Visual capture of livestock talk by Andy Jarvis (CIAT and CCAFS), ‘The Elephant in the Room—Or Is It a Cow?’—to the Inter-Agency Donor Group (IADG) for livestock at the Work Bank in Washington DC, in Apr 2012 (figure credit: CIAT).
Andy Jarvis, a senior scientist and biodiversity expert at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym, CIAT), based in Cali, Colombia, where he leads a ‘Decision and Policy Analysis Program’, last week took on what many might view as an awkward role—that of livestock spokesperson—at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Inter-Agency Donor Group (IADG) at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
If most environmentally minded scientists would have viewed this job as pulling the short straw, Jarvis, who has been called a ‘promiscuous agricultural geographer’—seems to have relished his livestock presentation as a golden opportunity. With his professional interests including developing-country agriculture with a focus on Latin America, spatial analysis of agrobiodiversity (aka wild relatives of our food crops, with a rare wild pepper a target of his special interest), climate change, payment schemes for poor communities for their provision of water and other ecosystem services, global environmental modelling and dataset development, geographical information systems (Jarvis heads CIAT’s GIS laboratory), Jarvis is also a self-confessed communicator to just about everyone and innovator of just about anything.
Noting the difficulty in pinning down, fairly and accurately, levels of emissions of greenhouse gases produced by the livestock sector, Jarvis says, ‘It’s no wonder livestock often gets left out of the mitigation discussion altogether.’
But the difficulties associated with getting the numbers correct are no excuse for inaction, Jarvis told the livestock donor group.
Despite our uncertainties, explained Jarvis, there’s no getting around the fact that livestock have a huge ecological ‘hoofprint’. That hoofprint can only get bigger as global demand for animal products grows, and the livestock sector has to get serious about appropriate policy and technology.
‘Reliable estimates of the percentage of GHG emissions attributable to livestock range from 10–18%, a considerable difference. But even the most conservative figures should be nothing short of startling, especially when you consider that 30–45% of the earth’s terrestrial surface is pasture, as well as 80% of all agricultural land. “That’s arguably the largest ecological footprint on the planet, certainly in terms of area,” said Jarvis. In fact, a full 80% of all agricultural emissions come from none other than the livestock sector, and it would be foolish to ignore such statistics in the name of absolute certainty.
‘Meanwhile, trends of animal product consumption in the developing world make the subject of livestock sector sustainability even more urgent. Between 1961 and 2005 milk consumption in developing countries doubled, meat consumption tripled, and egg consumption increased by a factor of five. While this increase signals an encouraging blow against malnutrition, it also carries with it the burden of environmental degradation. Furthermore, simply eliminating animal products from the menu with the aim of decreasing emissions could be disastrous for poor farmers, the majority of whom depend on livestock as an important—and sometimes their only—source of income.
‘Jarvis challenged those present at April’s meeting to look at the livestock “hoofprint” as an opportunity as much as a call to immediate action. “Developing countries are where it’s at! They have the biggest potential for mitigation and major system transformations. There are systems which are far more efficient than others, and developing nations have the ability to put the rest of the world to shame.” . . .’
Read the whole article by Caitlin Peterson on CIAT’s DAPA Blog: The elephant in the room—or is it a cow?, 26 Apr 2012, where you’ll also find a provocative and information-dense slide presentation Jarvis made to the donor group—’Livestock, climate change and resource use: Present and future’. The slide presentation (also available online here) was put together by Jarvis jointly with CIAT’s Peterson and Michael Peters and their colleagues from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Phil Thornton, Polly Ericksen and Mario Herrero. Jarvis, Peters and Thornton also lead research in the multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
Here is how the CIAT-ILRI authors sum up their messages to the donors of livestock research for development:
The Hoofprint Means There’s Plenty To Do
- Livestock is a major contributor to climate change and arguably has the largest ecological footprint on the planet (certainly in terms of area).
- The trend is that things can only get worse—with a rising demand for livestock products in developing countries and emerging economies meaning that the livestock sector is likely to make up a larger and larger share of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Developing countries are where it’s at! They have the biggest potential for mitigation of livestock-generated greenhouse gas emissions and present plenty of opportunities for major system transformations.
- There are still big knowledge gaps that research can and should fill, starting with better estimates of GHG emissions produced by the livestock sector.
- Good policies accompanied by the right technologies could transform the hoofprint—and put developed nations to shame.
Read more about the livestock ‘goods’ and bads’ controversies here: ILRI Pinterest board on livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’.