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UN says dairy an ally in the fight against malnutrition in Asia

Milk and other dairy products have become an unexpected ally in the fight against malnutrition, especially in an enormous and overpopulated continent like Asia, which faces problems linked to obesity and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

This report is in some ways a wake-up call according to FAO Assistant Director-General Kundhavi Kadiresan since nearly half a billion people suffer from hunger in this region. Increased consumption of milk and dairy products could be the best solution for eradicating problems related to malnutrition.

In actual fact, thanks to greater political stability and mechanized farming, Asia has made huge strides in this direction; in the last 25 years undernourishment has halved in Asia from 24.3 percent to 12.3 percent.

Also worth taking into consideration is the fact that the millions of people who move from the country to large cities change their diet from a more traditional, rice-based one to a more ‘Westernized’ version comprising more fruit, vegetables and meat.

However the most significant change is that Asians are drinking more milk, traditionally absent from many Asian kitchens but which is now flying off the shelves from Bangkok to Beijing. Production has almost tripled – from roughly 110 million tonnes in 1990 to almost 300 million tonnes in 2013 – and accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s increase in milk supplies.

Nutritious and cheap, the dairy boom has encouraged governments to develop programmes that also invest in schools. A national programme in Thailand that brings milk into schools is boosting students’ growth and increasing their intake of protein and calcium. Similar programmes have been launched worldwide from India to China to the Philippines.

The main beneficiaries have been small farmers, who produce nearly 80 percent of the milk in Asia due to low costs and a more equal distribution of cows and goats.

The result is that the dairy industry has for Kadiresan become a potential ‘engine of poverty-alleviating growth’.