Immoral maize: how meat-heavy diets are pricing sub-Saharan Africa out of nutrition

A bowl of maizeAfricans in sub-Saharan nations are suffering malnutrition because of the value being put on feeding livestock raised for meat.

That’s the conclusion of a report presented at a conference dedicated to improving health through better farming.

Published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the report concludes that if  western countries ate less meat the price of maize would fall.

Maize is a staple food for people in sub-Saharan African nations but used as livestock feed elsewhere in the world. Surging demand for meat in rich countries, as well as in rapidly industrialising nations such as India and Brazil, has sent prices of the crop soaring on the world markets.

The report’s co-author, senior IFPRI researcher Mark Rosegrant, said eating less meat could help ease this problem – resulting in a million fewer malnourished children by 2030 – as well as diversifying diets to include vegetables and fruits.

Another two reports presented at the conference – Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health, held in February in New Delhi, India – also concluded that eating less meat was the way forward for improved health for people and planet.

A paper from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) said that increasingly meat-heavy diets would result in more animal diseases, as more countries turn to intensive rearing techniques. Avian influenza and swine flu are two examples of serious viruses that have crossed over to become human pandemics.

Producers were focused on profit rather than human health, the report’s authors concluded.

And in the final session of the conference, Ricardo Uay of the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London said that people did not require a meat-based diet.

His suggestion for regulating consumption was to price it more fairly and remove subsidies – passing on the full and realistic cost of meat to consumers would lead to people eating less, he added, pointing to Japan, where meat is not subsidised and yet health levels are high.

For more information on the conference, click here