Climate & Environment

Calculating livestock’s hoofprint

Photo Credit: Felix Clay/Duckrabbit

Livestock systems vary greatly around the world and can enhance or harm the environment depending on how they are managed. Livestock and environment interactions include climate change, water and land use, nutrient recycling, and biodiversity.

Livestock play a key role in the bio-economy by increasing the value of crop residues and agricultural by-products.  Context-specific livestock production practices can be developed to maximize the synergies between livestock and the environment.

Climate change adaptation

Livestock production is an effective way to help farmers adapt to climate change and the drier conditions that may occur. After a climate shock, livestock are often the only asset that people have to help them recover.

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Climate change mitigation

Feeding animals better and enhancing rangeland productivity through better pasture management along with other interventions to improve productivity can significantly reduce unit emissions.

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Competition for land and water

The demand by livestock for feed and land does not necessarily compete with the food needs of people.

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Sustainable resource management

Well-managed livestock can ensure sustainable land and water management. Livestock manure is a ready source of natural fertilizer for crops, providing 12% of the nitrogen used for crop production globally, rising to 23% in mixed crop livestock systems. Livestock can also help restore degraded land; and in rangelands, livestock keeping can contribute to the biodiversity of plants, soils and animals.

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Reasons to invest in livestock and climate change and the environment:

Livestock, environment and climate change - impact evidence on the ways investments in livestock systems can positively impact people, communities, and the environment:

There is currently a widespread public debate regarding the role of livestock, particularly ruminants, in contributing to climate change through the production of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as enteric methane. For some time, we have known from experimental studies that improving the productivity of livestock can reduce the emissions intensity of GHG production, in effect reducing the amount of emission per unit of livestock output such as kg of meat or litre of milk.

Here we present evidence on the positive impacts of a range of livestock-related interventions on environment and climate change. These include:

A project in pastoral areas of Ethiopia empowered livestock communities to improve grassland management, including improved feeding, and soil and water conservation. This resulted in increased soil carbon sequestration as well as an aggregate reduction in overall GHG emissions among the existing herds. A related project in northern Kenya addressed improved market access as well as improved feeding to increase productivity. The improved market linkages led to increased sales offtake of livestock at prime age, reducing over-stocking and reducing herd sizes – which in turn produced some 10% fewer GHG emissions.

Using small scale biogas plants on smallholder dairy farms in India were shown to reduce GHG emissions from manure, but also to protect forest resources by reducing the need for firewood. Finally, in heavily grazed communal lands, the use of exclosures, fenced areas from which livestock are barred, can help restore degraded lands.

Download a report with this and other impact evidence showing why livestock matter