The Dairy Industry Supports the Livelihoods of One Billion People

Interview with Donald Moore

In this in-depths interview with the secretariat, Donald Moore makes a strong case for the nutritional value of dairy products and the positive recognition livestock deserves to get in the development context.  

A wide variety of important issues relating to livestock are covered in the interview. One of them being the question whether the industrialisation path has positive aspects that could be retained in a sustainable livestock development model.

Moore, who is the Executive Director of the Global Dairy Platform and chair of the Global Dairy Sustainability Framework, prefers to call it a more intensive model, and he does view it as having some benefits for scale and for yield and various other things. For many people it was in any case difficult to see their way in moving towards more intensification. There were good practices that could be applied in both models.

Having a closer look at the topic of sustainability, Moore reasons about the three dimensions sustainability and how they relate to livestock. Economic sustainability in the developed world meant usually that producers were looking for scale. However, there were ways one could address economic stability in a smaller-scale farm through yield improvement for example.

The social dimension was covered with the role that dairy played in lifting people out of poverty and the role that dairy plays in creating vibrant rural communities as well as the role that dairy played nutritionally.

The environmental dimension was obviously an area where livestock faced some more difficult challenges. Particularly, from the perceptions people had about the role livestock plays in GHG emissions. So, as a responsible sector, there were a lot of challenges that needed to be addressed in the environmental area.

Interview Transcript

Pascal Corbé, communications consultant, GASL: It’s actually companies that drive the whole livestock sector, not governments. Companies obviously seek profits, whereas governments are more obliged to seek equity. You are on the private sector side within the partnership, where do you see the main challenges when it comes to this perspective?

Donald Moore, Executive Director of the Global Dairy Platform: That’s a fantastic question - I will take a slightly different tangent to answer that. You say it’s companies who drive the livestock sector; I would say it’s farmers who drive the livestock sector. A lot of the organisations in the dairy sector, where I work, and a lot of the commercial entities, are actually cooperatives owned by farmers. One of the reasons farmers band together in co-ops is to provide a way to them to jointly access a formal market. If you think about the dairy sector, a lot of the farmers are smaller in size, and they do not have the ability to process their product individually. They are looking for a cooperative banding together that can afford to develop the assets needed to process dairy products.

Stepping back, that’s a slight distinction from the point you made. But, you’re right. Commercial companies have to make profits. And I don’t think profits are a bad thing, by any means. I think profitable business and sustainable business are one in the same thing.

If you look at the global dairy industry, there are 133 million dairy farms in the whole word, and there are 600 million people living on those dairy farms. And then, if you take the people who work upstream and downstream from the dairy farm into account, you’ve got another 400 million people whose livelihoods depend upon dairy. So, we’ve got an industry that supports 1 billion people's’ livelihoods. Never mind the 6 billion people in the world who regularly consume dairy products.

When you are talking about companies are interested in profit – yes, they are. But at the core, the dairy sector is supporting a huge number of people’s livelihoods, and it does it in a way that is sustainable and equitable. I think dairying, at the core, is a fantastic way to help alleviate poverty in parts of the world. It’s a fantastic way to improve the nutritional status of families and communities. And if you look at dairy, even in developed countries as opposed to developing countries where you have a vibrant dairy community, you have rural towns that are still booming that have schools, and shops, and so on. You go to parts of the country that don’t have the same, that may have gone to monoculture or mono-cropping, you have streets that are empty. It is a really good way of ensuring a vibrant rural community as well. I think dairy, overall, spans a really interesting continuum, from small farmers in developing countries where it is really improved nutrition status and improved economic status, through to the way which dairy holds together rural communities in some of the larger countries as well.

PC: Agriculture ministers in developing countries are often driven by certain interests behind their position. Sometimes they come from the livestock sector but mostly they are from some form of industrialised agriculture sector. Maybe that is another variation of the first question; where do you see the challenge there? The idea is to have a level playing field for all players and policymaking is expected to provide for this.

