-Salas is a research fellow in human nutrition working in nutrition-sensitive livestock production in development with the Royal Veterinary College (UK) and the International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya). She is also affiliated with the Leverhulm Centre for Integrated Research in Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH), London, UK.

Domitille Kauffmann is Nutrition and Resilience Adviser for the Nutrition Division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. She supports efforts to develop capacities for nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems policies and programmes, and multi-sectoral planning for nutrition.

Christophe Breyne is an agronomist and worked as a regional (Sahel) Nutrition and Food Security consultant with FAO – REOWA (Regional Resilience, Emergency and Rehabilitation Office for West Africa/Sahel), Sénégal.

Pablo Alarcon is a research fellow in food systems working on livestock value chains in Kenya and animal health economics with the Royal Veterinary College. He is affiliated with the Leverhulm Centre for Integrated Research in Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH), London, UK.

Location: Sahel

What we know:  Animal-source foods (ASFs) are a rich source of bioavailable nutrients. Even where livestock is central to livelihoods, livestock production is rarely considered as a key nutritional resource of poor populations.

What this article adds: An FAO-led regional workshop was held in Senegal to capitalise on existing experiences and knowledge on linkages between livestock and human nutrition in the Sahel and strengthen the capacity of governments and humanitarian stakeholders for nutrition-sensitive programming in this sector. A total of 57 nutrition and/or livestock experts working in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal or at regional level participated. The workshop involved formal training, team work (to identify livestock impact pathways to malnutrition) and experience-sharing (detailed country case studies). Discussions found that, while high importance was awarded to integration, it was not a priority for either sector. Participants identified a number of ways to optimise the nutrition impact of interventions, including targeting, understanding the cultural specificities of ASF and their nutritional properties, and considering nutrition at the context-analyses and study-design stages. Risk factors for negative impact included food safety issues and high cost of interventions. Recommendations for follow-up included creation of a Community of Practice specific to livestock and nutrition.

Even in good agricultural production years, the Sahel countries register continued ‘emergency’ malnutrition rates, with prevalence of wasting up to the emergency level (> 15%) and exceeding 40% for stunting in some countries (UNICEF, 2014), as well as anaemia prevalence in women and children of severe public health significance (WHO, 2006). Furthermore, absolute numbers of malnutrition cases in the region are increasing yearly due to demographic growth. (In most Sahel countries, the population doubles each every 20 years, with more than 50% of the population below 20 years old.) In such arid or semi-arid regions, climate and land constraints may challenge crop and diversified plant production. In contrast, livestock is plentiful and an essential part of livelihoods (for income, savings and employment). Animal-source foods (ASF) are rich sources of highly bioavailable protein and micronutrients, such as vitamin A, iron, calcium and zinc, as well as the only source of vitamin B12 (Randolph, Schelling, Grace et al, 2007). ASF consumption promotes child growth, cognitive function and health. Despite this, livestock production is rarely considered as a key nutritional resource of poor populations, by either producers or programme implementers. Consequently, poor households hardly benefit from the potential of livestock to improve nutrition, even in pastoral areas.

In June 2014, a first Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) regional workshop on Integrating Nutrition and Food Security Programming took place in Saly, Senegal, within the framework of an ECHO-funded programme. Building on this, a subsequent initiative was conducted focusing specifically on the integration of livestock and human nutrition programmes in the region. This article presents the results of the second workshop, implemented by FAO’s Regional Resilience, Emergency and Rehabilitation Office for West Africa/Sahel (REOWA) in Dakar, Senegal, with the technical support of FAO’s headquarters in Rome, Italy; the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London, UK; and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, with funding from ECHO.

