Livestock production is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture. But global estimates of these emissions are based on emission factors from developed countries. There is limited data on emissions from livestock systems in developing countries, which has contributed to a lagging of climate-change adaptation and mitigation efforts in low- and middle-income countries.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) conducts research on GHG emissions from livestock, including field and laboratory measurements, at the Mazingira Centre (‘Mazingira’ is the Swahili word for environment). Research at this state-of-the-art environmental laboratory is providing accurate context-specific information on GHG emissions including verifiable GHG emission levels of crop and livestock production systems and land-use changes in Africa.
Since the 2015 Paris agreement, countries have developed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards reducing GHG emissions. Across Africa, many NDCs include data from the agriculture sector, and in some cases specifically mention livestock. Under the Paris agreement, countries are required to report on their commitments to reducing GHG emissions regularly and update them every five years. Reporting of national GHG inventories (an accounting of GHG) is also required for all countries that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Methods for compiling these inventories have varying levels of complexity, also known as Tiers – that range from one to three. These tiers are also categorized according to the accuracy and specificity of available data, with Tier 2 and Tier 3 incorporating country-specific conditions and emission factors. Tier 1 is the most basic level and mainly uses default emission factors provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Tier 2 and Tier 3 methods result in more accurate reporting. However, current reporting of GHG emissions from developing countries is based on Tier 1 methods.
GHG measurements 101: where do the figures come from?
On February 18 and 19 2020, ILRI hosted key government staff from the Climate Change and Livestock directorates within the ministries of environment and agriculture in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The aim of the visit was to familiarize these key stakeholders with the technical aspects of ILRI’s research on climate change and livestock. The research on GHG emissions at Mazingira Centre supports calculation of Tier 2 emission factors, which should enable national partners to improve their tracking of emissions from the livestock sector and thus improve reporting on their NDCs. Adopting a Tier 2 approach in calculating their emissions would also enable countries to track the impact of their interventions as well as how well they are meeting mitigation targets.
The visit, which was organized by the Programme for Climate-Smart Livestock Systems (PCSL), saw about ten delegates from the three countries take part in in-depth hands-on sessions on greenhouse gas measurement techniques in the livestock sector at Mazingira Centre. Lutz Merbold, who heads research at the centre, started the training sessions by giving an overview of current GHG emissions figures globally and in sub-Saharan Africa, while also describing the ongoing work at the centre, which is providing crucial baseline environmental data for agricultural systems in the region. Participants were also taken through various theoretical aspects of animal and manure GHG emissions, including various models of measuring these emissions.
A tour of the Mazingira lab facilities then followed where the participants delved into practical sessions on animal live weight measurement and body condition scoring as well as measurements of GHG emissions from manure heaps and from animal chambers. The delegates enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves and with guidance from the Mazingira team, collected gas samples, recorded data and interpreted the data. This data was then analysed in a separate session and used for GHG flux calculation from animal chambers and manure heaps. The practical activities were well received by the delegates, who asked questions that made for very interactive learning sessions that enabled them to appreciate how GHG emissions figures are derived.
Mitigation and adaptation in livestock systems
ILRI also has recently started a stream of research on adaptation of livestock systems to climate change. This includes testing interventions and tracking progress on adaptation targets. All the research on climate-smart livestock practices includes a significant component on the enabling conditions and incentives needed for broad-scale adoption of these practices. On day two of the training, the delegates were treated to a discussion on ILRI’s work on climate change mitigation and adaptation, which was led by Todd Crane, senior scientist on climate change adaptation at ILRI. From this session, there was a clear agreement that climate change mitigation and adaptation interventions must consider the interactions between the environment, productivity and livelihoods in order to achieve rural development goals. Chris Jones, who leads the Feed and Forage Development Program at ILRI, presented on the ‘selection of productive and resilient forage varieties to benefit farmers now and into the future’. His presentation affirmed that increasing the use of improved high-quality and resilient forages will enable livestock farmers to better adapt to climate change. Rupsha Banerjee, a social scientist from ILRI’s Drylands and Innovations team, also explained how Index-based Livestock Insurance in Kenya and Ethiopia works to protect livestock farmers from the shocks of climate change.
Linking on-ground research with GHG policy formulation and reporting processes
Feedback from the participants highlighted their appreciation of learning more about technical aspects of field measurements of GHG emissions. They said they would take these lessons back to their countries to begin to fill in the existing gaps in GHG data collection. There was an overall agreement on the need for more in-depth capacity development for technical staff in the three countries, setting up robust knowledge management and knowledge sharing systems, and continued collaboration between ILRI and the government directorates represented. These would ensure that data gathered from on-farm practices informs policy to address the challenges brought on by climate change.
The delegates later took part in a discussion led by ILRIs deputy director general for integrated sciences, Iain Wright, that explored ways in which ILRI and the governments represented could work together more effectively. Participants expressed optimism that the data available at the Mazingira Centre, would help the eastern African countries move from Tier 1 to Tier 2, in calculating the GHG emissions from agricultural production.
‘The kind of data that is available in Mazingira could help Kenya move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 since we are currently using estimates from the IPCC. ILRI has the expertise to enhance the capacity of our ministry staff, and we are therefore welcoming your collaboration in this regard.’Peter Omeny, senior assistant director for mitigation in Kenya’s Climate Change Directorate
It was further highlighted that ILRI’s expertise in GHG measurements could be leveraged to enhance the capacity of staff in directorates of climate change and support the process of validating each country’s GHG inventory reports. The ILRI team, led by Wright and Polly Ericksen, program leader for the Sustainable Livestock Systems Program at ILRI, welcomed the ideas for collaboration citing the visit as a step towards nurturing these institutional relationships.
The PCSL project, which works in the three countries, is generating evidence on climate-smart livestock development with the aim of enabling governments to apply this knowledge and to meet their targets as specified in their NDCs. The project is also creating multi-stakeholder working groups in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, which will share best practices on implementing climate-smart policies and projects in the livestock sector. Members of these platforms will include staff from ministries of environment and agriculture as well as climate change and livestock directorates, donors, private sector and research organizations.
Watch a YouTube video about ILRI’s work on greenhouse gas emissions measurement.