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Water footprint assessment of sheep farming systems based on farm survey data

  • R. Ibidhi (a1) (a2) and H. Ben Salem (a1)


Water scarcity is among the main challenges making vulnerable the livestock farming systems in drylands. The water footprint (WF) indicator was proposed as a metric to measure the impacts of livestock production on freshwater resources. Therefore, this study aimed to assess water use in five different Tunisian sheep production systems using the Water Footprint Network methodology. The primary data were obtained from 1050 sheep farms located in 13 Tunisian provinces. A multivariate analysis was performed to characterize the different farming systems. A validation step of the WF modeled values of sheep meat was conducted in 12 sheep farms belonging to two different farming systems. This was done through year-round monitoring of on-farm practices using water metres and recording equipment’s taking into account the direct and indirect water use. The typology analysis came up with five sheep farming systems that are the mixed sheep-cereal (MSC), the agro-sylvo-pastoral (ASP), the agro-pastoral (AP), the extensive agro-pastoral (EAP) and the mixed sheep-olive tree farming systems. The WF of sheep meat produced under the target farming systems ranged from 8654 to 13 056 l/kg live weight. The evaluation of WF of five different sheep production systems figured out that sheep raised under the EAP farming system had the greatest WF per ton of live animal. However, the ASP farming system exhibited the lowest WF. Water used to grow feedstuffs for sheep production accounts for 98% of the total WF of sheep. The green WF accounts for more than 92% of the total WF in all farming systems. Results of monitoring water use at farm scale show that the modeled values of WF are overestimated by an average of 23.3% and 24.1% for the selected farms assigned to the MSC and AP farming systems, respectively. Water use for sheep production is high in most of the Tunisian farms. Therefore, the general assumption that ‘meat production is a driver of water scarcity’ is supported and should be considered as an important focal point in agricultural and water policies. Particular attention should be given to forage crops with low WFs and high contribution to dry matter to provide ration with low WF. The efficient use of green water along the meat value chain is essential to minimize the depletion of blue water resources and to reduce the economic dependency on virtual water through the import of feedstuffs.


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