Improving livestock management to fight climate change

A farmer in Mali tethers his cows on his crop field to manure it before planting

The role played by livestock in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions has been covered in much mainstream media, with the UN urging a global move to a meat and dairy free diet. As the world's population increases, and more people become wealthy enough to afford to eat meat and dairy regularly, the impact of livestock on ecosystems is becoming more severe. Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who contributed to the UN study said:

"livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."

It's not likely that North Americans will go completely vegetarian, or that increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers will stop demanding meat; however, there are smaller scale opportunities for reducing the impact of livestock on the environment, and making it part of the solution to climate change.

Our colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) point to the opportunities for livestock farmers both to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, in the recently released WorldWatch "State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet": 

Management practices that increase the photosynthetic input of carbon or slow the return of stored carbon to carbon dioxide via respiration, fire, or erosion help sequester carbon. More effective storage and management of manure can help reduce GHG emissions and increase the efficacy of the manure when applied to crops. Payments to livestock herders and others for the environmental services they provide, such as maintaining populations of wild animals and other forms of biodiversity or storing carbon, represent major opportunities to help poor households diversify their livelihoods and increase their income. 

You can download the livestock chapter at the ILRI library. Download or purchase the full Worldwatch 2011 State of the World report.