Want ‘climate-smart’ farming adopted in Africa? Then better start collecting data on how much greenhouse gases African countries are emitting

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, a scientist at ILRI, says data on emissions estimates from developed countries are inapplicable to Africa’s climatic and environmental conditions (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Obtaining country-specific greenhouse gas emission data from agricultural activities is critical in supporting ‘climate smart’ agricultural practices that will help Africa’s smallholder farmers protect their livelihoods in the face of climate change.

According to Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ‘current estimates of emissions from Africa’s agricultural sector rely heavily on data collected in developed countries that are inapplicable to Africa’s climatic and environmental conditions’. As a result, he says, many African countries simply don’t have reliable information on ‘greenhouse gas emission factors’ for their agricultural production activities. This is despite the fact that such agricultural emissions are the dominant source of harmful greenhouse gases in developing countries.

Butterbach-Bahl, who is on joint appointment at ILRI and the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, in Garmisch, Germany, made these remarks while giving a ‘livestock live talk’ on ‘Standard assessment of mitigation potentials and livelihoods in smallholder systems’ at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 14 Aug 2013.

Food production contributes 19–29% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that originate from human activity, he reported. Agricultural production, including indirect emissions associated with land cover change, contributes 80–86% of total food system emissions.

According to Butterbach-Bahl, the absence of region-specific measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural activities is hurting efforts to verify the environmental impacts of agricultural intensification in Africa. ‘Farmers and farmer organizations, government and non-governmental organizations need this information to know which options will make the best use of their land resources without further fuelling climate change.’

‘Without accurate emission data’, says Butterbach-Bahl, ‘African countries have little chance of identifying emission hotspots, of developing ways to reduce their emissions or of helping their communities to adapt better to a changing climate’. This will happen only by developing capacity and expertise in collecting greenhouse gas emission data in Africa, he says.

Butterbach-Bahl is leading a team of climate change scientists at ILRI and partner organizations, including an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) that is assessing ways smallholder farmers in Kenya can help reduce emissions, and, thus climate change.

This project, ‘Identifying pro-poor mitigation options for smallholder agriculture in the developing world’, is working with smallholder farmers in mixed livestock-and-crop production systems in Nyando, in western Kenya. The project aims to quantify greenhouse gas emissions in this region and to identify mitigation options for smallholders at both farm and landscape levels.

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

The audience at a ‘livestock live talk’ on assessing climate change mitigation potentials in smallholder systems at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 14 Aug 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

‘We’re looking at both the ecological and the economic impacts of climate change options adopted by smallholder farmers’, said Butterbach-Bahl.

ILRI is hoping to use experiences from this project and other ongoing climate change research activities:

  • to develop capacity in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural sources
  • to build ILRI’s competence in measuring Africa’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
  • to build a network of greenhouse gas assessment labs across the continent that will allow countries to obtain country-specific agricultural-related data.

‘We want to show the benefits of climate-smart agriculture’, says Butterbach-Bahl. ‘We intend to collect enough evidence to demonstrate these benefits to policymakers so that governments have the information they need to implement climate-smart interventions.’

View the slide presentation made by Butterbach-Bahl.

More on getting credible figures for livestock emissions of greenhouse gases

Cover of recommendations produced Nov 2011 by CCAFS/Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), is identifying policy changes and actions needed to help the world achieve food security in the face of climate change; the Commission launched this summary for policymakers on 16 Nov 2011 (photo on cover by Neil Palmer/CIAT).

The current issue of New Scientist publishes an article describing a recently released study, ‘Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change’, which was commissioned by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). For more on that study, see the CCAFS news release of 16 November 2011: ‘Global Commission Charts Pathway for Achieving Food Security in Face of Climate Change‘.

Sujata Gupta’s New Scientist article on meat consumption, ‘Just how much meat can eco-citizens eat?’ (online publication date: 16 November 2011; print issue date: 19 November 2011; print issue number: 2839), contains what we believe is a factual error. Gupta quotes a 2007 article in the Lancet (‘Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health’, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61256-2) that 80% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions come from meat production.

More credible figures, compiled from international global assessments by agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero and his colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute, are the following.

The total agricultural sector emits around 25–32% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Crops emit 14% (EPA 2006) and all livestock emit 11–18%, depending on how emissions are attributed (FAO 2006, EPA 2006, PBL 2010). The emissions from livestock can be divided roughly as 30% methane from enteric fermentation, 30% nitrous oxide from manure management and 40% from carbon dioxide from land-use changes for grazing and feed production (FAO 2006). Figures for the emissions from land-use changes carry a lot of uncertainty. Emissions can also be divided by species and product. For example, the dairy sector is responsible for roughly 27% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock (FAO 2010) while monogastric production (pigs/poultry) is responsible for  10–20% of the livestock emissions. Hence, it is not possible that beef production can account for 80% of all agricultural emissions. Even if beef cattle represent 50–60% of livestock emissions, this translates roughly into a figure close to 30–35% of all agricultural emissions—certainly not 80%. What is true is that of all livestock products, beef is the most inefficient in terms of greenhouse gas emissions produced per unit of product, especially compared to dairy and monogastrics (De Vries and de Boer 2010).

