Packed with protein and micronutrients

Photo Credit: Jeff Haskins

A balanced, nutritious diet is essential to good global health and all of the related benefits that this brings. While huge progress has been made in reducing hunger, 2 billion people globally are still not getting all the nutrients they need. Poor diets impair physical and cognitive development, preventing people, communities and countries from reaching their full potential.

Ensuring access to animal-source foods (ASFs) is a powerful way to ensure the world’s poorest can improve their diet, either through the animals they raise or the income they receive from them.


Eggs and milk are nature’s first foods, designed to sustain and support early childhood with essential vitamins and minerals. A child who drinks milk daily can grow up to 3% more in a month.

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Convenient, protein rich and energy dense

Animal-source foods are energy-dense, they provide readily absorbed and used proteins and they are especially important for vulnerable groups like children and sick people and in areas where other nutritious foods are not available. Small quantities provide large benefits.

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Diverse diets are healthy diets

People eating diverse diets, including iron-rich meat, are less prone to anaemia and other nutrient deficiencies. Eating foods from animal sources reduces the risk of malnutrition associated with monotonous diets.

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First 1,000 days

Pregnant and lactating women, and babies in their first 1,000 days, have particularly high protein and nutritional requirements. Eggs, meat and dairy products are 3 of the 7 food groups deemed by the World Health Organization to be essential to assessing the dietary diversity of infants.

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Food security and nutrition goals

Livestock are critical to meet sustainable development goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.

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Livestock and nutrition - impact evidence on the ways investments in livestock systems can positively impact people, communities, and the environment:

Animal-source foods (ASF) are increasingly seen to play a vital role in providing high quality protein and important micro-nutrients to under-nourished people in poor countries, particularly children and women of maternal age. Experimental studies have shown that even small amounts of ASF provided to children regularly, such as an egg a day, can have very significant positive effects on children’s physical and cognitive development. However, besides school feeding programs which require large public expenditure, avenues to effectively increase the amounts of ASF consumed by children and others who need them, have been difficult to identify. Because livestock production is often market-oriented – its product are sold rather than consumed – or animals are kept as a store of wealth or social capital, simply keeping livestock has not been confirmed as a sure way to increase ASF consumption.

Rigorously documented studies present evidence that keeping livestock, or providing new livestock assets to rural households, can and does have a positive impact on household nutritional outcomes. The studies show that this is particularly true when such interventions are accompanied by appropriate training and other support. In some cases, these impacts are seen not only in the recipient households, but more generally in the communities in which they live.

Here we present evidence on the positive impacts of a range of livestock-related interventions on human nutrition. These include:

  • A study of a livestock distribution and farmer training program in Zambia found that providing cattle or goats increased diet diversity both directly and by increasing household income. It also led to greater diet diversity in the community.
  • In Kenya, data from a rural survey showed that when women owned or co-owned the livestock, the weight for age (WAZ) scores of children in their household were significantly better.
  • In Nepal, training in community development and livestock management had positive impacts on child diet quality, particularly in systems where livestock were important.
  • A livestock asset transfer program in Rwanda increased household diet diversity and directly impacted child nutritional status as measured by WAZ scores.
  • A large dataset from rural Tanzania found that households that did not keep large livestock had a 50% higher chance of stunting among preschool children.
  • A community-based rural development project in Bolivia with a livestock asset transfer component led to increased household diet diversity, largely due to increased consumption of animal-source foods.
  • Even though smallholder agriculture is a small enterprise, impact studies in Bangladesh show consistently that poultry projects enhance nutrition in poor households, in part by increases in income being used specifically for more ASF rather than grains.

Download a report with this and other impact evidence showing why livestock matter