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How livestock production leads to climate change

The United Nations says the livestock sector contributes to almost 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas. [Bonface Okendo, Standard]

Sample this: Human population will rise from 7.2 to 9.6 billion by 2050 according to the United Nations. This represents a population increase of 33 per cent.

As the population shoots, demand for agricultural products and food will increase by about 70 per cent in the same period.

With the increased population, global demand for livestock products is expected to double by 2050, leading to more intensive production systems. And that means more harm to the environment.

The United Nations says the livestock sector contributes to almost 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, driving further climate change.

For starters, according to Britannica, greenhouse gas is any gas that has the property of absorbing infrared radiation (net heat energy) emitted from Earth's surface and reradiating it back to Earth's surface, thus contributing to the greenhouse effect.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the livestock sector is a major contributor to climate change, generating significant emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

A BBC report says globally, livestock is responsible for burping (and a small amount from farting) the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.

So how does livestock production emit toxic gases?

The UN says the bulk of GHG emissions by livestock originate from four main categories of activities: enteric fermentation, manure management, feed production, and energy consumption.

To break it down further, methane and nitrous oxide emissions are from manure management. On the other hand, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions are produced from feed production, processing, and transport.

Carbon dioxide emissions are mostly from energy consumption, which occurs along the entire livestock supply chain.

At the feed production level, it mostly relates to the production of fertilisers and the use of machinery for crop management, harvesting, processing, and transport.

Science Direct, an online environmental publication says climate change is also a threat to livestock production because of the impact on quality of feed crop and forage, water availability, animal and milk production, livestock diseases, animal reproduction, and biodiversity.

What is the solution?

Though the situation may appear grim, there are opportunities to cut down on such emissions through efficient livestock production practices.

That is where Climate-smart livestock (CSL) solutions come in. According to FAO, livestock productivity can be improved either by increasing the output (increased milk production) or by decreasing inputs while maintaining the same output, for example by using higher quality feed rations.

Improving livestock productivity will reduce emissions per unit of livestock product by 20 to 30 per cent.

[The writer is an Editor at the Standard and passionate about climate change awareness]

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