Herrero and his colleagues at ILRI, CCAFS and elsewhere are publishing updates on topics concerning livestock production and climate and other kinds of global change. Look out, for example, for the following book chapter, due next month, which we will report on in this blog: M Herrero, PK Thornton, P Havlík, and M Rufino, Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: Mitigation options and trade-offs. In: E Wollenberg, A Nihart, ML Tapio-Bistrom and C Seeberg-Elverfeldt (eds), Climate Change Mitigation and Agriculture, Earthscan, London, UK (in press).

See an earlier report on a similar topic in this ILRI News Blog: Livestock and climate change: Towards credible figures, 27 Jun 2011.

Livestock and climate change: Towards credible figures

Cow in Rajasthan, India

Profile of a cow kept by the Rajasthani agro-pastoralists who have inhabited India’s state of Rajasthan (‘land of kings’ or ‘colours’), from the Great Thar Desert in the northwest to the better-watered regions of the southeast, since parts of it formed the great trading and urban Indus Valley (3000-500 BC) and Harappan (1,000 BC) civilizations (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We know that livestock produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Just how much remains somewhat contentious, with the estimated contributions of livestock to global greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 10 to 51%, depending on who is doing the analyses, and how.

A new commentary, published in a special ‘animal feed’ issue of the scientific journal Animal Feed and Technology, examines the main discrepancies between well known and documented studies such as FAO’s Livestock Long Shadow report (FAO 2006) and some more recent estimates. The authors of the commentary advocate for better documentation of assumptions and methodologies for estimating emissions and the need for greater scientific debate, discussion and scrutiny in this area.

The authors of the new article, ‘Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right,’ are a distinguished group of experts from diverse institutions working in this area, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, Rome), Wageningen University and Research Centre (Netherlands), the Food Climate Research Network at the Centre for Environmental Strategy (FCRN, University of Surrey), the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (JRC, Italy), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL, Bilthoven), Aarhus University’s Department of Agroecology and Environment (Denmark), New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Wellington), the Institute Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique (France), the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada group at Lethbridge Research Centre (Alberta) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, Nairobi).

This group of international scientists presents the case of one recent argument as follows.

‘In 2006, the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report (FAO, 2006), using well documented and rigorous life cycle analyses, estimated that global livestock contributes to 18% of global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. According to the study the main contributors to GHG from livestock systems are land use change (carbon dioxide, CO2), enteric fermentation from ruminants (methane, CH4) and manure management (nitrous oxide, N2O).

‘A . . . non-peer reviewed report published by the Worldwatch Institute (Goodland and Anhang 2009) contested these figures and argued that GHG emissions from livestock could be closer to 51% of global GHG emissions. In our view, this report has oversimplified the issue with respect to livestock production. It has emphasised the negative impacts without highlighting the positives and, in doing so, has used a methodological approach which we believe to be flawed.’

Mario Herrero, lead author of the Animal Feed and Technology paper, is a systems analyst and climate change specialist working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Herrero argues that Goodland and Anhang, while claiming in the non-scientifically peer-reviewed World Watch Magazine (which is published by Worldwatch Institute) that livestock generate 51% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions rather than the 18% reported by FAO in 2007, fail to detail the methodologies they used to come up with this new figure, fail to use those methods consistently across different sectors, and fail to follow global guidelines for assessing emissions set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol.

Furthermore, Hererro says, the World Watch authors’ solution to livestock’s contribution to global warming—’to eat less animal products, or better still, none at all’—could push some 1 billion livestock keepers and consumers living on little more than a dollar a day into even greater poverty (small livestock enterprises are the mainstay of many poor people) and severe malnourishment (milk is among the few high-quality foods readily available to many poor people, with consumption of modest quantities of dairy making the difference between health and illness, especially in children and women of child-bearing ages).

Goodland and Anhang also fail to enlarge on any counterfactuals, such as what a world without domesticated livestock would look like.

Over a billion people make a living from livestock, says ILRI director general Carlos Seré. Most of them are among the poorest of the poor. What, other than livestock keeping, would most African and Indian farming households turn to in order to meet their needs for scarce protein, fertilizer, employment, income, traction, means of saving, and insurance against crop failure?

While many of us may find the factory farming of animals in rich countries objectionable on several grounds, Seré says, we must be responsible not to conflate industrial grain-fed livestock systems of rich producers with the family farming and herding practices of hundreds of millions of poor producers, most of whom still maintain their animals not on grain but on pasture grass and other crop wastes not edible by humans.

The biggest concern of many experts regarding livestock in developing countries, Seré says, is not their impact on climate change but rather the impact of climate change on livestock production.

The hotter and more extreme tropical environments being predicted threaten not only up to a billion livelihoods based on livestock but also supplies of milk, meat and eggs among hungry communities that need these nourishing foods most. For people living in absolute poverty and chronic hunger, the solution is not to rid the world of livestock, but rather to find ways to farm animals more efficiently and profitably, as well as sustainably.

