Silvopastoral systems for offsetting livestock emissions in the tropics: A case study of a dairy farm in Costa Rica
Ways are being sought to reduce the environmental impact of ruminant livestock farming. Integration of trees into farming systems has been advocated as a measure to deliver ecosystem services, inter alia climate regulation and adaptation, water quality regulation, provisioning of fibre, fuel and habitats to support biodiversity. Despite the rapid expansion of cattle farming in the tropics, notably in Latin America, there is little robust evidence on the extent to which trees are able to mitigate the effects of cattle farming in this ecological zone. This article describes a case study conducted on a large, specialised dairy farm in Costa Rica, where two-thirds of the field boundaries are live tree fences. For the first time, this study quantifies the offset potential of trees by estimating rate of carbon sequestration in a silvopastoral system (SPS) in the tropics. It was found that over a 30-month interval, trees sequestered 1.43 Mg C ha−1 year−1 above and below ground. Attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) (cradle to farm gate) was applied to calculate the carbon footprint of milk produced on the farm for the years 2016 to 2018. Trees in live fences offset 21–37% of milk footprints, resulting in residual net footprints of 0.75±0.25 to 0.84±0.26 kg CO2 eq. kg−1 milk. Exclusion of life cycle emissions that may not fall within national emission inventory accounting (e.g. fertiliser manufacture and feed production) increased the mean offset from 27 to 34% of gross milk footprint. Although based on temporally limited data (30 months), our findings indicate that a live fence SPS could play an important role in short- to medium-term climate mitigation from livestock production, buying time for deployment of long-term mitigation and adaptation planning.