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Livestock and their interaction with the environment: an overview

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 February 2018

H. Steinfeld*
Affiliation:
FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
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Abstract

This paper draws on a recent multi-donor study on livestock and the environment and highlights how its findings might impact on research agendas worldwide. The soaring demand for meat and milk puts great pressure on the global natural resource base. About one-quarter of the world's total land area is used for grazing livestock. In addition, about one-fifth of the world's arable land is used for growing cereals for livestock food. Livestock production is the world's largest land user and may soon he its most important agricultural activity in terms of economic output. Livestock produce 13 billion tons of waste each year. A large part of this is recycled but, where animal concentrations are high, waste poses an environmental hazard. Water, already scarce in many parts of the world, is required not only for animals' drinking but also to grow food crops and for waste disposal. Pollution of land and water is another concern as is the impact by livestock, directly or indirectly, on biodiversity. Greenhouse gases from livestock and livestock waste contribute to global warming.

The paper provides an overview of critical livestock environment interactions, so-called hotspots, notably the overgrazing/degradation issue, deforestation, the ‘involution’ of mixed farming systems and the waste problem in areas of high animal concentrations. Measures that tackle only the superficial effects of environmental damage will never be as effective as a policy which attacks the underlying causes. Those causes are often deeply entrenched in what has become an almost universal fact: those who gain benefits from over-exploitation and degradation of the environment have not paid the full cost. Incorporating the environmental cost into the price of livestock products is critical to achieving sustainable development. The technological opportunities, and, therefore, the scope, for increasing livestock production, while simultaneously reducing the use of natural resources per unit of product, are enormous. Research needs to be channelled to reflect real scarcities of natural resources while respecting the need to maintain and improve livelihoods.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © British Society of Animal Science 1998

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