Tara Garnett, a co-author of the new paper and a research fellow at the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, in the UK, investigates issues around livestock and greenhouse gas emissions in her highly credible and readable publication Cooking up a Storm: Food, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Our Changing Climate (2008). Garnett, who also runs the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), which brings together nearly 2,000 individuals from a broad variety of disciplines to share information on issues relating to food and climate change, agrees with Seré on this.

By 2050, on current projections, Garnett reports, the developing world will still, on average, be eating less than half as much meat as people do in the rich world, and only a third of the milk. There is a long way to go before they catch up with developed world levels.

While there is an increasingly urgent need to reduce demand for meat and dairy products among consumers in developed countries, and also to moderate rapid growth in demand for these foods in emerging, rapidly industrializing, countries, for the world’s poorest people, small-scale livestock enterprises can increase household incomes and improve livelihoods. Greater consumption of meat and dairy products—in addition to a more diverse range of plant-based foods—can play a critical role in combatting malnutrition and enhancing nutritional status.’

Herrero and Garnett and their other co-authors conclude that ‘Livestock undoubtedly need to be a priority focus of attention as the global community seeks to address the challenge of climate change. The magnitude of the discrepancy between the Goodland and Anhang paper (2009) and widely recognized estimates of GHG from livestock (FAO, 2006), illustrates the need to provide the climate change community and policy makers with accurate emissions estimates and information about the link between agriculture and climate.

‘Improving the global estimates of GHG attributed to livestock systems is of paramount importance. This is not only because we need to define the magnitude of the impact of livestock on climate change, but also because we need to understand their contribution relative to other sources. Such information will enable effective mitigation options to be designed to reduce emissions and improve the sustainability of the livestock sector while continuing to provide livelihoods and food for a wide range of people, especially the poor. We need to understand where livestock can help and where they hinder the goals of resilient global ecosystems and a sustainable, equitable future for future generations.

‘We believe these efforts need to be part of an ongoing process, but one that is to be conducted through transparent, well established methodologies, rigorous science and open scientific debate. Only in this way will we be able to advance the debate on livestock and climate change and inform policy, climate change negotiations and public opinion more accurately.’

Read the whole post-print paper by Mario Herrero, P Gerber, T Vellinga, T Garnett, A Leip, C Opio, HJ Westhoek, PK Thornton, J Olesen, N Hutchings, H Montgomery, J-F Soussana, H Steinfeld and TA McAllister: Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right, a special issue on ‘Greenhouse Gases in Animal Agriculture—Finding a Balance between Food and Emissions’ published this month in 2011 in Animal Feed Science and Technology 166–167: 779–782 (doi: 10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2011.04.083).

Read the Goodland and Anhang article in World Watch Magazine: Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are…cows, pigs, and chickens? November/December 2009.

Greener pastures and better breeds could reduce carbon ‘hoofprint’

Baoshan Community Dairy Feeding Centre

Cows at the Boashan Community Dairy Feeding Centre, in Yunnan Province, China (photo credit: ILRI / Mann).

A new study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) finds reductions in greenhouse gasses could be worth a billion dollars to poor livestock farmers if they could sell saved carbon on international markets.

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by livestock operations in tropical countries—a major contributor to climate change—could be cut significantly by changing diets and breeds and improving degraded lands, according to a new study published today in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And as an added bonus, scientists found the small changes in production practices could provide a big payoff by providing poor farmers with up to US$1.3 billion annually in payments for carbon offsets.

'These technologically straightforward steps in livestock management could have a meaningful effect on greenhouse gas build-up, while simultaneously generating income for poor farmers,' said Philip Thornton, of ILRI, who co-authored the paper with ILRI’s Mario Herrero.  

Livestock enterprises contribute about 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases, largely through deforestation to make room for livestock grazing and feed crops, the methane ruminant animals give off, and the nitrous oxide emitted by manure. Many worry these greenhouse gas emissions could grow due to increased livestock production to meet surging demand for meat and milk in developing countries.

Thornton and Herrero believe there are options readily available to prevent up to 417 million tons of carbon dioxide expected to be produced by livestock in tropical countries by 2030—a sum representing a savings of about 7% of all livestock-related global greenhouse gas emissions.

'Of course,' says Thornton, 'if we also manage to bring down consumption of meat and milk in rich countries, the amount of carbon saved will be even greater.' The difference between livestock production in rich and poor countries is a big concern to Thornton. 'We conducted this study to try to disentangle some of the complexities surrounding livestock systems, particularly those in developing countries. Livestock systems are not all the same, and there are large differences in their carbon footprint, their importance for the poor, and their mitigation potential.'

Most reductions of livestock-produced greenhouse gases would have to come from the more than half a billion livestock keepers in tropical countries. But the study finds that these struggling farmers could be motivated to adopt more climate-friendly practices.

'It would be a useful incentive if these farmers were allowed to sell the reductions they achieve as credits on global carbon markets,' Thornton said. 'We found that at US$20 per ton—which is what carbon was trading for last week on the European Climate Exchange—poor livestock keepers in tropical countries could generate about US$1.3 billion each year in carbon revenues.' Although carbon payments would not amount to a lot more income for each individual farmer (such payments might represent an increase in individual income of up to 15%), such payments should provide a tipping point for many smallholders considering intensifying their livestock production.