DM: One of the challenges that we face, or one of the topics we are trying to address within the livestock sector at the moment is, how do we demonstrate to people the value that’s created by investments in livestock? If you’re an agricultural minister, you have many different opportunities or options in terms of how you address agricultural development in your country or region. One of the things we are interested in doing is explaining to those agriculture ministers the value of livestock, and more particular in our case, dairy. And the additional benefit that comes from investing in dairy development as opposed to investing in other forms of development.

If I go back to the point I made before, if you think about SDGs and Goal 2 being around eliminating hunger; 2.2 is about reducing the instance of malnutrition. And malnutrition - stunting, wasting, over-consumption, and micronutrient deficiency - high quality proteins are one of the best ways you can address those population based challenges around nutrition. That’s where dairying comes in. So, what we are trying to do is work with those Agricultural Ministries, in different parts of the world, and make it clear to them why we believe they should be investing in developments around the dairy sector, in preference to others.

Now that’s not to say we think dairy is the only answer. In fact, in many parts of the world, dairy is part of a mixed-farming system. But again, if you can add dairy into a predominantly cropping system, if you can add dairy in - even if it’s one or two cows - you can lift the nutritional status, and you start to provide regular cash flow. I think that is one of the key benefits about dairy. And if you think about it in those terms, if you are milking dairy cows, consuming what you need for your own family, and selling the rest at the local - or if you have access to a formal market - you are getting a regular cash flow into your family. Which, is quite a big benefit for a lot of families.

PC: The Agenda is promoting sustainable livestock development – which to a certain extent means avoiding the classic path of industrialisation. Is there any new research or new ways that lead onto a different path.

DM: You’re right, in more industrialised and developed countries you tend to have larger herd sizes, and there tends to be a consolidation. In the developing world, that is not the model that people start with, although sometime they will move towards that in certain parts of the world. I think there are lessons to be learned from both types of models. The industrialised model, or more intensive model, does have some benefits for scale and for yield and various other things. It is difficult for people to see their way in which they will move towards that intensive model. I think there are good practices that can be applied to both models.


You started addressing the question and topic of sustainability; sustainability sits on three dimensions, as we all know. Economic sustainability, and often in that, in the developed world in order to achieve that you are looking for scale. There are ways you can address economic stability in a smaller-scale farm through yield improvement, and various other things. You think of the social dimension, and that was really what I was talking about a little bit before and the role that dairy plays in lifting people out of poverty, the role that dairy plays in creating vibrant rural communities, the role that dairy plays nutritionally - sits in that social dimension. So you have economic, social and then the environmental.


Environmental is obviously an area where livestock faces some more challenges. Particularly, from the perceptions people have about the role livestock plays in GHG emissions, and various other things. So, as a responsible sector, I think we have a lot of challenges we have to address in the environmental area. But, we also need to accept that any form of agriculture is going to have an environmental footprint. And, the challenge that we have to address - in all forms of agriculture, not just livestock and dairy - is how do we minimise the impacts we have on the environment. That does not mean going to scale. It means finding ways within your own system, and within your own context for how you can minimise those environmental impacts, and make the greatest yield gain within that environment.


PC: How can the Global Agenda help the goals your organisation has set for itself?


DM: I will start with the concept of why we joined the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock. As an organisation, the Global Dairy Platform signed onto the Agenda 12 months ago. Part of the reason we wanted to join was we could see the work that was going on, particularly in the environmental area around the LEAP initiative. We have adopted the methods that came out of LEAP for measuring GHG. Working with the leadership within GASL. We could see ways in which working with a global programme, such as the Agenda, was going to help us achieve our own outcomes as well. That’s the reason we wanted to join.

Now, what do we think the Global Agenda can offer us in terms of the programme going forward? One of the things we are really keen to explore, is the way in which dairy can help alleviate poverty. We think dairy offers a fantastic opportunity to lift people nutritionally and economically. And indeed, gender-wise, if you look at the role dairy plays. A lot of the [dairy] farms around the world are female led. We think there is a great opportunity for us to better position dairy - and go back before to those conversations with ministers - we need a credible partner organisation. We see the opportunity to work with GASL to develop papers around things like poverty alleviation.

