Economics of Animal-Rearing

Livestock and Environment

Livestock is used for meat, dairy products, eggs, fibre and leather, transport, and for manure to fertilize crops and for fuel. According to FAO 2006, the livestock sector accounts for 40 % of the world’s agriculture-related gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.3 billion people and provides livelihoods for around 1 billion of the world’s population living in poverty. However, it is also a major driver of climate change through the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, CH4, and nitrous oxide.

Effects of livestock farming on environment:

  • Globally, the livestock sector contributes 14.5 % (7.1 billion tonnes CO2equivalent) of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. (FAO)
  • Cattle are responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions.
  • In terms of activities, feed production and processing (45%) and enteric fermentation from ruminants (39%) are the two main sources of emissions
  • About 44% of livestock emissions are in the form of methane (CH4). Nitrous Oxide accounts for 29% and Carbon Dioxide 27%
  • About 92 per cent of the fresh water is used for farming purposes, and 1/3rd of it is used for rearing livestock and manufacturing animal products.
  • Ruminants such as cattle, sheep, buffalo, and goats produce methane, potent greenhouse gas that can contribute to global climate change, as part of their digestive process.
  • Globally, ruminant livestock produce about 86 million metric tons of CH4 annually.
  • Animal manure produces anthropogenic CH4 via anaerobic decomposition of manure and N2O via nitrification and denitrification of organic nitrogen in animal manure and urine.
  • Livestock operations require a variety of external inputs (i.e., feed production, herbicides, pesticides, etc.). Carbon dioxide emissions originate from the expansion of feed crops and pasture into natural habitats.
  • They also originate from the use of fossil fuel to manufacture fertilizer, and process and transport feed.
  • The livestock sector includes direct and indirect (e.g. electricity) on-farm fossil fuel use, which is used for machinery operations, irrigation, heating, cooling, ventilation etc.
  • Land-use changes, including expansion of pasture and arable land for feed crops generally occur at the expense of forested land.
  • It is estimated that livestock-related land-use change produces 35 % of the total GHGs attributed to livestock.
  • Post farm CO2 emissions is related to the processing and transportation of livestock product between the production and retail point
  • Overgrazing by livestock is one of the most important cause of land degradation and desertification. Such problem is prominent in Africa, Central Asia, north-eastern Australia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Measures needed

  • Improving Feed Quality and Digestibility: measures should be taken for better grassland management, improved pasture species, changing forage mix and greater use of feed supplements.
  • Improving animal health and husbandry: It is important to improve animal health through measures such as animal health management, extending the productive life of animals, and improving reproduction rates to reduce the number of animals kept otherwise rather than production.
  • Agroforestry: Agroforestry should be practiced to help maintain the balance between livestock production, environmental protection and carbon sequestration to offset emissions from the sector.
  • Manure management: It is important to adopt sound manure management to mitigate GHG emissions, reduce nutrient losses from livestock production systems and reduce other detrimental environmental impacts of livestock production such as air and water pollution
  • Grassland management: It is important to improve grazing and grassland management to increase feed quality and carbon sequestration. Further, overgrazing should be hauled to combat land degradation and desertification.
  • Awareness: Raising awareness about impact of livestock/meat consumption on climate is important.
  • Policy: Countries should develop sectoral mitigation policies that integrate other development objectives, and seek international support towards their implementation.

Livestock farming creates a huge carbon footprint and has a very high global warming potential. However, its successful, sustainable and skilful implementation will go a long way in ameliorating the socio-economic condition of lower strata of our society. Thus, the need of the hour is a green, sustainable way of livestock farming which balances the needs of people and environmental conservation.