According to the ILRI study, livestock-related greenhouse gas reductions could be quickly achieved in tropical countries by modifying production practices, such as 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.

'We wanted to consider the impact in tropical countries because they are at the epicentre of a livestock revolution,' said Herrero. 'We expect consumption of milk and meat to roughly double in the developing world by 2050, which means it’s critical to adopt sustainable approaches now that contain and reduce the negative effects of livestock production, while allowing countries to realize the benefits, such as better nutrition and higher incomes for livestock-producing households.'

Herrero and Thornton said that changing diets and breeds could increase the amount of milk and meat produced by individual animals, thus reducing emissions because farmers would require fewer animals. For example, in Latin America, they note that switching cows from natural grasslands to pastures sown with a more nutritious grass called Brachiaria can increase daily milk production and weight gain by up to three-fold. This increase, they said, means fewer animals are needed to satisfy demand. In addition, Brachiaria also absorbs, or 'sequesters,' more carbon than degraded natural grasslands.

'Even if only about 30% of livestock owners in the region switch from natural grass to Brachiaria, which is what we consider a plausible adoption rate, that alone could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 30 million tons per year,' Thornton said.

Herrero and Thornton also said that, for a given level of demand, fewer animals would be needed if more farmers supplemented grazing with feed consisting of crop residues (often called 'stover'), such as the leaves and stalks of sorghum or maize plants, or with grains. In addition, they note there is the potential to boost production per animal by crossbreeding local with genetically improved breeds, the latter of which can provide more milk and meat than traditional breeds while emitting less methane per kilo of meat or milk produced.

Planting trees that have agricultural and feed uses, a practice known as 'agroforestry,' has the benefit of reducing feed costs for animals, while the trees themselves absorb carbon. Herrero and Thornton found that of the 33 million tons of carbon dioxide that could be reduced through wider use of agroforestry in livestock operations, almost two-thirds of it—72%—would come from the 'carbon sequestration' effects of the trees.

Carols Seré, ILRI’s Director General, said Thornton and Herrero’s work usefully steers the discussion of livestock’s contribution to climate change from blunt criticism of the impact of farm animals to meaningful efforts to address the environmental consequences of their increased production.

'There is a tendency today to simply demonize livestock as a cause of climate change without considering their importance, particularly for poor farmers in the developing world,' Seré said.

'Most of the farmers we work with have a relatively small environmental footprint,' he added, 'and they are intensely dependent on their animals for food, for income, and even as "engines" to plough their fields and transport their crops. What these farmers need are technological options and economic incentives that help them intensify their production in sustainable ways. Carbon payments would be a welcome additional incentive inducing such changes in smallholder livestock production.'

Key messages from the publication
(1) The impact of any given livestock intervention on mitigating total greenhouse gas emissions will be small.
To make a difference, we will need to implement many interventions and do so simultaneously. Mitigating the impacts of livestock systems on climate change will require taking a series of small incremental steps and implementing a wide range of different mitigation strategies to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

(2) We should aim for fewer, better fed, farm and herd animals.
Apart from strategies to sequester greater amounts of carbon, all strategies for mitigating greenhouse gases appear to require the intensification of animal diets and a reduction in animal numbers to produce the same volume of meat and milk.

(3) Ways to mitigate greenhouse gases in tropical livestock systems are technologically straightforward.
Apart from strategies to sequester carbon, all strategies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions tested could be implemented at farm level with the appropriate economic and other incentives for resource-poor farmers.

(4) GHG mitigation strategies can be pro-poor.
Paying small-scale livestock farmers and herders for practices that help sequester carbon (under REDD or similar incentive schemes), although not trivial in management terms, would help smallholders generate greater and more diversified incomes.

(5) Mitigation strategies can also support strategies to help smallholders adapt to climate change.
Some interventions aiming to reduce greenhouse gases will also serve to help people cope with more unpredictable and extreme weather.

(6) All strategies will need to include appropriate incentives for smallholders.
A major incentive for small-scale livestock producers to change their production practices will be the increasing demand for livestock products in developing countries. But many smallholders will also need other economic incentives and more user-friendly technologies in order to make even straightforward changes in their production practices. 

Read the whole paper at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: The potential for reduced methane and carbon dioxide emissions from livestock and pasture management in the tropics, 6 September 2010.

Meat/milk/eggs: Who should reduce—and who should increase—their consumption to slow global warming

Agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero (Cost Rica), based at the Nairobi, Kenya, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), this July-August 2010 hosted a 'write-shop cum think tank' session with a group of leading world experts on the topic of food systems, particularly those involving meat, milk and eggs, and climate change.

Eight short filmed interviews of 4 of these experts on the following topics are posted on www.ilri.blip.tv. Click on the links below to view the interviews.

