Livestock systems vary greatly around the world and can enhance or harm the environment depending on how they are managed. Livestock and environment interactions include climate change, water and land use, nutrient recycling and biodiversity. Livestock play a key role in the bio-economy by increasing the value of crop residues and agricultural by-products. Context-specific livestock production practices can be developed to maximize the synergies between livestock and the environment.
Climate change adaptation
Climate change adaptation policies and investment should not discourage ownership of livestock. Rather, policies should facilitate the use of livestock as a climate change adaptation strategy. For example, targeted livestock off-take organized by governments can enable livestock keepers to cope better with drought.
Climate change mitigation
There is large scope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through increased livestock productivity (measured per unit of livestock product). Enhancing rangeland productivity through better pasture management and use of higher productivity animals can significantly reduce unit emissions. Climate change mitigation policies should aim to enhance the efficiency of livestock production. Funding should be channelled to the livestock sector to facilitate adoption of appropriate productivity-increasing technologies.
Competition for land and water
To avoid competing with food crops, forages can be grown beside hedges or as strip crops that help prevent soil erosion. Manure from animals fed on crop residues can be used to fertilize soil and enhance crop productivity. Policies that aim to enhance agricultural productivity should incorporate both livestock and crops and promote integrated solutions that maximize the use of human inedible feed resources.
Sustainable land and water management
Policies are needed to encourage crop-livestock interactions for optimal resource use. These should include supporting markets for crop residues (such as maize stover and rice straw) and manure. Government programs that aim to increase agricultural productivity should be broad-based to cover both crops and livestock and their interaction.
In mixed crop-livestock systems, forage production can contribute to sustainable land and water management, for example, by preventing erosion and enhancing soil fertility through nitrogen fixation. Policies and investments should support these innovations.
Equitable and guaranteed land access is crucial for livestock keepers in extensive systems. Better land use planning and land management incentives can encourage more sustainable livestock production.
Sustained livestock mobility that is critical to ensure sustainable livestock keeping in extensive systems requires appropriate land use mapping and planning policies. Livestock movement corridors should be protected and assured in land use plans and supported with infrastructure.
Increasing rangeland productivity by providing the right community decision-making incentives and mechanisms is critical for sustainable land management. Optimal approaches to restore degraded lands include enhancing livestock productivity, promoting community range management and enhancing insurance schemes to relieve livestock keepers of the need to keep many livestock for insurance purposes.