Cows are getting more popular – and not for good, rather for look like the new villains: Land use change and feed production, among others are the main sources of emissions from cattle production, making livestock one of the top two of three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems: land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. But are the cows the enemy?

Even though cattle production is responsible of 14.5% of all anthropogenic emissions, and have its share in the global commitment to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement, As Proffesor Tim Thomas said, it is clear that the simple suggestion to eat less beef would likely adversely affect anyone involved in raising and processing cattle, and even unintended negative consequences on land and the environment.

“So, instead of blaming others, we need to focus on the real problem, and its’ inefficiency”.

With improved forages and better management, livestock production can be more environmental-friendly, increase production and thus improving income and livelihoods of all the actors of the livestock value chain, especially smallholder farmers. That’s why the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), from the UK Research and Innovation initiative, it’s working with CIAT and three UK Universities in two projects to improve pasture management and cut greenhouse gases (GHG) from cattle, in partnership:

The first of them it’s called “Towards climate-smart forage-based diets for Colombian livestock”, led by Dr Jon Moorby from IBERS-Aberystwyth University and its aim is to identify animal diets that improves animal production whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. To do this, forages samples will be collected in CIAT HQ’s experimental fields located in Palmira (Colombia), considering different cultivars, climate conditions and growth stage of the plants. The idea is to have the best nutritional quality indicators that improve yields and thus, generate less GHG emissions from animal rumination and manure.

This is a collaborative work where the CIAT Tropical Forages program provides not only the materials to be evaluated, but also the agronomic management, physiological evaluation and testing in CIAT Nutritional Quality labs. Also, the colleagues from IBERS-University of Bangor will assess the samples as well.

A second project, called “Advancing sustainable forage-based livestock production systems using multi-source remote sensing and social science approaches” is led by Dr. Brian Barrett form the University of Glasgow and its goal is to keep a track record of forage availability, productivity and estimate main elements of forage quality throughout seasons by the use of remote sensing techniques, like satellite images and drones. This project bring together cross-disciplinary perspectives and methodologies to develop remote sensing (RS)-based approaches for forage monitoring and management at local and regional levels.

Despite the two projects were conceived independently, it’s a unique opportunity to synergize efforts to achieve a common goal. That’s why recently, staff from the different projects meet at CIAT to found common ground and define strategies, sampling regimes to maximize projects outputs, in order to improve human and farmed animal nutrition, increasing the resilience and sustainability of livestock.

The projects have been awarded funding as part of the Sustainable Tropical Agricultural Systems programme, which aims to ensure reliable and sustainable food provision for Colombia. Click here for more information.

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