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Future of smallholder and pastoral livestock systems discussed at ILRI@40 Addis Ababa event

On 6 and 7 November 2014, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a high-level conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to mark 40 years of its existence. This was the second last of a series of events organized this year by ILRI to mark four decades of research by ILRI, its predecessors—the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA)—and its partners.

Kanayo Nwanze, president for International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), gave the keynote address at the Addis Ababa event in which he highlighted livestock’s importance for rural people and that there is great economic sense in investing in smallholder farming systems in rural areas. Such investments, Nwanze stressed, need research and policy support to make them sustainable.

In his address, livestock and environment emerged as a fundamental and critical area of focus for the sustainability of the agricultural sector.

We must find innovative ways to preserve the environment and help smallholders adapt to climate change, invest in efficient livestock feeding systems and ensure that they are able to make the most of the opportunities offered by livestock ~ Nwanze

Livestock and environment was also one of the four themes discussed at the two-day event. Scientists working in ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment (LSE) Program organized and facilitated discussions around the topic with an objective of highlighting key research priorities for livestock and environment into the future.

Henning Steinfeld, FAO

Henning Steinfeld, FAO

Henning Steinfeld who leads work on livestock sector policies at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was one of the invited speakers. Steinfield spoke about the drivers, impacts and responses around livestock and environment, including increasing population and rising demand for livestock products, climate change and growing resource scarcity, energy needs and nutrients loss. All these drivers pose challenges to both the environment and livestock production, hence the need for response options around the drivers. Steinfeld suggested four main response options that livestock production should consider:

  • protecting resources
  • increasing resilience
  • increasing efficiency of resource use
  • improving governance

However, Steinfeld cautioned, these options would only be achieved with the support of proactive policies, incentives and innovation.

Livestock and environment research scenario by 2054

While the meeting was convened to celebrate 40 years of international research on livestock and livestock systems, it was also an opportunity to take stock and envision how, going forward, greater impact can be realized from livestock systems and environment research.

Based on Steinfeld’s presentation, a panel of experts in the livestock and environment theme discussed climate resilient systems, livestock as a driver of economies in the developing countries and vulnerability of pastoral systems and how these systems might look like in the next 40 years.

Among the highlights from the panel discussion was the need to understand trends and effects of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions. Polly Ericksen, the LSE program leader emphasized on the need to understand that greenhouse gas emissions and livestock systems are not equal and should not be treated as such. Ericksen further mentioned the need to generate sufficient evidence of livestock and climate change trends in developing countries to better target mitigation and adaptation interventions.

According to Tim Robinson, a senior scientist with the LSE program, accurate estimates of livestock distribution data and impacts of different farming and ruminant production systems are also required before realistic future projections on livestock production systems can be made. ‘We need a better understanding of global drivers and the trade-offs so we can make targeted impacts assessments to guide our projections,’ he said.

Systems approach for sustainable pastoralism

The discussions also pointed out that a good understanding of pastoral and social systems is fundamental for formulation of any sustainable interventions for pastoralists. To address issues around pastoral value chains and future of pastoralism in the dryland systems, it is important to characterize these systems to enable implementation of targeted sustainable interventions. Participants noted that a systems approach to pastoralism will allow for formulation of a sustainable intensification model that works for extensive drylands systems.

Using a systems approach was also fronted as an effective approach of assessing local and global synergies and trade-offs that can guide investments to address efficient water use in livestock production.

Which way forward?

There was a common understanding that despite the changing consumption patterns and preferences, livestock systems still have a significant part in the economy and are crucial in achieving the three–economic, environmental and social–pillars of sustainability.

The discussions around the livestock and environment theme identified the following priority areas of research focus in future:

  • How and why payment ecosystem services (PES) work or don’t and for whom
  • Impacts of climate change on ecology and production environments
  • Environmental governance
  • Generating evidence on mitigation and adaptation interventions (that are scalable and make a difference)
  • Decision support for sustainable intensification interventions as well as for adaptation and resilience investments
  • Analysis of complex livestock production systems

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