(1) From cows to camels: adapting to Africa’s drying climates
Ilona Glücks: Vétérinaires sans frontières (VSF), Switzerland

Many of Africa’s grazing lands are becoming drier with climate change. Some pastoral communities that have traditionally herded cattle, sheep and goats across these lands are switching to camels. Camels produce milk for longer than cattle, maintaining production even during prolonged dry seasons and droughts. Researchers expect that camels will become increasingly common and important to the economic and nutritional well-being of Africa’s pastoral households.

(2) Will deforestation remain the biggest driver of human-induced global warming?
Michael Obersteiner: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria

Deforestation historically has been the largest producer of human-generated greenhouse gases. Recent experience suggests that global deforestation trends can be reversed. Since 2002, for example, Brazil has virtually stopped the clearing of forests on a massive scale to make room for livestock grazing.

(3) We can reduce global warming through our food chains
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

Significant amounts of greenhouse gas produced by humans are generated by the growing, processing, distribution and sale of food. Much can be done to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in our food chains.

(4) We need to find equitable ways to reduce greenhouse gases
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

Scientists report that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 per cent by 2050. Research shows ways to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, which generates a large amount of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by humans. Policies to support such reductions must to take into account the different needs and circumstances of developed and developing nations. 

(5) Will vegetarianism reduce global warming?
Tara Garnett: Food Climate Research Network, University of Surrey, UK

While changes need to be made to address growing problems of obesity and diet-based ill health in rich countries, animal products will remain vital to the nutrition of poor people in poor countries, where consumption of milk, meat and eggs is about a tenth the rate of that in rich countries. Whole populations becoming vegetarian or vegan will help neither the overfed nor underfed. 

(6) How much land should be converted from foods to bio-fuels?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

With land becoming increasingly scarce, converting lots of farms to grow crops for bio-fuels rather than food could reduce our food supplies and drive up food prices. Most of the world’s arable land now being used to grow food should not be converted for bio-fuel production. Rather, unused lands and non-food crops or waste biomass (e.g., inedible cereal stalks) should be sought for bio-fuel production.

(7) Should we curtail livestock or biofuel production to slow global warming?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

Livestock enterprises today produce more greenhouse gases than the production of fuels derived from biomass; that’s because livestock keeping is still so much more common than bio-fuel production. But policies to curtail livestock production in poor countries would harm the poor. Livestock are the nutritional and economic mainstay of some one billion poor people today, and are likely only to increase in importance as the global human population grows to more than 9 billion by mid-century. 

(8) Will we ever run our cars on bio-fuels?
Tim Searchinger: Princeton University, USA

One day we will probably grow enough bio-fuels to power airplanes. It is unlikely, however, that we shall ever produce bio-fuels at scales sufficiently large to replace petrol for our cars.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of livestock systems

While livestock production levels in developed countries are holding steady, livestock production systems in developing countries, particularly in the emerging economies, are rapidly changing to meet a rapidly growing demand for livestock foods due to those countries’ growing populations, cities and incomes. Some of these fast-evolving livestock production systems are using ever-larger quantities of water and other natural resources and emitting ever-larger amounts of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming. Many people are questioning whether the increasing demand for meat and milk in developing countries can be met within equitably negotiated and sustainable greenhouse gas emission targets.

The (surprising) answer is ‘yes’. Research tells us that emissions from livestock systems can be reduced significantly through technologies and policies, along with incentives for their implementation.

Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions

Livestock contribute up to 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are ‘anthropogenic’, or generated by human activity. The main greenhouse gases from livestock systems include methane produced by the belching of animals (25 per cent), carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by uses of land that encourage the decomposition of organic substances (32 per cent), and nitrous oxide (N2O), commonly known as ‘laughing gas’, produced by spreading manure and slurry over lands (31 per cent).

As one would expect with such great differences in livestock production systems in different regions of the world, different systems in different regions emit very different amounts and types of greenhouse gases. Overall, most emissions to date have come from industrialized countries practicing factory farming, the least from developing-country family farms. Moreover, two of the most significant contributors to the greenhouse gases produced by livestock systems in the developing world are the rapidly expanding industrial livestock operations in Asia and deforestation in Latin America to make room for livestock grazing and feed crop production.

That said, however, it is also true that the emissions per animal in poor countries tend to be much higher than those per animal in rich countries, for the reason that most livestock in poor countries are maintained on poor diets that reduce the efficiency by which the animals convert their feed to milk and meat. And the increasing human populations, urbanization and demand for livestock foods in developing countries means that future increases in livestock greenhouse gases will come from the South. Livestock researchers at ILRI and elsewhere are helping people to manage trade offs among natural resource use, livestock emissions and livestock productivity. Seven ways to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by livestock Here are seven practical ideas for reducing the greenhouse gases emitted by livestock.

1 Reduce consumption of, and demand for, livestock foods in developed countries

Whereas under-consumption of livestock foods is a main problem in developing countries, over-consumption of livestock foods—including fatty red meat, eggs and full-fat milk and dairy products—damages the health of many people living in affluent societies. The demand for cheap livestock foods in rich countries in many cases is met by imports of livestock products or feed grains from the developing world, the transport and supplies of both of which can lead to environmentally damaging land-use practices and over-use of water and other natural resources, which in turn increase the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in those developing countries. Reducing the relatively high levels of consumption of livestock foods in the developed world would thus not only help improve the health of many people in rich countries but also reduce environmentally damaging livestock production practices in both rich and poor countries, leading to significant reductions in the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gases.

