Livestock production plays a vital role in supporting economies, providing jobs, and ensuring nutrition for billions of people worldwide. However, it is also a significant contributor to climate change and vulnerable to its effects. To transition towards more sustainable and climate-resilient livestock systems, strategic investments are crucial. But where should the global community focus its efforts? A recent study identified priority geographies for livestock system investments in 132 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) at mid- and low latitudes.
The study revealed that adaptation and mitigation goals are interconnected for the majority of countries analyzed. An equal weighting of adaptation and mitigation indicators pointed to the top five investment priorities: India, Brazil, China, Pakistan, and Sudan. These countries act as critical control points for the livestock sector's interactions with climate systems, land, and livelihoods.
Livestock production is not only economically significant but also plays a crucial role in supporting livelihoods, particularly for nearly 930 million poor Africans and South Asians. Livestock serves as a source of income, insurance during economic hardships, and provides valuable assets representing wealth and status. Livestock also contributes to the food system through draught power, manure, and the recycling of agricultural byproducts. Animal-sourced food supplies essential nutrients for cognitive development, growth, and well-being.
However, climate change poses a severe threat to livestock productivity and those who rely on it. Extreme weather events, irregular precipitation, and rising temperatures lead to reduced yields, product quality, and increased disease outbreaks. Without adaptation measures, heat stress on cattle alone is projected to impact 4-10% of production value by 2100. Reductions in milk and meat production in African and Asian countries could exceed 50-70% under high-emission scenarios by 2100.
On the other hand, the livestock sector contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for approximately 5.8% of global annual emissions. Feed production, enteric emissions, manure management, grazing, and land-use change release methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. Livestock emissions vary by region, with herd size, enteric emissions, and land-use change being major factors. The expansion of livestock production systems also threatens tropical forests.
The study emphasizes that addressing the climate challenge in livestock systems requires a transition towards climate-resilient and low-emission production. This transition aligns with several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to economic growth, sustainable consumption and production patterns, strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity, integrating climate change measures, and effective climate change-related planning and management.
Despite the livestock sector's potential to contribute to the SDGs and national climate commitments, public and private investors have been hesitant due to perceived risks and environmental concerns. The study highlights the need to bridge the gap between current livestock systems and their future potential by scaling up proven adaptation and mitigation actions. These actions include reducing herd sizes, improving manure management, restoring degraded lands, implementing climate risk management strategies, and promoting sustainable land management practices.
Investments should consider the unique context and constraints of each region, taking into account factors such as cost, accessibility, knowledge, labor, and land tenure. The study also emphasizes the importance of aligning adaptation and mitigation efforts, as they are often interconnected and require joint action.
Overall, this research provides valuable insights for policymakers, governments, and investors seeking to support the transition to sustainable and climate-resilient livestock systems. By prioritizing investments in key geographies and implementing proven climate actions, the livestock sector can contribute to achieving the SDGs while mitigating its environmental impact and building resilience to climate change.