Livestock play an important role in global food production and in agricultural and rural economies in many developing regions. While the livestock sector is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of agriculture, it is also an important contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in which manure and manure management account for 10% of total livestock emissions. The Livestock Systems and Environment (LSE) program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) focuses on, among other issues, understanding and managing the environmental footprint of livestock and manure management being one aspect of this. The Mazingira Centre at ILRI is at the heart of this research.
Manure is a valuable source of nutrients, organic matter and renewable energy. Sound manure management practices enhance food security by making better use of nutrients in manure for soil fertilization, while producing energy and reducing climate emissions. However, manure management, especially in developing countries, is often poor and as a consequence, nutrients and organic matter are lost, causing environmental and climate problems and threatening public health. The Livestock and Manure Management Component (LMMC) of the CCAC Agriculture Initiative to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) supports the adoption of integrated manure management practices across the globe by increasing knowledge and awareness, removing barriers to action and enhancing practice change.
Integrated manure management encompasses all activities associated with management of dung and urine; from excretion, collection, housing and storage; anaerobic digestion, treatment, transport to application and includes losses and discharge at any stage along this ‘manure chain’.
Even though technologies for and knowledge of integrated manure management are available, implementation is often challenged by various factors including lack of awareness of manure’s potential, lack of local knowledge and a supporting knowledge infrastructure, ineffective policies, dispersed expertise and a lack of resources and investments.
To date, very little is known about manure management at a global scale. Against this backdrop, a global assessment of livestock manure policies was performed in 34 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, followed by an in-depth assessment of manure management practices in Argentina, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Malawi and Vietnam. This was done to improve insight on manure management at farm level, reduce barriers to adoption of integrated manure management practices, and increase understanding of existing policies, institutional and incentive frameworks. The assessment targeted diverse regional and national key stakeholders ranging from farmers, extension workers, researchers and policymakers.
The report reveals that regarding existing manure management practices, there is a wide variation. However, a common trend emerging from the survey is the difficulty in managing urine and liquid manure especially in non-mechanized situations and in small farms. Proper management of liquid manure requires investments in infrastructure. Labour availability was cited by several farmers as a constraint to improving their manure management.
Barriers to adoption of integrated manure management practices
Four key barriers were identified. Firstly, there is limited awareness of the importance of integrated manure management in contributing to food security and reducing SLCP emissions. The value of manure is often not recognized by farmers, local extension staff and policymakers.
Secondly, the level of local knowledge is also a major barrier, often linked to two main issues:
- Level of education of many small-scale farmers, where in some regions, low level of literacy is an obstacle
- Lack of a knowledge infrastructure to support farmers in improving manure management
Thirdly, limited access to financial credit and other incentives is an important barrier especially for small-scale farmers who lack collateral to access credit to undertake investments. Proper integrated manure management is associated with relatively high capital investments, labour and knowledge that in the short term, increase the costs of production.
Finally, ineffective manure (or related) policies and legislation often do not support sound manure management. This assessment revealed that the main drivers for manure policies are focused on energy production or problems regarding environmental or public health issues. The fertilizer and soil-improving value and the food security benefits of using manure are often not drivers for policy. Improved coordination between relevant ministries (such as those of agriculture, energy, public health and environment) is important for the development of coherent and holistic policies.
What can be done?
This study has provided an insight into potentially effective manure improvement strategies, especially those focusing on the added value of manure as a fertilizer and addressing the main barriers of lack of awareness and knowledge and limited access to credit. Such strategies should also focus on developing customized solutions for simple manure storage and application equipment such as bio-digester programs which have been successful in many countries. Also, manure management policies should facilitate clear strategies with a coherent approach that balances manure’s fertilizer and energy value and the potential risks faced by farmers. Several opportunities exist where manure management can be improved including practice change and leveraging stakeholder engagement to improve awareness and create networks with relevant stakeholders.