This point raises another: to ensure that any negotiated emissions targets that may be established are equitable as well as feasible and useful, we shall also have to institute programs to track and account for the greenhouse gases ‘embedded’ in the many livestock and feed products traded worldwide. Such a system would give buyers of livestock products some understanding of the ‘greenness’ of the products they are buying. Common sense can no longer be our guide. Such are the complexities of modern food chains that beef raised on the pampas of Argentina and shipped to the North American Midwest might, for example, have generated lower levels of greenhouse gases than corn-fed beef raised, slaughtered and packaged right there in the Midwest.

2 Improve the diets of ruminants in developing countries

Providing cattle, water buffaloes, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals in developing countries with better quality diets increases their feed-conversion efficiencies and thus reduces the amount of methane generated in the production of a unit of meat or milk. Many small-scale farmers can, for example, improve the diets of their ruminant animals by better managing their grazing lands: they can rotate the pastures they use, plant improved species of pasture grasses, make strategic applications of animal manure, and develop ‘fodder banks’ of planted legumes and other forages. They can make use of more strategic combinations of available feed resources. Many crop-livestock farmers can supplement the poor grass diets of their animals with the residues of their grain crops after harvesting. (Although many cereal residues are of relatively poor nutritional quality, research by ILRI and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics shows there is considerable potential for improving the nutritional quality of stover.) And some can give their ruminants feed additives that manipulate the microorganisms living in the rumen to quicken microbial fermentation. What’s needed are practical methods to monitor the effectiveness of mitigating greenhouse gases using these practices as well as policy environments to make implementing them cost-effective.

3 Help farmers in developing countries obtain and maintain higher-yielding breeds

Where resources allow and breeding services exist, replacing low-producing local animals of the developing world with fewer and better fed animals of higher yielding breeds would reduce total emissions while maintaining or increasing livestock yields. Such shifts include keeping more productive types of a given breed, such as by crossing local cows with genetically improved dairy cow breeds to produce cross-bred cows that possess traits both for both hardiness and higher milk yields.

4 Better match livestock species to environments in all countries

Switching species to find those better suited to particular environments and resources could raise animal productivity levels. In some circumstances, exchanging ruminant animals for pigs, chickens and other monogastrics (which possess single- rather than four-chambered stomachs) could reduce total methane emissions, although high amounts of grain used to feed the monogastrics can offset the methane saved. For this reason, alternative feeds and feeding practices for monogastrics urgently need the attention of the research and development communities.

5 Impose regulatory frameworks for managing manure in all countries

Regulatory frameworks could reduce nitrous oxide emissions from manures, particularly by enforcing better management of excreta in the larger livestock operations in developing countries and applications of slurry and manure in the developed countries. Furthermore, developing ways to monitor and verify reductions would open the door to mitigation payment schemes.

6 Apply land-use policies that forestall cultivation of new lands

Some carbon lost from agricultural ecosystems in the past can be recovered. Any management practice that increases the photosynthetic input of carbon and/or slows the return of stored carbon to carbon dioxide via respiration, fire or erosion will increase carbon reserves, thereby sequestering carbon. We can thus reduce carbon dioxide emissions by applying land-use policies that forestall the cultivation of new lands now under forest, grassland or non-agricultural vegetation.

And rangeland and silvo-pastoral livestock systems would store much greater amounts of soil carbon than they do now if we put in place land use and livestock policies and practices suited to local conditions. Such interventions could serve not only to sequester more carbon but also to provide smallholders farmers and herders with payments for the services their local ecosystems provide the wider community.

7 Provide incentives to adopt mitigation strategies, particularly for poor communities

Finally, successful implementation of livestock mitigation strategies, particularly in poor countries with scarce resources, inadequate rural and peri-urban infrastructure, and inappropriate agricultural policies, will demand a series of smart and equitable incentive systems that encourage people to adopt mitigation strategies and practices. Success in these countries will also depend on developing new kinds of links among institutions that have not formerly worked together, on reforming livestock and agricultural policies, on inventing techniques for monitoring carbon stocks, and on developing appropriate and easy-to-use protocols for verifying greenhouse gas emissions. But the lesson ILRI researchers have learned from their pastoral research may prove to be most relevant here: mitigation activities have the greatest chance of success in poor and hungry communities when they build on traditional institutions and knowledge while building up food security.