The other area we are keen to explore, is to come up with a methodology of how can you value investment in dairy development, or in livestock development more generally. So, we can go to those donor organisations, and say to them, “If you want to invest in improving nutritional status, improving the environment, improving social outcomes, improving equity rights. If you want to do that, if you invest in dairy development, here are the returns you get.”  Those are the sort of opportunities we see working with a multi-stakeholder partnership group like GASL.

PC: What do you think is the single most important thing in your sector that needs to be done now?

DM: If I were to share with you the single-biggest challenge we are facing in the dairy sector today, it’s a lack of understanding of what I think of as the ‘holistic food system.’ There are a lot of people out there who are making very simplistic determinations. They are saying, “livestock emits a lot of GHGs, therefore livestock is bad for the environment. So, we should consume more plant-based foods and less livestock based foods.” 

It is a very simplistic interpretation, of what is a very complex problem. If you look at all of the dimensions you need to consider for a sustainable food system, everything from the environmental, social and economic aspects, you look at the way livestock tends to provide better paying jobs, more employment per output. If you look at the quality of the protein that is contained in livestock, etc., you’ve got a much better position. And what we would like to see is that people are looking at this holistically. Sadly, a lot of the science and a lot of the data does not exist yet. We need to work with groups like GASL and others, with the FAO and the UN, to produce that full dataset, so that proper determinations can be made. Rather than people jumping to simple outcomes.

PC: What you are explaining, then, is a large scale information campaign. How do you make people actually do something? Information alone will probably not do it.

DM: How do you change people’s attitudes? Difficult, especially when you have a product like dairy, and indeed most livestock products, which people actually enjoy consuming. That’s the first thing: you’ve got a product people enjoy consuming. So, how difficult is it to change people’s minds? Well, if they enjoy consuming your product, that’s the first big step.

The second thing is that we’ve really got to address these issues around people’s perceptions of the environmental footprint, people’s perceptions of animal care, and so on. We can demonstrate to them how the farmers in the dairy sector work. They get up every day, they care responsibly for their livestock. They work to make the land better for future generations. We need to show people that the dairy sector is in fact farmers - not just dairy sector, but farmers. The farmers really care about what they are doing. And most of the farmers that I talk to say sustainable business is good business. This isn’t something they do that’s a chore, it makes their business better.

What we need to do is reconnect consumers with what farmers are doing. If we go back to when I was a kid growing up, most of us knew people who were farmers. You look today - I cannot remember the statistics for the US, but less than 1-2% of the population are involved in agriculture - yet, you go back 40 or 50 years, and it was 8-10%. We all knew somebody who was involved with farming. Today, a lot of people are so disconnected with where their food is coming from, that they don’t understand the process that goes into producing food. We need to reconnect consumers with that.

How do we do it? It’s a fantastic challenge. And, we need to start using all of the tools at our disposal. And to be honest, we have probably made assumptions for too long, that consumers understand the value of dairy, the nutritional value and various other things. But, we’ve also got to appeal to all of the dimensions, not just nutritional. We have to explain how we care for the land, how we make the world a better place, how we work with family-based farms in all parts of the world to lift people up to give them a better live.

Eduardo ArceDiaz, operations manager GASL: Could you comment the contribution of the livestock sector and dairy can give to the attainment of SDG 9, which is infrastructure, innovation and energy.

DM: To start with, I will talk about the role dairy plays in the SDGs overall. I applaud the UN for launching the SDGs because they have really captured the imagination of a lot of people within the dairy sector, in terms of how we can articulate the role dairy plays in addressing key issues affecting society. Whether it is SDG 1 - Ending Poverty, or SDG 2 - Hunger, through SDG 3 with health and SDG4 with education, there are a lot of SDGs that [dairy] touches on. In terms of the whole challenge around SDG9, I think the role that dairy can play in improving industry, it’s an area that we probably underestimate from time-to-time. When we think about dairy sector, we tend to think of it in the small-term. But, it has that connection to formal markets. When you start investing in dairy in different parts of the world, you then start to look at: how do we link those production to markets? Which means, infrastructure - you’ve got to put infrastructure in place.

