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Bringing Home the Bacon the Green Way

Nabi Ahmed, a dairy farmer from Aliabad in the Narowal district of Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, with his cows. Credit: Muhammad Hadi/IPS

ROME, Jun 17 2013 (IPS) - The world can satisfy its growing appetite for meat and animal-based products without upsetting livelihoods, especially of developing country farmers, or worsening climate change.

This is the thinking behind the new multi-sectoral Global Agenda of Action (GAA) launched by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The initiative being promoted during the FAO’s 38th conference in Rome supports the development of a sustainable livestock sector that provides farmers with income, food and value-added products.

"We have to develop business models, because livestock is a business for livestock farmers." -- FAO Assistant Director-General Ren Wang

“What is the future of the developing country farmers, especially smallholder farmers?” asks FAO Assistant Director-General Ren Wang.

“In my view and that of FAO, the future is to increase the opportunities for profit, improving productivity and efficiency. We cannot leave smallholder farmers at subsistence level. We have to develop business models, because livestock is a business for livestock farmers.”

Wang tells TerraViva that the GAA will help smallholder farmers to improve the quality, efficiency and competitiveness of their products in the face of concerns about the environmental impacts of providing meat, milk and other animal products.

According to FAO, about one billion people worldwide depend on livestock, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where livestock provides up to 40 percent of agricultural gross domestic product but the sector only gets three percent of international development funding.

“Governments should do more to provide services and ensure that these services are enhanced to support livelihoods while ensuring sustainability for both the farmers and the environment,” says Wang. “There is a role for multilateral organisations such as the FAO, which can help in developing and implementing guidelines so that quality standards go up.”

A 2006 FAO study says livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities. The calculation included the effects of deforestation, food production and its chemical inputs, gases produced by livestock, meat processing and agricultural transport.

Scientists estimate that methane has a global warming potential 23 times more potent than that of carbon dioxide and call for better ways of managing livestock production by increasing efficiencies.

“The livestock sector is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and by improving efficiency, especially input use efficiency, we can effectively mitigate the effects of the emissions in the livestock sector,” Wang says.

The GAA seeks improvements in natural resource use efficiency. Land, water, nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions are its initial focus.

The focus area of restoring value to grasslands pursues better management of grazing land, which contributes to carbon sequestration, protection of water resources and biodiversity, whilst enhancing productivity and livelihoods. The third focus of the GAA is on recovering energy and nutrients from animal manure to protect the environment.

“Much of our activities and focus is to work with developing countries where there are opportunities for big gains in livestock production which affect livelihoods, natural resources and the environment,” says Niel Fraser, chair of the Guiding Group providing the backup support for the Global Agenda for Action.

“There are gains to be made in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from livestock production and that is what we want to encourage.”

The president of the Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock, Eduardo Bastos, told a panel discussion on the Global Agenda for Action that Brazil – home to more than 60 million head of cattle – was on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 29 percent and was also restoring 15 hectares of depleted pastureland in the drive towards sustainable production.

“We are reducing deforestation and increasing our herds… as we believe you can increase beef production without cutting a tree,” Bastos says.

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