Berhe Gebre Egziabher Tekola is director of the FAO Animal Production and Health Division. Bernard Cazaban recently spoke to him about the importance of the poultry and egg industries in the global food chain, and what we can expect for the future.
CAZABAN: What exactly is the scope of your activities?
TEKOLA: As a division director, I lead and supervise all animal production and health-related activities. This includes animal genetic resources, animal health, production techniques, feed and feed-related activities, animal welfare and livestock-related issues, focusing on how best the FAO can support the small-scale farmer, but also partnering with industries involved in the livestock sector, including the poultry industry to work toward the FAO’s goals.
CAZABAN: What is the status of the poultry industry and egg production around the world?
TEKOLA: The FAO compiles country-specific data on poultry and egg production. The poultry industry is a very dynamic sector that is experiencing a strong growth. However, there are still considerable differences between regions and countries with respect to the development of the poultry industry and supply of eggs. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are comparatively less advanced with respect to their commercial poultry industry.
CAZABAN: What is the aim of the FAO in the poultry sector?
TEKOLA: The FAO’s goal is to support countries in producing safe and nutritious poultry products and to ensure that the growth in the sector is as inclusive as possible. The reduction of public health risks is central to the FAO’s agenda.
The family poultry sector makes an important contribution to the nutrition and livelihoods of small producers. Through the support of producer organizations, the FAO is, together with the international poultry industry, supporting the integration of small producers into the value chains.
CAZABAN: What is your long-term political vision for the world’s poultry and egg production?
TEKOLA: Globally, per capita meat consumption is likely to grow at much slower rates than in the past, particularly in those developing countries that are producing and consuming on a large scale, such as China or Brazil. As a result, aggregate meat consumption in developing countries may grow over the next 30 years, but only half as rapidly as in the last three decades. However, per capita consumption in the rest of the developing world is expected to continue rising and even accelerate. This is especially true for the poultry sector.
The three global goals of FAO members are the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, progressively ensuring a world in which people at all times have sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all, with increased food production, enhanced rural development and sustainable livelihoods; and sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. With this in mind, the FAO’s vision for the egg and poultry market is a thriving market in which producers integrate all three of these goals.
CAZABAN: Will supply always meet demand?
TEKOLA: The private poultry sector has been very dynamic in innovating to increase productivity in both the broiler and egg markets in the past decades. We trust this dynamism will persist.
But there are limits to productivity increases, and further progress may prove difficult. Growing demand will have to be met by increasing the number of birds farmed. The challenge will be to do it with sustainability in mind.
CABAZAN: According to FAO figures, we could already feed 12 billion people, yet hunger remains very high. Do you consider that WTO agreements contradict the FAO vision?
TEKOLA: Projections indicate that the demand for poultry meat and eggs will continue to grow. Supplying consumers with affordable poultry products, and supporting national poultry industries are both important goals that need to be balanced at a national level.
CAZABAN: Do you have any recommendations for health, economic or political measures in the poultry industry?
TEKOLA: The FAO has been emphasizing a value chain approach to reduce health risks in the poultry sector. Good biosecurity and good management practices along the value chains are priorities. This is true for all production systems. The poultry sector will have to integrate all dimensions of sustainability beyond financial and economic sustainability. Integrated management of health risks across production systems will avoid market shocks.
Promoting production systems that are less demanding in terms of natural resource use and respectful of animal welfare will be met with consumer approval in many markets. Supporting small scale producers within the sector will not only contribute to meeting the growing demand for poultry products, but will also contribute to poverty reduction.
CAZABAN: Do you think that the poultry industry is ready to meet the needs of the future?
TEKOLA: The poultry industry is well organized in many countries, but could benefit from better organization in others to allow a more inclusive growth of the sector. The FAO is working, for example, in close collaboration with the International Egg Commission on the development of the organizational capacities of poultry producer associations in some African countries. This is seen as an excellent example of collaboration between the FAO and the private sector in reaching FAO goals at a time when the FAO is putting a high priority on public-private partnerships to address future challenges.
CAZABAN: Are there any consumer or producer behaviors that need to change?
TEKOLA: There is growing recognition of the dangers associated with the development of antimicrobial resistance. The abuse of antibiotics in animal production is only one of many causes of the increase in resistant bacteria. But the misuse or abuse of antibiotics has far reaching implications. Actors in the poultry sector can contribute to a reduction in the development of antimicrobial resistance by continuing to play a proactive role in promoting best practices in the use of antibiotics and in the search for, and implementation of, options to reduce the use of antibiotics in the sector.
Reducing post-retail food waste has been recently identified as an area with important potential to reduce the impact livestock and poultry production have on the environment. A more responsible attitude by consumers will contribute to a more efficient use of our limited natural resources.
CAZABAN: Within the FAO, do you integrate your activity within a comprehensive approach to support the fight against hunger?
TEKOLA: Yes, the overall strategy of the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO in guiding the development of the livestock sector towards socially desirable outcomes, it focuses on promoting international cooperation to safeguard the three global public goods most affected by changes in the sector, namely equity, veterinary public health, and the sustainability of the environment and the natural resources used in animal production.
This contributes to the FAO’s ultimate goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and to ensure environmental sustainability.
CAZABAN: Thank you.