Dairy is often done in a cooperative model. So, the way in which you can invest in developing cooperative models in parts of the world, the ways you can then get farmers to band together to invest in an infrastructure and assets that are needed to process dairy - it goes straight to goal number 9. The investments that we are seeing, in all parts of the world, around innovation for the dairy sector - and to be honest, I think dairy lagged behind for several years in terms of innovation - we are starting to see a renaissance in innovation in the dairy sector.

Eduardo: What are the challenges when the private sector tried to join the campaign for the SDGs, especially as the SDG17 that advises we work in partnerships, and leave no one behind.

DM: I love the partnership goal, but for some people it is a step too far. They are struggling with how to engage the private sector in a partnership, because the private sector does have duty-profit motivation. We have to make money to stay in business; we cannot do good if we don’t make money. But there is a huge groundswell change happening in the private industry all around reporting CSR, and the value that you are bringing back to society, and so on. Personally, I see the partnership one as a key dimension.

What we’ve got to do is make sure, is that you don’t exclude the private sector, and then think that somehow you’re going to be able to pull partnership forward without it. I think I would love to see strong emphasis on partnership within the WHO, than we’ve got at the moment. That’s one of the areas where we’ve got a key challenge.

I think you need the private sector at the discussions as well. I think the challenges with engaging with civil society, without the balance of providing the private sector, is really, really dangerous. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want safe, accessible, affordable nutrition for our families. We want to make the environment better. We want to make it better for our children and for ourselves. We all want the future to be better than it is today. We all want the same things.

From the private sector perspective, and civil society, I think the only thing we disagree on is the ideology of how we achieve that. In the civil society dialogue, often the way to achieve that is small based farming enterprises. I personally think, we need both small, and the industrial farms. We need both. We need to offer people choice. We need to give them the organic choice. We need to give them the larger-scale farms, as well. We need all of the tools at our disposal in order to feed the world in the future. We need to embrace innovation, otherwise, we’re not going to do it. Innovation is going to be the tool that we use to help address these key issues.

I have just been in a meeting for three days here, talking about what percentage of the world’s agricultural land is productive and sustainable. And there are people there who express the view that wheat is more sustainable than livestock. If you look at wheat from a protein quality perspective, and measure balanced protein, it’s about a score of .6. Most livestock figure are about 1.3. If you start saying we are going to feed the world with reduced quantities of livestock, you don’t have the quality of protein that you need in order to do that. We need all of the tools that are available to us.

If you look at when people’s incomes start to rise, they start to consume more quantities of animal-based protein. They are a better blend of amino acids to support improved livelihoods and improved health outcomes. I think we need livestock based products. I’m not saying they are the only things, but we need diets. Diets need to include all the different food groups. One of the things that terrifies me is this tendency, in certain groups, to move towards vegetarianism or veganism for periods of time, and move back again. They are calling it flexitarianism. Comments like, “we need meatless Mondays,” or “Tofu Thursdays.” I’m not sure it’s a positive thing for health outcomes.  And I am sure it’s not a positive thing for environmental outcomes.

PC: Thank you.

DM: Thank you.


About Donald Moore

Donald Moore is the Executive Director of the Global Dairy Platform, which was established 10 years ago by a number of large dairy cooperatives. The objective was to enable those organisations to collaborate on pre-competitive issues facing the dairy industry. After ten years, it now has approximately 90 members, in about 36 countries around the world. Focus lies on four key priorities for the dairy sector: Coordinate communications on the behalf of dairy at the global level, issues dealing with nutritional security, sustainability and dairy development. In addition, Moore also the chair of the Global Dairy Sustainability Framework.