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  • Writer's pictureDr Aimable UWIZEYE

Climate crisis puts more and more pressure on animal husbandry in developing countries

By Erwin Northoff

This article was originally published here

Photo by Wix

Droughts and floods are causing problems for livestock farmers as well as harmful greenhouse gases. A variety of solutions are needed to make the sector more sustainable, low-emission and more resistant.

If the emission of greenhouse gases continues unchecked, a third less usable space will be available for animal husbandry in 60 to 80 years, warns a study from Finland. At the same time, livestock farming contributes significantly to global warming: A large part of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon emissions are caused by livestock farming and its supply chains; forests must make room for pastures and the cultivation of animal feed. But it is also estimated that about half a billion people depend on keeping animals in their existence. An interview with the expert of the World Food Organization FAO, Aimable Uwizeye.

World nutrition: What consequences does climate change have for animal husbandry in developing countries? Aimable Uwizeye: Climate change affects entire ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of communities, especially in rural areas. Extreme events such as droughts and floods are becoming more frequent, with serious consequences also for livestock farming. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, for example, it has hardly rained in the last three years. Due to the drought disaster, cattle are finding less and less feed, many animals have died or have had to be slaughtered. What is the situation in other areas? The situation is critical not only in the Horn of Africa. In the Sahel, changed rainfall and long dry seasons force herders to move to other pastures in search of grass and water. Increasing heat waves are affecting the animals, many are dieing. In Mongolia, at the other end of the spectrum, extreme winters and icy temperatures also lead to a high animal mortality due to lack of pasture and water. Whether drought or freezing cold, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many farmers to grow enough feed, the prices of food are rising. Small farmers in particular can afford less and less feed.

"Whether drought or freezing cold, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many farmers to grow enough feed." Aimable Uwizeye, FAO Livestock Policy Officer.

What are the challenges for middle-income countries, such as Brazil, China, India or Turkey? Climate change also poses many challenges for them. For example, some countries in Latin America, as important global exporters, are under great pressure to improve their carbon and nitrogen footprint in beef and milk production. In addition, limited access to resources, capital, knowledge and technology and the very different production systems are problematic. But the potential to make their very diverse livestock systems more efficient is quite considerable. How important is animal husbandry in the agriculture of developing countries? Animal husbandry contributes to the food security and livelihood of over one billion people worldwide. It contributes about 40 percent to gross agricultural national product and it provides high-quality proteins. Nutritious animal foods and healthy nutrition also contribute to the cognitive development of children. Animal husbandry is an integral part of the economy and culture of many low- and middle-income countries. It contributes to rural development, income, trade, and other important development goals.

Photo by Natli Dreval via unsplash

Conversely, what are the negative consequences of livestock farming? Livestock farming can negatively affect public health and livelihoods. Their impact on the environment, their influence on infectious diseases that can be transmitted interreciprocally between animals and humans, as well as antibiotic resistance and animal welfare issues are just a few examples of this. What are the growth forecasts for livestock production in developing countries? Despite the major challenges, livestock production in low- and middle-income countries is expected to increase by around 75 percent over the next ten years, mainly due to the expansion of livestock and an increase in productivity. In the long term, according to the FAO and OECD, livestock is expected to grow by around 50 percent worldwide by 2050. Growth creates new economic opportunities. There is also a trend towards more intensive production to supply the growing urban population.

Will all farmers benefit from these trends?

No, not everyone will be able to benefit from it. Small farmers, for example, have little negotiating power in the markets. Many small producers are women who often get worse in resources, loans and information and have less connection to markets than men. There should be more incentives to improve equality in livestock farming, especially in rural areas, where many women and girls live in poverty and have little access to livestock at all. Fewer and fewer young people are also working in agriculture. Pastoralists, who are particularly suffering from the consequences of climate change, are unfortunately often not taken into account by national politics and development programs.

How can animal husbandry become more climate-resistant?

This includes using scarce water resources more efficiently, growing fodder plants that are more resistant to water stress and heat, creating storage warehouses for feed and changing the management of their herds. Access to and use of groundwater resources help farmers in Kenya cope with droughts and supply their animals with drinking water. The livestock is mobile and can be driven to areas where there is water, feed and shade. In addition, farmers can use early warning systems and timely information to prepare for approaching crises, create water and feed reserves and sell weak and old animals during a dry season. There are now also livestock insurance systems that offer compensation to pet owners if they have additional expenses due to difficult environmental conditions.

