Agriculture / CCAFS / Climate Change / Food Security / NRM / WLE

Some animals are more equal than others in their greenhouse gas emissions

Fodder market in India

The current essay published on the AgClim Letters blog of the ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security’ Research Program this week praises the sensibleness of a recent background study for a Foresight report that ‘provides valuable insight into how our farming and food industry in the UK can contribute to the transition to a green economy by increasing sustainability, seizing opportunities and providing innovative solutions for the future.’

Among the high-level conclusions of the Foresight report is that ‘Addressing climate change and achieving sustainability in the global food system need to be recognised as dual imperatives. Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore.’

AgClim Letters author Sonja Vermeulen writes the following.

‘The recent Foresight report on The Future of Food and Farming provides a rich evidence base to guide decisions today that will secure food and agriculture in decades to come. But a striking message from Foresight is that strong science is insufficient to guide policy. Putting our microscope to just one among the 100 background studies shows how technical evidence can inform, but not substitute for, societal consensus.

Where are the best opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the food system (including the food chain)? by Tara Garnett is one of those rare articles that answers the question presented in the title. Enhanced carbon storage, greater efficiency, and changed patterns of consumption give the best set of options, provided they are tackled together. Not surprisingly though, the detail is what counts. . . .

‘Agriculture . . . provides the main challenge and opportunity globally to reduce emissions from the food chain. Of the various options, some of the best lie in efficiency measures that reduce emissions per unit of output or input. Impressive yield increases in meat and dairy, the most emissions-intensive agricultural sectors, can be achieved through specialist breeding and feeding, balanced against animal welfare.

‘Importantly, how we measure efficiency determines which livestock systems deliver the lowest emissions. Intensive production of monogastrics (pigs and poultry) gives the lowest kg CO2 equivalent per kg product. In Africa where anaemia affects 68% of young children and most farms are non-mechanised, we may instead want to consider kg CO2 equivalent per g iron, or per unit of draught power for plows and carts. Here cows come out better. . . .

‘How countries navigate the trade-offs inherent in these different efficiency metrics depends on their interest groups and policy priorities. . . . Poor farmers and consumers should naturally be party to this debate.’

Among Tara Garnett’s conclusions are the following.
(1) ‘A pluralistic research portfolio is essential: the magnitude of the challenges are so large that no single research avenue will address all the new knowledge required.’

(2) ‘Investment in research and development is not enough in itself. Communication is critical–not just to spread new knowledge to policy-makers and potential users, but also to the public, specifically to engender trust in new science and its application.’

Read the whole article by Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security’ (CCAFS), a Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Program, in AgClim Letters, a monthly science policy bulletin: Emissions efficiency: Are some animals more equal than others?, March 2011.

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