Agriculture / Climate Change / Environment / LIVESTOCK-FISH

Millions of small-scale food producers on a collision course with climate change


Livestock development in poor countries will face increasingly stiff regulations for operating in a carbon-constrained economy.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2006 that global livestock contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from land use change (carbon dioxide), enteric fermentation from ruminants (methane) and manure management (nitrous oxide).

To help the world’s 600 million livestock keepers not only increase their livestock production but do so efficiently and sustainability will require continuing advances in the three traditional pillars of livestock development: breeding, feeding and health.

And much more.

A 4-degree warmer world could plausibly be reached by 2070 or even 2060. This will mean average temperature rises of a massive 15ºC in the Arctic, and 3–8ºC in the world’s most populated areas.

Agriculture is highly sensitive even to a 2-degree scenario; a 4-degree world is beyond our knowledge and experience.

Livestock and agricultural researchers foresee profound effects. Ensembles of models suggest for Africa average yield drops of 19% for maize and 47% for beans, and much more frequent crop failures. And a massive 1.2 million sq km may be forced to flip from typical mixed farms, raising both crops and livestock, into pure rangeland.

Disaster looms for parts of Africa and India if chronic food insecurity converges with crop-wilting weather. Latin America is also vulnerable.

A 4-degree world calls for not just increasing the resilience of food production systems, but for creating completely new ways of farming and consuming.

But while many of us may find factory farming objectionable, we must not 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 crop wastes.

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 sustainability.

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