What needs to be done politically to make animal husbandry systems more resistant?

Access to natural resources such as land and water is essential for climate-resistant animal husbandry. However, there are often conflicts related to land ownership, and it is often difficult to implement a development program when cattle graze in municipal land.

Could you give an example?

In the Sahel, shepherds invade foreign pastures, which leads to the closure of white decor corridors and conflicts between herders and farmers. This requires political measures in the areas of land ownership, management of natural resources, land recovery, or social contracts between different users of Community land. Strategies must be developed participatory in order to integrate the problems of climate change into agricultural and animal husbandry policy across sectors.

How can farmers produce more climate-friendly themselves?

There are several technical solutions for small farmers to produce climate-friendly animal products. These include the breeding of more productive animals, the improvement of animal feed, the guarantee of animal health and animal welfare as well as improved handling of manure, herds and grassland. For example, Rwanda was able to increase the proportion of highly productive dairy cows (crossroads and pure breeds) from 23 percent in 2008 to more than 53 percent in 2015. The proportion of unproductive animals, mainly the Ankole breed, decreased. However, local breeds must be preserved through special programs, because they have an adapted immune system against endemic infectious diseases and can better endure adverse environmental conditions.

And the serious impact of livestock farming on the environment?

It is important to increase efficiency in very different animal husbandry systems with climate-friendly approaches. By optimizing processes alone, greenhouse gases can be reduced by 30 percent. Recycling food waste in pig production can reduce the amount of soybeans and cereals used as feed and thus reduce competition between trough and plate. This is already being successfully practiced in countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Agroecological grazing systems also have positive potential for food security, biodiversity, soil and air quality and the carbon stock in the soil. Greenhouse gases can be reduced. Biotechnology is also part of the solution, especially based on genetic selection and genomics, to develop new breeds that are robust, resilient and productive and also cause fewer greenhouse gases.

Are governments doing enough to support farmers?

Countries try to develop their livestock farming more sustainably with technical solutions and political measures and at the same time improve the livelihood of farmers. However, as climatic challenges become increasingly serious and intense, they need more international support to make animal husbandry more resistant and low-emission. In addition, there are problems of cross-border animal diseases, which require international aid and solutions. The FAO helps countries to set up early warning systems, reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions, and develop policies and long-term strategies for reducing emissions in the livestock industry.

What international initiatives are there to support the livestock sector?

International financial institutions such as the World Bank, IFC, IFAD and the African Development Bank are now financing development programs for livestock farming. For example, the World Bank supports the Regional Sahel Pastoralism Support Project in six countries of West Africa to improve the productivity, sustainability and resilience of livestock farmers through investment, capacity building and political dialogue.

In addition, most of the measures mentioned in the national climate goals of developing and emerging countries in the livestock industry are subject to conditions: their implementation requires international climate financing. This is a challenge, as the sector is severely underfunded with about 2 to 3 percent of all climate investments worldwide.

Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta via unsplash

Which countries have taken positive steps themselves to make livestock more resilient?

Several countries are doing something to both improve resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock farming. More than 80 countries, for example, have included livestock farming in their national climate goals and developed development programs and concrete steps to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The good news is that even countries that have placed less emphasis on livestock farming in their national climate commitments are now moving towards the development of comprehensive climate measures for animal husbandry.

With a new initiative, the FAO supports these efforts. We are working with Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Kenya, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Senegal and Uruguay to strengthen animal husbandry and climate policy. This will help states to better understand greenhouse gas emissions and develop scenarios for containment and adaptation with the help of evidence-based strategies and technical solutions. Thanks to the government's commitment, Costa Rica has managed to enormously increase the carbon stock in the soil through changes in grassland management, grazing and land use.

Should consumers eat less meat in view of climate change and the destruction of natural resources?

Meat consumption currently ranges from overconsumption of around 95 kg in North America to malnutrition with around 12 kg per person per year in Africa. It could therefore be beneficial for both climate and human health if less meat were eaten in many rich countries.

However, let's not forget that meat is also an important source of energy and high-quality protein and also provides a number of important micronutrients that are lacking in many developing countries. These include vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, biotin, vitamins A, D, E and K, calcium, iron, zinc and various essential fatty acids, which are difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities from plant foods.

In addition, most livestock farmers in poor countries consider the animals as assets for economic stability, income and social protection. They are used as draught animals for transport and ploughing and provide manure, which is important as organic fertilizer.

Photo by Kristijan Arsov via unsplash

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