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Debate on link between animal nutrition and rural food security opened

By Jan Khaskheli
June 13, 2019

HYDERABAD: A two-day workshop on mineral molasses blocks (MMBs), a mixture of minerals and vitamins to help improve nutrition and productivity of ruminant animals, began on Wednesday at Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam.

The workshop attracted researchers, community herders, nutrition experts and representatives of Sindh provincial government departments.

The event is being jointly organised by EU-funded Programme for Improved Nutrition in Sindh (PINS), Sindh government, Sindh Rural Partners Organization (SRPO) and SAU Tandojam. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together all stakeholders to discuss the importance of MMBs to improve nutrition and productivity of animals, which in turn will improve human nutrition.

SAU Vice Chancellor Dr Mujeebuddin Memon Sehrai said, “Though agriculture was the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy, the role of the livestock sector cannot be ignored, which was contributing more to GDP than crops.”

He urged scientists, researchers and experts within the university to develop research projects for community development to cope with challenges of climate change, food security and malnutrition. He said SAU was already working on feed and fodder resources, and germplasm conservation in animals. “Farmers awareness, mobilisation and transfer of MMB technology to grassroots level would support arid zone communities to improve nutrition status of their cattle, and thereby the nutrition of livestock keepers and their families,” he advised.

John Ashley, nutrition-sensitive specialist with PINS 1 talked about how he was working with the various component programmes within the Accelerated Action Plan for the Reduction of Stunting and Malnutrition in Sindh (AAP), especially livestock and agriculture.

Ashley said almost all ruminant livestock in Sindh were likely under-nourished, due to deficiencies in micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) and protein in their food intake. This was because the normal diet of rough graze or browse comprises of plant material, rich in carbohydrate and fibre, but poor in protein and micronutrients, making an unbalanced diet.

He said micronutrient deficiencies in ruminants lead to sub-optimal metabolism/ physiology and hence low growth rate, slow development/ time to reach marketable size, low resistance to infectious disease, slow sexual maturation, poor milk yield, sub-optimal fertility rates and pregnancy outcomes. “Even the quality of meat and milk is poor, lowering nutritional benefit to those consuming it,” he added.

Abdul Rahim Soomro secretary wildlife and forestry, said, “We have a wide area of rangelands which provide fodder to livestock, besides forest. These natural resources can fulfil the initial need of nutrition for humans and livestock.”

Aijaz Nizamani, chief conservator wildlife, talked about the forestry and fodder. He said livestock contributes more in terms of providing source of nutrition in rural and urban areas. “The PTI-led federal government had declared emergency in agriculture to find solutions. But financing is still not available in agriculture to meet the food needs of the population,” he added. Zahida Detho, executive director of the Sindh Rural Partners Organization (SRPO) in her introductory remarks said, “If we want to improve rural economy, we should empower community youth.”

She highlighted the issues of rural women and their role in livestock management. She said women were caring for small ruminants like sheep and goats on a small scale, and MMB would be beneficial for them. “All training related to goats and sheep will be successful, when it empowers rural women, who are the natural custodians of herds and grazing fields,” she added.

Prof Ismail Kumbhar, a well-known researcher and the MMB focal person at SAU, appreciated the efforts of EU for facilitating the government of Sindh’s effort to improve the nutrition status of the province through technology interventions at grassroots level.

“Fodder is in shortage with fast depleting grazing fields, especially in Thar, Achhro Thar, Nara and Kohistan, where there is a higher population of livestock,” he said, adding that this technology would support rural women through improving goat rearing and entrepreneurial management practices.

Community herders, hailing from arid zones, during group work shared their problems about livestock management, loss of vegetation, depleting natural grazing fields and alternative nutrient feeds,. Their practical hands-on experience drew attention of other participants in the workshop. At the start of the workshop, a documentary was shown about the importance of MMBs and the step-by-step process of making MMBs, prepared by the SRPO team.

It was worth noting that PINS was already providing support to the multi-sector designed AAP, being implemented in 24 districts of the province. AAP aims to sustainably improve the nutritional status of children under five and pregnant and lactating women in Sindh, in line with the second target indicator of the Sustainable Development Goal No2, which relates to hunger and under-nutrition.