Sustainable livestock farming

Dr Konjengbam Rashbehari Singh *

Sustainability is a holistic concept, and it means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Natural, social and economic resources are the key components of sustainability.

Sustainability concerns social equity and economic development. This also applies to livestock production systems, which should be economically viable for farmers, environmentally friendly or at least neutral, and socially acceptable in order to be considered sustainable.

Positive contributions for animal farming

For thousands of years, animal production has been a vital part of human civilization. Animal products include nutritious foods such as milk, meat and eggs. Further, animal farming provides organic fertilizer, labour, hides and hair to clothe, horns and bones for tools, and energy and also serves for education, entertainment and spirituality. Communities with family-owned and-operated animal farms, add to the wealth of the local community.

Livestock production is one of the fastest-growing sectors in agriculture and it offers employment opportunities along numerous animal production value chains. There is generation of jobs in related sectors including transport, trade, feed and input provision as well as veterinary services. In livestock husbandry, there is limited requirement of capital investment and land requirement, short cycle of the livestock species (small ruminants, poultry, dairy, piggery etc.) and therefore, present unique prospects for the rural poor, particularly women and youth, to benefit from increasing demands for animal products.

There is high demand for meat and milk in developing countries, which is likely to double over the next two decades, and as a result the world’s livestock sector is undergoing massive transformation. The major factors behind this high demand of livestock products are population growth, urbanization, income growth and the increasing demand for variety to meet changing consumer preferences. Therefore, the challenge of the farmers is how to double livestock production using less land, less water, fewer nutrients, simple technology etc., without adversely affecting the environment.

The livestock production sector is a pillar of the global food system and a contributor to poverty reduction, food security and agricultural development. As per the FAO report, livestock contributes to nearly 40 percent of the total agricultural output in developed countries and 20 percent in developing ones, supporting the livelihoods of at least 1.3 billion people worldwide. Thirty four percent of the global food protein supply comes from livestock. In addition to this, there is wide scope to improve livestock sector practices more sustainable, more equitable and pose less risk to animals and human health.

Sustainable livestock farming and economic impact

Livestock production systems provide various ecosystem services and contribute to global sustainability. Net accumulation of soil carbon or sink of greenhouse gases was greatest when grassland was converted to silvo pastures combining trees, forage and livestock. Land maintained for livestock grazing has lower greenhouse gas emission than the same land converted for crop production.

Grazing lands sequester more carbon per unit area compared with cultivated croplands. Globally, more than half of the land used for producing forage is unsuitable for food production, thus allowing productive use of non-cultivable land. Crop residues and other byproducts which are not edible grasses and fodder, are converted into human food contributing to incomes and avoiding environmental pollution from burning or dumping the residues and by-products.

Sale of livestock and livestock products generate income for farmers of all categories. Millions of farmers in low and middle income countries keep livestock as a status symbol, greater status with more number, and also as insurance against emergencies and to sell them whenever required. Underutilized family labour, especially women, can be utilized for livestock rearing, empowering the women. Livestock farming is less seasonal compared with crop farming, so the farmers can depend on the animals as their vital source of income for household essentials.

The manure from livestock can be used or sold as fertilizer or as a fuel. It can be used for feeding fishes in fish farms. It is also a valuable component in vermi composting. Draught animals are used for agriculture operations like tillage, seedbed preparation, sowing, weeding, thrashing and post-harvest operations. Power developed by an average pair of bullock is about 750 watts (about 1 hp) for usual farm work.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, livestock plays a crucial economic role for around 60 percent of rural households in developing countries, including small holder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists. It contributes to the livelihoods of about 1.7 billion poor people and 70 percent of those employed in the sector are women. Thus, the livestock sector plays a major part in reducing poverty, improving resilience as well as combating food security and malnutrition.

Steps to sustainable livestock production

Livestock farming and crop complement each other and the integrated farming of crop and livestock offer many opportunities for farmers in the sustainable increase in productivity and resource use efficiency. Ruminants graze pastures and can eat hay, silage and high fiber crop residues that are unsuitable for human consumption.

Ruminants can graze in marginal areas, such as mountainsides, or low-lying wet grasslands and this helps to reserve agricultural fields for growing human food. Livestock consume an estimated one-third or more of the world’s cereal grains, with 40 percent of such feed going to ruminants, mainly cattle.

Farmers should be encouraged to realize the advantages of rearing livestock well adapted to local areas. Genetic improvement of indigenous animals, which are already adapted to their climate and resistant to local diseases, by selective breeding will boost production of animals.

Controlling zoonoses could substantially reduce the human disease burden and support the livelihoods of poor farmers. Improper management and poor welfare render animals susceptible to parasites and diseases. As a result, many young animals die of disease before they can lactate, reach slaughter weight or reproduce. This lowers yields, increases impacts and decreases farmers ability to select the best breeding stock.

Awareness programmes regarding scientific rearing of animals and financing will help the farmers to improve husbandry practices and produce more animals. Some of the alternative feeds encourage the microbes in the rumen to grow quickly and provide better nutrition to the animals and thus boost the productivity of the animals. In India, a water fern (Azola caroliniana) cultivated in local ponds provides extra protein to cattle and goat. An enzyme in red clover (Trifolium pratense), widely grown in temperate countries, increases ruminants’ ability to utilize dietary protein.

Global agenda for sustainable livestock

Established in the year 2011, the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) is an international multi-stakeholder partnership (MSP), of which FAO is an important member, with the vision to enhance the contribution of the livestock sector to sustainable development. It provides an important global platform to demonstrate solutions and best practices in the livestock sector and contributes to the achievement of the sustainable development goals of the UN Agenda 2030.

The GASL aims at catalyzing multi-stakeholder action to improve the livestock sector’s use of natural resources whilst ensuring its contribution to food security and livelihood. To ensure sustainable livestock production, it is needed to address key environmental, social, and economic challenges such as growing scarcity of natural resources, climate change, widespread poverty, food insecurity, and global threats to animal and human health.

Conclusion : Livestock production systems need to increase output of animal protein sustainably by implementation of knowledge and technology. Society needs to have confidence that animals were raised in a humane and environmentally acceptable manner and that the quality and safety of the animal protein are acceptable for the consumers.

* Dr Konjengbam Rashbehari Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Member, Manipur State Veterinary Council, Imphal and Retired Deputy Director (Extension Education), Central Agricultural University, Imphal.
The writer can be contacted at konjengbam09(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 06 2021.

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