Africa / Animal Production / Asia / Climate Change / Environment / Latin America / Livestock Systems / Pro-Poor Livestock

Simple livestock production changes could help both farmers and the environment

Typical smallholder livestock household in Berhampore Village, West Bengal, India

Typical smallholder livestock household in Berhampore Village, West Bengal, India (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

The following excerpts are from an article by Philip Thornton published yesterday (1 November 2010) in a Global Food Security Blog. Thornton cites a new paper he and his colleague Mario Herrero have published in a prestigious scientific journal that outlines how simple livestock production changes could help both farmers and the environment.

Thornton is a theme leader with the Challenge Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and senior scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya. Thornton has worked mostly in Latin America, Europe, North America and Africa on systems modelling and impact assessment. His current research interests revolve around integrated assessment at different scales and evaluating the possible impacts of global change on agricultural systems in developing countries.

‘. . . Significant livestock-related greenhouse gas reductions could be quickly achieved in tropical countries by modifying production practices, which were recently detailed in a paper by myself and a colleague published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For example, switching to more nutritious pasture grasses, supplementing diets with even small amounts of crop residues or grains, restoring degraded grazing lands, planting trees that both trap carbon and produce leaves that cows can eat, and adopting more productive breeds can all be employed relatively quickly to reduce emissions. . . .

‘There are several other well-documented options that could increase incomes for smallholders while at the same time reducing overall emissions. Supplementing grazing with feed consisting of crop residues, such as the leaves and stalks of sorghum or maize plants, is one example. There is also potential to boost production per animal by crossbreeding local with genetically improved breeds, so providing more milk and meat than traditional breeds while emitting less methane per kilo of meat or milk produced. Supplementing cattle diets with the leaves of certain trees, such as Leucaena leucocephala, has similar effects on meat and milk production and incomes.

‘. . . My colleague and I have calculated that, for a range of readily-available options for poor livestock keepers to increase production in the tropics, these could save about 7 percent of all livestock-related global greenhouse-gas emissions (a conservative estimate, as we did not consider the full range of options available to livestock keepers, nor did we consider nitrous oxide emissions). Consumption of milk and meat may double in the developing world by 2050, so it’s critical to adopt sustainable approaches now that reduce the negative effects of increasing livestock production while allowing countries to realize the benefits, such as better nutrition and higher incomes for livestock-producing households. . . .

Read the whole article at Global Food Security Blog: Reducing carbon hoofprints and increasing tropical farming incomes, 1 November 2010.

Read the scientific article by Thornton and Herrero in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Potential for reduced methane and carbon dioxide emissions from livestock and pasture management in the tropics, (early edition) 7 September 2010.

One thought on “Simple livestock production changes could help both farmers and the environment

  1. From the New York Times (29 October 2010) comes this news: ‘Member states of the United Nations on Saturday reached long-awaited consensus on goals intended to save plant and animal species, and to share the profits reaped by wealthy countries from the products like pharmaceuticals derived from plant or animal resources of poorer countries. The targets set at the close of talks in Nagoya, Japan, include halving the rate of species extinction by 2020, and boosting the preservation of land and oceans. Thomas E. Lovejoy of the UN Foundation said the pact takes “significant steps to heal the living planet.”‘

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