Workshop overview

The objective of the Livestock, Livelihoods and Nutrition in Emergency and Building Resilience regional workshop was to capitalise on the existing experiences and knowledge about the linkages between livestock and human nutrition in the Sahel and strengthen the capacity of governments and humanitarian stakeholders for nutrition-sensitive programming in this sector, thus contributing to building resilience. Prior to the workshop organisation, a scoping study was conducted to interview key nutrition and livestock actors in the region, gather their needs and expectations for such a workshop, and map the existing interventions integrating livestock production and malnutrition prevention. The workshop was held in Dakar, Senegal, from 5-7 November 2014. Candidates were selected according to their technical needs, the relevance of their expertise to the topic, and their potential contribution to the discussion, aiming also at balanced assistance by sector of expertise, institution type and country. A total of 57 nutrition and/or livestock experts working in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal or at regional level participated. The central questions of the workshop are shown in Box 1. The methodology included:

  1. Formal training on basic concepts of nutrition, food security and livelihoods in the region, existing tools of situation analysis and M&E, facilitated by experts from FAO, RVC/ILRI, UNICEF, WFP, ACF, IFRC and Agronomes & Vétérinaries sans Frontieres (AVSF). (AVSF presented results from livestock nutrition tools applied on interventions in Mali; these are shared in detail in a separate article in this edition of Field Exchange.)
  2. Team work activities: these focused on the preparation of livestock impact pathways to human malnutrition in four emergency scenarios (conflict, drought, animal disease outbreaks and economic crisis), applied to four types of livelihoods (pastoralists, agropastoralists, poultry smallholder or livestock-less urban households) (see Figure 3 for an example). The frameworks created were pivotal to subsequent team group exercises to identify and discuss solutions, interventions and possible impact indicators across the pathways. Other activities included the analysis of cultural barriers (e.g. taboos, especially for pregnant and lactating women) and analysis of coordination issues and needs.
  3. Experience-sharing: ongoing integrative initiatives throughout the region were presented by implementing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government stakeholders. Selected projects were discussed in three parallel sessions to stimulate debate on which elements can maximise the nutrition impact of livestock interventions, the innovative aspects, harmful impacts, and how to consider taboos and gender. Presenting institutions were: Islamic Relief France Senegal (goat use to fight malnutrition in children under years of age); Swiss Centre of Scientific Research (ASF preservation in Senegal and Mali); Cell of Fight Against Malnutrition of the Senegalese Government (poultry and small ruminant to support food security in vulnerable households); Oxfam Intermón Mauritania (chicken and milk cooperative to fight malnutrition); Centre of Economic and Social studies in West Africa-CEAAO (production and commercialisation of dried meat in Niger); Professionals for Fair Development-GRET (nutritious incentives to milk sales to improve anaemia in nomadic pastoralists – this study and its results are described in detail in a separate article in this edition of Field Exchange); Veterinarians Without Borders Belgium (effect of destocking in malnutrition in Mali); Guné De Kolda Association (short-cycle species production for household nutrition in Senegal); and Hellen Keller International (agriculture project for maternal and child nutrition in Burkina Faso).

Workshop training materials were shared for replication of the workshop format within the participating countries (see links to resources, below).

Box 1: Central questions of the workshop

  1. How can the livestock sector contribute to improving human nutrition and the prevention of human malnutrition for the poorest/most vulnerable households?
  2. What are the specific nutritional characteristics of animal-source foods and how can they be preserved throughout the value chain?
  3. To what extent can livestock interventions fulfil the human nutrition deficiencies most commonly found in the Sahel?
  4. How can the impact of livestock interventions on human malnutrition prevention be measured and enhanced for the different livelihoods?
  5. What good practices have been identified in the sub-region and what are the lessons learnt?
  6. Which livestock interventions have shown a positive effect or impact (direct or indirect) on human nutrition and/or its causes?

