Livestock: climate menace or opportunity for change?

Livestock: climate menace or opportunity for change?

This will be among topics presented by a team of CIAT’s researchers at the Tropentag 2016 conference in Vienna, Austria, themed: “Solidarity in a competing world – fair use of resources,” from September 18 – 21.

Cattle production – which has a considerable environmental impact, contributing to around 9.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – is often presented as a climate menace. But it can be part of the solution – and it will need to be, if we want to keep eating meat.

In this series of presentations, CIAT’s researchers present results analyzing different ends of the livestock value chain – from the challenges faced by farmers growing forages to the consumers that eat meat – to find that sustainable action and awareness can reduce the sector’s GHG emission footprints.

They can also increase productivity and profitability of livestock-crop-tree systems, and lead to higher incomes for producers.

Consumers: willing to pay premium for animal welfare and eco-friendliness

In Cali, Colombia, research, discussions and surveys among beef consumers, buyers and sellers, led by CIAT showed that consumers are willing to pay premiums of up to 15-17% for beef with an “eco-friendly beef” or “animal welfare” label.

Education, age, income and information awareness had important impacts on this decision – consumers said they need clear labels certifying “eco-friendly” or “animal welfare” compliance – though they don’t always fully trust them.

Results presented in another CIAT study also show there is a potential market for beef produced with a smaller environmental impact – a reference for decision makers to influence policies that support the adoption of improved management practices – like scientifically improved forage varieties.

The research shows that and reducing the environmental footprint of cattle production is possible by adopting improved forages and sustainable agricultural practices.

Lowering emission footprints through forage production

Cattle production is the main economic activity in Colombia’s rural areas. It is based on extensive production systems, with local pastures in low fertile soils, which limits forage supplies and productivity – especially during the dry season.

CIAT Research conducted in the south west of Colombia addresses factors preventing farmers growing improved forages, despite their proven ability to adapt to dry season conditions, boost fodder quality and productivity, and reduce GHG emissions.

With their high potential for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and productivity levels, technologies such as improved forages and silvo-pastoral systems can be viable alternatives for sustainable cattle production, despite, in some cases, being more expensive to implement.

For achieving more adequate and higher adoption rates of improved forages, other CIAT research has found that informal social networks are vital, by supporting extension services and troubleshooting. In general, producers who belong to associations showed higher adoption rates of improved forages.

Boosting system sustainability

Improved forages such as grasses and legumes are viable alternatives for livestock systems s; for example by contributing to higher animal productivity, feed availability and environmental sustainability.

In Tanzania, increased Napier cultivation can provide a boost in quantity and quality of feed available to animals, making the systems more efficient, reducing labour requirements, and boosting farmer incomes.

Intercropping grass-legume forages grown together can achieve higher productivity levels and increase resilience to changing environmental conditions, enabling cows to produce more meat on the same area of land.

Other research shows the economic benefits of rotation, studying the impact of fertilizer use, specifically nitrogen application, on Brachiaria cropped with maize, to reduce economic losses and pollution.

In Western Kenya, research results show the impact of soil conservation practices on soil health, climate smartness and performance of smallholder farmers.

All these are examples of interventions aimed at transforming current systems to increase biomass yield while lowering GHGs and boosting environmental health, animal productivity and resilience to climate change.

Call to action:

  • Ex ante impact studies can provide information to assist in the allocation of scarce resources to activities that best match objectives to boost production and lower emissions.
  • Landscape mapping, using site-specific data, can guide decision makers about where to invest in certain management practices over others to increase soil carbon.
  • Site-specific soil profiles and land use data can help decision makers get the bigger picture of where soils are most degraded, and which areas should be prioritized for investment in improving soil carbon stocks or to mitigate climate change.