Latin America bets on more sustainable livestock farming

Innovations in pastures and fodder, which are fed to cattle on 1,000 farms in Costa Rica, are seen as an example of what can be done in the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming.

Latin America bets on more sustainable livestock farming
Sustainable livestock farming. Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The States of Latin America and the Caribbean supported that the expected increase in world demand for meat be supplied with a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and competitive production, during the meeting of the technical body on the matter in Montevideo, Urugay. This increase is positive for 14 million small family farming households in the region, for whom livestock is a very important part of their livelihood strategies.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates, world demand for meat will grow 14 percent in the next decade, a trend that has accompanied the increase in the world's population, which now stands at more than 7.8 billion people, and its urbanization. World meat production stood at 328 million tons in 2020, of which 134 million MT of poultry, about 100 million MT of pork, 61 million MT of beef and the rest of other species.

Imports were estimated at 36.3 million MT, with China as the leader, and with Brazil, Canada, the United States, India, Russia and the European Union, plus Australia and Argentina as the main exporters. Latin America and the Caribbean account for 44 percent of global beef exports and 42 percent of poultry exports, and therefore play a fundamental role in the food and nutrition of the world's population.

At its 15th meeting, the Commission on Livestock Development for Latin America and the Caribbean, which brings together 24 States, stressed the importance of making visible the benefits -such as income and employment generation- of livestock farming, and the positive impacts of sustainable livestock farming technologies and practices. This is because the region's livestock sector is responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases - with an impact on global warming - equivalent to 1.3 gigatons of carbon, between two and three percent of global emissions.

Worldwide, according to the United Nations Environment Program, livestock, with their manure and gastroenteric releases, produce 32 percent of the methane emissions - a gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet - attributable to human activity. The States of the region agreed on the need to make progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from regional livestock farming through technological innovations in genetics, animal nutrition practices and pasture management techniques that improve carbon sequestration.

One experience discussed was Costa Rica's Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for Livestock program, which, through better use of pastures and forage, reduces greenhouse gas emissions on nearly 1,000 farms and expects to cover 70 percent of all farms in the country by 2034. The meeting addressed the need to "decouple" meat (especially beef) production and markets from deforestation to extend grazing areas.

Although not all regional deforestation is due to cattle ranching, its contribution to the deterioration of forests, especially tropical forests, is important. In the conclusions of their meeting, they stated that eliminating deforestation due to cattle ranching would be an enormous contribution to the objectives of carbon neutrality and biodiversity conservation. Finally, the need to collect relevant data and information on the livestock sector at the local, national and regional levels, in order to have objective evidence that will allow to move towards a more innovative, sustainable and low-emission livestock sector.