Working Livestock - The Invisible Powerhouse

Working Livestock - The Invisible Powerhouse

World Food Day this Sunday ties in with the start of the UN Committee on World Food Security summit, CFS43. This year's theme is livestock, and I am delighted to see the role of animals in the food security of millions of people is being universally recognised.

People have been livestock keepers for thousands of years, not only using animals directly for food and fibres, but also to help with jobs, like ploughing the land or collecting water.

I can't speak for the livestock sector as a whole, but being part of Brooke, a working animal welfare charity means I know the role of working horses, donkeys and mules is very clear to the millions of people who own them, use them, and live with them. They are critical, but often ignored.

Animals can feed people even when they don't directly produce food. They help with food production, by working in the fields where food is grown. They pull the carts that carry the food and water for people and other livestock. And they go to work - in construction yards, mines, brick kilns and as taxis - earning a living for their owners and families. They are the food facilitating livestock.

Working livestock can also protect communities in the face of disasters and climate shocks, by enabling people to collect water or food from greater distances, or emergency aid from distribution centres.

I wrote last year about how the contribution of working horses, donkeys and mules was being overlooked by the international development community. Things are now changing for the better. With Brooke's support, we saw a major milestone reached when the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) announced a set of welfare standards for working horses, donkey and mules. Now, 180 countries have committed to recommendations. However, these countries will need time and support to enforce them.

One of these recommendations relates to providing horses donkeys and mules with adequate food and water, which of course means they will be healthier and live happier working lives. But more than this, because these animals help provide food and water, sometimes making sure your horse, donkey or mule healthy in this way can in fact be the difference between whether your other animals, or even your family, gets adequate food and water. People have told us time and time again how if they lose their horse, donkey and mule, the knock on effect can be massive.

Despite their contributions, working livestock are still the invisible workers, remaining largely overlooked in the eyes of decision and policy makers. They are often excluded from definitions of "livestock" because they do not produce food directly. It doesn't have to be this way. Communities should be provided with the knowledge and services they need to look after these animals. The worldwide standards we now have for animal welfare can be used to improve the lives of working livestock, and this can lead to increased food security.

That's why I'm also delighted that Brooke is attending CFS43, and advocating for change. On 18 October, we're honoured to be joining the Food and Agriculture Organisation for the UN (FAO), representatives from the governments of Senegal and Kenya, and the University of Winchester, for a side event discussing the role of livestock in sustainable agriculture. To help us get working equine welfare on the agenda, visit


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