Food Security

Newsletter 86 - part 2

This section addressed many interesting and challenging issues focussing on the role of livestock in food security and the livelihoods of men and women living in poverty.  This is of particular interest in Ostrich production as we have witnessed a number of initiatives in Southern Africa where ostrich projects have been set up based on securing enhancement of the lives of previously disadvantaged sectors of the population.  In Namibia significant investment took place using pension fund money.  This and other projects are set up with well intentioned motives, but based on economics assuming ostrich as a producer of a high value skin rather than ostrich as an efficient supplier of quality meat protein.  As a result key production measurements such as slaughter progeny per breeder, days taken to slaughter, feed conversion statistics were ignored and genetic development rarely considered.

There are now projects under way in pig production, where proven efficient methods of production are  adapted to include the more vulnerable members of the population.  These are large scale projects, correctly funded introducing proven technology and advanced genetics.

Over the years we are approached regularly by groups in developing countries hoping to start with ostrich production projects.  The evolutionary processes the mainstream livestock species have gone through as described in this document (the FAO publication “The State of Food and Agriculture – 2009”), help explain why it is more challenging to introduce a new production specie where total world production, when measured in meat tonnage output, is no more than many single industrial pig, poultry and beef operations.

There is a discussion on the move in livestock production from pasture based systems to highly intensive systems based on by-products and concentrates.

The dominance of concentrate feeds has meant that livestock production is no longer constrained by local availability of feed and the natural resources needed to provide it.

This had led to production where the feed that is easily transportable thus driving success in agriculture exports based on their ability to produce the ingredients efficiently.  Brazil and the US are examples of this; they have also gone one step further, rearing livestock to convert that feed to low cost meat protein and exporting the meat protein. This is not a discussion on whether it is right or wrong, it is illustrating why livestock production has moved in the direction it has and discussing how it fits in with feeding the growing populations and examinaing different options to ensure sustainable and wholesome sources of food, including meat protein that is availalbe to all.

Today we live in a global village.

- It was only 500 years ago that Christopher Columbus proved the world to be round.
- Less than 140 years ago Jules Verne was writing about going around the world in 80 days
- Almost 50 years ago Yuri Gagarin orbited the world in space
- Today we can fly food to wherever it is needed

There are many reports of the significant increase in population growth over the past 50 years and forecast to continue rising, driving the need to ensure optimisation of production with minimum wastage to ensure there is sufficient food to feed all and not only the richer members of the world population.

Page 25 illustrates that 26%of the earth’s ice free land surface is grazing. These are areas unsuitable for arable agriculture, but still extremely valuable in the provision of food.  These areas can be made more productive when livestock grazing receive supplementation such as we see with sheep grazing the uplands of our Welsh mountains, for example.  This optimisation of resources has to be balanced carefully with commercial viability for those producing under these conditions.  Goats and Sheep handle these harsh conditions, but revenue for those shepherding them is low when compared to larger scale more commercial operations where containment within fenced boundaries and supplementary feeding can increase meat yields and labour input is reduced per kilo of food produced.  We still see many areas of the world with small herds tended by a single shepherd by day rather than contained in a foraged enclosure. These animals are making use of a mix of natural vegetation rather than single specie grass leys as we commonly see in intensive grassland agriculture today..  Stock herded in this way yield significantly less meat than those reared on higher quality grazing and with some supplementation.  Access to adequate water also has a significant impact on yield.  Lower yields per animal also mean greater man hours per kilo of meat recovered required to slaughter and process the animals.

Ostrich have adapted to live in some of the most arid conditions in the world, but farming them in this way is not commercially viable as a producer of meat.  Produced in this way it is unlikely that ostrich will contribute to “food security” or to “lifting those looking after them out of poverty”.  The ability of ostrich to survive under these extreme conditions has enabled them to survive as a species.

There are good discussions, with examples, on private sector projects linking backyard poultry systems as a solution to including small farmers but with the benefits of scale and management structure.  The problems and solutions cover many of the aspects that we discussed here and here reporting on a project in South Africa.

The uniqueness of ostrich is the knowledge learned over the past couple of decades.  We have learned that when farmed commercially incorporating modern techniques under ethical conditions they have the potential to produce red meat at comparative costs to those pig and poultry producers currently achieve.  This is of particular benefit to those members of populations unable to consume pork meat.  As multiple reproducers, it is possible to rapidly improve the genetic base in a similar manner that has been achieved with pigs and poultry.


  1. […] Here we discussed the FAO publication of 2009 and with some discussions relating to land that is suitable for grazing livestock but not suitable for arable agriculture.  There is a section in the FAO document discussing such things as the impact of livestock production on climate change, gas emissions, impact on ecosystems and diversion of arable crops to animals instead of directly to humans. There is no doubt that we have heard much about the dangerous levels of gas emissions from livestock.  How serious a concern is this?  The article “Is the Claim about Methane Valid?” concludes: […]

  2. […] Here we discussed the introduction of Concentrate Feed in commercial livestock production. What is the definition of concentrate feeds in this context? I am not clear on that but would like to share my own personal journey to understand.  As I see it, this has also been an evolving process from adding a few grains to supplement the grazing to controlled feeding of technically balanced rations (and sometimes not so well balanced rations!!). […]

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