By Alfred Nyakinda

Effective use of digital technology can help identify harmful food products and prevent the spread of animal diseases to healthy animals or humans, according to experts at the 11th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) workshop in Berlin, Germany.

The workshop on the theme, ‘Sustainable livestock goes digital’ was hosted by the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Keynote speaker Henning Steinfield of the FAO observed that in order for digital technologies to be adoptable by smaller scale producers, they must be simple, robust and accessible. He explored the problem of supply chain traceability and a possible solution in the form of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).

Using DLT, information about agricultural inputs and livestock is separately entered into the system by those responsible for each stage of the production and distribution process. This information is made available to all other parties involved, including the consumer. DLT can thus provide accurate information about food products, being difficult to tamper with due to its decentralized data storage system.

Dieter Schillinger (ILRI) spoke about how the combined use of mobile phone based technology and high-end genomics is enabling the breeding of improved dairy animals in Ethiopia and Tanzania. Farmers are willing to contribute information as they receive useful feedback for day to day herd management.

According to the OIE, 20% of animal losses are caused by diseases globally, whereas 70% more animal proteins will be required to feed the world by 2050. It further warns that 60% of human pathogens are of animal origin.

In his presentation, Jean-Philippe Dop, OIE Deputy Director General, stated that online tools allowing accurate and real time monitoring of information on livestock diseases and resistance to antibiotics are becoming the new normal, showing great potential in improving animal welfare.

Discussions among farmer delegates and audience members identified areas that required improvement for digitalization to help build a sustainable livestock sector. These included the need for a two-way flow of information, collecting data with a clear purpose in mind and matching the tools used with both the job in hand and end user in mind.

One key message highlighted was the need for a coordinated approach among stakeholders, with the GASL offering an ideal platform for multi-stakeholder action. The GASL is a partnership of livestock stakeholders committed to the sustainable development of the sector to meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population projected to reach 9.6 billion in 2050. It supports inclusion of the estimated one billion poor to whom livestock is essential, as well as livestock production that is based mainly on materials not competing for direct use as human food.

The workshop, aside from stressing the importance of using digital technologies in achieving efficiency and sustainability in livestock systems, acknowledged the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030 as the accepted frame of reference for sustainable development of the livestock sector.