This is Chapter three of the ILRI Corporate report 2008–09: Download the full report

Livestock emissions and livestock systems in developing countries

According to Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI, the livelihoods of a billion people, particularly in Africa and Asia, are attached to livestock – and consequently to their greenhouse gas emissions. If livestock are removed, many of these people have few other livelihood opportunities. He argues: "improving feeding is one of the key interventions to improve the efficiency of livestock systems, i.e. to produce less methane per kilo of output" – which will relieve pressure on other natural resources like forests. He cautions that aggregating livestock emissions globally misses the big differences between developed and developing countries. It is important to separate the two. "To design policies you really need to clearly separate the problem." In developed countries, livestock production is mainly commercial and there are a number of policies and instruments that can be applied to reduce livestock emissions. In poor countries as well, he states, livestock emissions can be reduced – "but we need to be aware of the stark trade off. We may end up with lots more poor people and hungry children." View the video: [blip.tv ?posts_id=3005208&dest=-1]

Putting livestock on the climate change table

New options should focus on helping hungry animals and people adapt to climate change while mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions of small-scale livestock production systems.

Farm animals have been providing the world with an uncommon array of benefits since before the dawn of agriculture. Indeed, most small-scale farming even today would be impossible without them. But it is the world’s poorest people—some one billion of them—who depend on cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and other domestic animals the most. Livestock keeping helps them sustain their herding cultures or small-scale farming (e.g., animal manure fertilizes croplands; cattle and buffalo pull ploughs and transport farm produce to markets). Livestock provide them with a rare means of earning and saving an income (people can sell milk, eggs, manure or surplus stock, or they can find jobs in dairy or related businesses). Livestock foods feed hungry people (families can consume the milk, meat and eggs their stock produce or sell these high-quality foods to buy cheaper starchy foods). And livestock are a last hedge to protect households against the shocks common to the rural poor—from drought, flood or disease that destroys food crops in the field, to market distortions that make farm produce worthless, to civil unrest that makes people flee their homes, and, finally now, to a warmer world with increasingly unpredictable weather and extreme weather events.

But the inexorable rise of human populations, along with the aspirations and appetites of their growing middle classes, have led also to global livestock populations of increasing numbers and increasingly intensive livestock production practices. While overconsumption of red meat and other livestock foods is damaging the health of many people of the North, under-consumption of these nourishing foods is hurting, and killing, many people of the South. In terms of the environment, livestock production globally causes up to 18% of the human-generated greenhouse gases that are warming our planet. Livestock do this both directly (methane, for example, is produced in the rumination processes of cud-chewing animals) and indirectly (such as the felling of forests to make room for fodder crops and ranching). The factory farms of industrialized countries not only can treat animals inhumanely but also can pollute air and water and threaten human as well as animal health. The herding and farming families of developing countries, on the other hand, typically maintain their ruminant animals on poor-quality feeds that make conversion of feed to milk and meat inefficient and environmentally damaging—skinny ruminants on poor diets, while not competing with people for grain, produce much more methane per unit of livestock product than do well-fed cattle, sheep and goats.

Just one hundred years ago, the principles and practices of animal husbandry were pretty similar across all the regions of the world where it was practiced (which pretty much meant all the regions of the world). But as schisms have opened up between the livestock production systems and peoples of today’s rich and poor worlds, we must now start from a new understanding—an understanding based on decades of livestock and systems research—that ‘local context’ is everything.

In the North, we need to focus on mitigating the impacts of livestock production and consumption on climate change. We already have many workable and alternative ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental and health ‘bads’ of intensive livestock production systems. We need to get them implemented and to begin monitoring our reductions in livestock-produced greenhouse gases as we begin to build more sustainable and healthy food systems.

In the South, where most of the world’s poor live, work and are fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers and herders, the impacts of climate change will be greatest—and typically experienced at first hand. These farmers and herders include the largely rainfed crop-and-livestock farming communities that, unknown to many, have become the world’s biggest source of staple foods for the poor as well as many of the world’s most renowned herding cultures.

In the rural South, there are few ways of making a living other than by producing food from the land. Therefore, while we need to encourage people to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions generated by their livestock enterprises, we need to focus most urgently on helping these people and communities to adapt their production systems to climate change. New incentives and technology and policy instruments should allow them to continue to provide the foods, jobs, livelihoods and environmental services that their livestock make possible and doing so in increasingly more efficient and sustainable ways.

With a perfect storm of food, water and energy shortages fast approaching—and 1 billion livestock livelihoods at the very centre of a nexus of human, climate and environmental vulnerabilities—the time for helping developing countries and communities to transform their livestock sectors has come.

As we move further into a 21st century characterized by depleted natural resources and the projected ‘human tsunami’ that is expected to peak by mid-century with a population of more than 9 billion, those of us in research for development need to focus our energy and attention on the little- as well as well-known levers that drive big change.

Across the developing regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the raising and selling of farm animals, and the increasing consumption of milk, meat and eggs, together represent one of those ‘big-change’ levers. The ubiquitous small-scale livestock enterprises found in every country of the developing world can represent pathways out of poverty and hunger. They can also promote climate change. Livestock researchers are acutely aware that they are working at these critically important crossroads.

This is Chapter One of the ILRI Corporate Report 2008–09: Download the full report

Climate, food and developing-country livestock farmers

Carlos Sere, Director GeneralLivestock researchers at ILRI believe that rather than trying to rid the world of livestock, it’s preferable to find ways to farm animals more efficiently, profitably and sustainably.

