The Environmental Impact of Livestock – RUVIVAL Toolbox

There are more than seven billion people
around the globe, all unique in their own way and at the same time, collectively part of our global interactions. As diverse as our cultures may be,
we all share the natural resources of our planet and we directly depend
on the balance of nature to thrive as a species. To support such a vast
and growing population on our planet, we have transformed landscapes
to our own benefit, compromising the ecosystem’s balance and life-support systems in nature. The huge demand for fresh products
from urban areas, forces farmers around the globe
to intensively work the land to yield higher production levels, which eventually require a larger area
of arable land and resource intake, such as water and fossil fuels. Livestock in this context represents the major threat
from agriculture towards the environment. Livestock, which commonly refers to
poultry, cattle, swine, sheep, goats and other animals, requires the largest input of agricultural efforts
and natural resources to be produced. Livestock is one of the main drivers
for deforestation in the world, either for grazing
or for fodder and feed production. The major forestry impacts
can be seen in rainforest regions such as the Amazonian jungles,
where the landscape is aggressively transformed due to the production of grains and greens
for local and overseas livestock production. Livestock requires large amounts of water
to be produced. Water is diverted from rivers or taken from underground sources
to support herds, either directly for drinking requirements
or indirectly for irrigating the fodder production. Livestock has a second severe impact on water as one of the major sources
for inland water pollutants. The conventional fodder production increases
fertilisers and pesticides in the water systems. Manure management produces high concentrations
of nitrates, antibiotics and hormones. Chemicals from tanneries
and other production processes contribute to the high water footprint
of livestock products, causing severe environmental damage
due to water pollution and high withdrawal rates. Livestock also has a severe impact on
the atmosphere of our planet. In the year 2013, it was calculated that livestock
produced 5% of carbon dioxide, 44% of methane, and 53% of nitrous oxide
of all man-made emissions. Conventional livestock farming practices
focus largely on higher output yields rather than on the welfare
and natural cycles of animals. Dairy production for example,
has migrated from farms into industrial facilities, where animals are no longer allowed
to graze on the open fields and are fed with crops from overseas. Confining livestock may result
in stressed animals with poor life quality, requiring antibiotics to fight diseases
and hormone treatments to increase production yields. If not properly managed, livestock production could cripple
the life-support systems of our biosphere; and therefore compromise our survival and that of all the other
living beings sharing our planet. Conventional farming has become
a difficult and unsustainable practice, where resources are rapidly consumed
without the chance for ecosystems to regenerate. However, alternative practices with a focus
on the natural cycles of specific local environments may present a sustainable solution. Free-range grazing practices can be improved
with holistically planned grazing scheduling, where natural migration patterns
of animals are mimicked, allowing natural cycles
to restore the grazed areas. Further improvement can be achieved
if the topography, biodiversity, hydrology and vegetation
of the local conditions are studied. This creates a different approach, where land is given a specific purpose
within a multi-purpose productivity plan. Planning for such an approach
takes considerable efforts, combining agroforestry, water erosion control, terracing and holistic grazing, along with a deep understanding
of ecosystem functionality and productivity. Switching our production paradigms
from a single product perspective into a holistic ecosystem managing scheme, could potentially restore our damaged soils, reactivate water cycles, increase farming productivity and promote a sustainable approach
for rural development. A collective effort is required to take a stand against the deterioration
of our soils and ecosystems.

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