Results and discussion

The workshop was planned to look at livestock interventions through a nutrition lens and discuss the benefits and risks of approaching malnutrition in a multi-disciplinary manner. On the first day, participants were asked their opinion on the importance of livestock-nutrition integration, and how they thought each sector considered the other sector as a priority in their programming. Figures 1a, 1b and 1c show that although high importance was awarded to integration, it was not a priority for either sector. This large disconnect between the disciplines is bi-directional: livestock interventions frequently neglect nutritional goals, mainly due to the complexity of impact measurement and the alternative roles of livestock in livelihoods; while preventive nutrition programmes focus on crops and vegetables but often overlook the potential of ASFs. Therefore, substantial effort was made to demystify the complexity and operational ‘know-how’ of both disciplines and increase awareness, presenting simple activities, targeting strategies and indicators, but also emphasising the interest of inter-sector work for more complex interventions and joint planning with formulation of nutrition objectives and indicators. The long-planned activities during the workshop for discussion in mixed teams contributed to initiating the development of a network of professionals that can talk to each other and engage in nutrition-sensitive livestock interventions and programmes. Sensitisation also revolved around the design and understanding by the delegates of impact pathway diagrams between livestock and nutrition and its use as a planning tool (see Figure 2). More than 14 different pathways were identified, of which four were livestock-specific, while the other applied more generally to agriculture interventions. This approach proved to be a powerful tool to help visualise, realise and critically analyse emergency/nutrition problems and identify solutions and necessary interventions, and was valued highly by the participants. Full details on the utilisation of this framework as a planning tool will be published shortly in a peer-reviewed journal.

Some key lessons learnt regarding impact optimisation of interventions related to the importance of: targeting; understanding the cultural specificities of ASF (household consumption habits, good practices and taboos) and their nutritional properties; considering nutrition at the context-analyses and study-design stages (as opposed to an add-on); promoting short livestock production (poultry); including nutritional education on technical livestock interventions; using traditional and innovative preservation methods to extend ASF shelf-life; the implications of pastoralist mobility patterns for health; and the integration of actors in livestock value chains. Key cultural and gender factors were related to intra-household distribution and time allocation. Risk factors for negative impact revolved around food safety issues, high cost of interventions, need for further interest by the private sector, and the importance of income-driven distortions (i.e. shift between trade and household own-consumption, and use of generated income).

Opportunities and challenges in inter-sector coordination were discussed and participants explored how best to collaborate in joint programming. It was agreed that, to support integrative work, coordination and prioritisation needed to start at donor level, UN agencies and high-level country government and line ministries, down to other humanitarian organisations. The often short funding cycle of humanitarian interventions makes the measurement of effects and impact difficult. The different government ministries (livestock, heath, others) should make more effort in inter-sector coordination.

Post workshop steps

At the end of the workshop, feasible steps were agreed by participants. These included follow-up activities after the workshop, with delegates organising restitution meetings in their technical (livestock, food security and nutrition) coordination groups or cluster and disseminating the key tools, knowledge and messages, as well as advocating for integration, and maintaining the dialogue between nutritionists and livestock experts at different levels. The delegates also requested the creation of a Community of Practice specific to livestock and nutrition where tools, case studies and ideas could be shared. This can be considered, but in the meantime the FAO Dakar office is keeping a mailing list of participants for information-sharing. The need for implementers to work with researchers in order to provide insights in the existing evidence gaps was acknowledged. A first webinar on ASFs, livestock and nutrition was organised by FAO in May 2015 and will be followed by a one-day workshop organised with the FAO technical livestock network. Finally, this workshop model can be adapted and implemented in other regions where livestock production is a main livelihood in order to build professionals’ capacities and ownership in improving the human nutrition outcomes of livestock interventions.

For more information, contact: Domitille Kauffmann or Paula Dominguez-Salas.

Links to resources

A link to the workshop resources, including presentations, is available here. For a short video in English click here; for French versions click here and here.



UNICEF, 2014, The State of the World’s Children, 2014 

WHO, 2006. Global database on Anaemia, 2006.

Randolph T.F., Schelling E., Grace D. et al, 2007. Invited review: Role of livestock in human nutrition and health for poverty reduction in developing countries. J Anim Sci, 2007 Nov;85(11):2788-80.

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Paula Dominguez-Salas, Domitille Kauffman, Christophe Breyne and Pablo Alarcon (). Mainstreaming human nutrition in livestock interventions: lessons learnt from a capacity-building workshop for the Sahel region. Field Exchange 51, January 2016. p82.



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