More on livestock and poverty: challenges at the interface

View the film:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=3004778&dest=-1]

Agricultural research ‘masterplan’ unveiled

[COPENHAGEN] A “masterplan” for agricultural research and technology transfer was unveiled at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen today by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest alliance of agricultural scientists.

The 45-page strategy calls for, on the one hand, action that harnesses multiple advances that the group says are waiting to be rolled out. The second strand is to boost research into longer-term solutions.

The report thus calls for an intensive effort to “speed the development and dissemination of dozens of existing improved technologies”, including hardier crop varieties and more efficient ways to manage water, trees, soils, livestock, fish and forests. These have emerged from more than 30 years of research, the group says.

“Turning this wealth of knowledge into action will create immediate benefits, bolstering food security and adapting agriculture to climate change impacts in the near term, while mitigating future impacts through reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” said Thomas Rosswall, chair of the CGIAR Challenge program on climate change, agriculture and food security.

“A quick response now will also buy us time to develop the more potent climate change solutions that will be needed 10 years from now.”

CGIAR experts also argued that the proposed adaptation fund “to enable developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change“ should cover agriculture.

“Agriculture is part of the [climate change] problem and part of the solution,” said Rosswall.

Agriculture contributes to a third of the total global greenhouse gas emissions but is also highly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall, and extreme weather events.

An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) analysis published this month (December) predicts a 10–40 per cent decline in crop yields by 2050. Food prices are projected to rise by 30–70 per cent by 2050 even without climate change and by an additional 30–100 percent due to the impact of climate change.

The CGIAR report highlighted the use of computer modelling to inform decisions about difficult trade-offs, such as those between environmental impacts and socioeconomic benefits in the global livestock sector.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, for example, is modelling ways of making crop and livestock production more profitable without depleting natural resources, said Philip Thornton, senior scientist at ILRI.

It has prepared maps indicating where the environmental pressures of such production are most intense.

Computer simulations are also helping to explore the potential of crop substitution, for example, replacing beans, a major crop that is declining in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with the more drought-tolerant cassava.

Putting livestock food on the climate-change table

It’s time for climate negotiators to put meat on the bones
of the next climate agreement

By Carlos Seré, Director General, ILRI

Mozambique, Tete province, Muchamba village

Worldwide our climate is changing, and livestock, which are vital to food security and to agricultural systems in most marginal regions of the world, must adapt to survive, as must the herders and farmers who keep them.

Livestock systems are a major global asset. They occupy 45% of the earth’s surface, employ at least 1.3 billion people, and are valued at about 1.4 trillion US dollars. They provide 17% of the calories and a third of the protein we consume. According to FAO, milk is the world’s number one agricultural commodity, worth about $144 billion annually, and meat from cows, pigs and chickens rank 3, 4 and 5, respectively.

These statistics, however, hide stark differences in how livestock are raised. In poor countries, most livestock are raised on small farms or herded by pastoralists. Throughout their (usually long) natural lives, they survive largely on grass and other vegetation, including the stalks, leaves and other ‘wastes’ of food crops after the grain has been harvested.

In contrast, most livestock in wealthy countries are ‘factory-farmed’ using industrial processes. These short-lived animals are quickly fattened by feeding them vast quantities of corn and other grains – food that could be eaten by people.

Livestock contribute about 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. The vast majority of these emissions come from wealthy countries practicing factory farming. All of Africa’s ruminants combined, for example, account for only 3 percent of the global methane emissions from livestock.

Most farmers in developing countries practice either mixed-crop and-livestock farming or pastoral production on rangelands. These smallholders and herders leave tiny environmental footprints in terms of inputs. Even so, investments that increase their efficiency and productivity in terms of breeding and feeding could remove millions of tons of methane and carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

Livestock play central roles in the lives of the poor. If livestock are lost, households can slip into chronic “poverty traps”. Experts believe that climate change is particularly hurting Africa’s livestock and other food producers and the ecosystems on which they depend. And they predict things are going to get worse on the continent, probably much worse. The productivity of rain-fed cropping systems is likely to drop, and do so dramatically in some areas; water shortages will become more common; and important human, livestock and crop diseases are likely to spread to new regions and become more severe.

Many of the world’s small-scale livestock keepers will have to adapt, for example, by changing the mix of livestock species they keep and the types of crops they grow, or switching to new sources of feed for their animals. Some will probably have to get out of agriculture altogether.

When negotiators meet later this year in Copenhagen to finalize the global climate pact, they must pay attention to the many small farmers and herders who are already feeding most of the world’s poor. And they must begin to pay attention explicitly to farm animals that remain neglected by policymakers even as they become increasingly important to food security and raising smallholder incomes. African negotiators in particular need to be champion the cause of small-scale animal agriculture, which remains the backbone of their nations’ economies.

Food security and climate change are inextricably linked. Policymakers must become adept at moving on both fronts simultaneously. And if our climate negotiators hope to address the needs of more than a billion animal keepers n the world, they must begin to provide differentiated policies that support rather than neglect the multifarious small livestock enterprises that make food production possible throughout the developing world.