Livestock reduction as a climate change solution sparks summit debate

Livestock traders meet to sell and buy cattle at Kimana Livestock Market located Kimana area in Kajiado Central Sub County. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

The reduction of livestock numbers as a strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions sparked a debate on the last day of the Africa Climate Summit.

Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat from the sun and make planet Earth warm.

Africa boasts a substantial population of pastoralists for whom livestock rearing represents a deeply ingrained way of life.

Studies indicate Cow burps are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. About 10 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide are produced by cows Passing gas and producing manure also contribute to global warming through methane.

According to the  Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about 44 per cent of all livestock species (not just cattle) emissions are in the form of methane (CH4).

Reducing livestock numbers was a major, hotly debated topic, as one way to reduce global warming.

The contentious issue of reducing livestock numbers took center stage, prompting intense debate as a potential means to combat global warming.

 In a session titled 'Pathways to sustainable production and resilient livelihoods: Building a common African livestock narrative,’ experts voiced reservations about advocating for a drastic reduction in livestock populations.

George Wamukoya of the African Group of Negotiator Expert Support (AGNES), remarked, "When our partners proposed that a swift solution to emissions was to cut livestock numbers, Africa vehemently dissented,” Wamukoya said.

He argued: “But can we sustain this argument indefinitely? We require concrete evidence, which is why we partnered with ILRI to develop the Africa Livestock Narrative. This will bolster our position in negotiations, particularly at COP28."

Wamukoya continued, "We believe that one of Africa's priority investment areas should be livestock. Hence, I challenge all our colleagues from IGAD and other regional economic communities in Africa. How can we package the Africa livestock narrative to attract additional resources into the sector for the benefit of our people and communities?"

Guyo Roba, an energy and environment expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), delved into the intricate relationship between livestock and nature-based opportunities.

Roba explained climate change has significant repercussions on animal productivity due to alterations in forage quality and quantity, as well as the onset of heat stress, water stress, and biodiversity shifts.

Roba underscored the importance of leveraging the resilience of indigenous animals to combat these challenges.

He emphasised that while research institutions have made valuable contributions, there remains a gap that needs bridging. Capacity building is deemed crucial for value chain actors to effectively implement research findings.

Moreover, water management for livestock is vital, with a call to harness innovative technologies for rainwater harvesting, an often overlooked but critical resource for both mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Diverse perspectives were represented among the panelists, including Halima Nenkari, the deputy director of livestock production in the Ministry of Agriculture; Siboniso Moyo, the deputy director-general of the International Livestock Research Institute; and Dereje Wakjira, the director of the IGAD Centre for pastoral areas and livestock.

Phoebe Mwangangi, a livestock farmer from Makueni, contributed to the discussions.

Mwangangi highlighted the unpredictable nature of rainfall and its impact on livestock health, emphasising the use of runoff water for livestock and drought-tolerant crops like sorghum, cowpeas, and green grains.

She also noted the benefits of livestock manure in soil improvement.

Nenkari acknowledged that livestock emits methane but emphasised their role as a source of food and nutrition for millions. She argued for improved management practices to mitigate the climate change impact on livestock.

According to the 2023 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, the country's livestock population stands at 3,355,407 exotic cattle, 14,112,367 indigenous cattle, 17,129,606 sheep, 27,740,153 goats, and 2,971,111 camels.

 The survey also revealed regional disparities, with Eastern Kenya hosting 373,307 exotic cattle, 1,886,854 indigenous cattle, 1,890,898 sheep, 4,729,057 goats, and 248,634 camels, while North Eastern Kenya had 80,422 exotic cattle, 2,694,786 indigenous cattle, 4,264,155 sheep, 7,886,586 goats, and 1,700,893 camels.

Nenkari reiterated the need for greater attention to indigenous livestock breeds like zebus, sheep, goats, and camels.

She also acknowledged that communicating research findings to local communities remains a challenge. In conclusion, scientists stressed that the livestock sector remains a major source of livelihood for many communities.