Africans will have to improve the quality and quantity of what they feed their livestock to compete in the world market and reduce the industry's impact on climate change, says a new global study.
The study reveals how diet and digestion in livestock impacts climate change around the world. Scientists who conducted the study say it is the newest comprehensive assessment assembled of what cows, sheep, pigs, poultry and other farm animals are eating in different parts of the world and how efficiently they convert that feed into milk, eggs, and meat while also focusing on the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.
In addition, the study found that animals in Africa and in many other parts of the developing world require far more food to produce a kilo of protein than animals in wealthy countries.
Mario Herrero of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) says farmers face more challenges in sub-Saharan Africa in trying to improve protein production, while simultaneously reducing emissions.
Herrero is lead author of the study that was released at the Australian government's offices in Brisbane, Australia.
"First, you have relatively little biomass in some of the places," said Herrero. It's a matter of having enough to feed the animals, he said. Next, it's a question of improving the quality, "developing much better feeding practices to increase productivity and incomes."
Most of the scientific community is working now on developing new technologies and feeding practices that will actually deal with the feed supply problem, while improving the feed at the same time, Herrero explains.
The CSIRO data, which was published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," found sharp contrasts in livestock production and diets.
For example, cattle in Latin America, Europe and North America produced 59 million tons of beef in 2000. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa produced only 3 million tons of beef.
Livestock in the more developed areas of the world consume about 1.3 billion tons of grain every year. While in sub-Saharan Africa, all of the livestock rely mostly on grasses and "stovers" - the leaf and stalk residues of crops left in the field after harvest - for nutrition.
Herrero says you can improve the quality of grasses that would lead to potentially doubling or tripling productivity.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is studying ways to grow crops where the stover and the straws have greater nutritional value, he explains.
"And this is a fascinating area of research that the CGIAR centers are really contributing to. They found that with these improved stovers you can at least double productivity in some of the cases," Herrero says. Then, the farmer has the same amount of grain but with a crop residue that is much better for the animal.
Livestock produce 12 to 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, Herrero said. However, with continued increases in livestock emissions of methane gas, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide emissions, he says we could see further increases in temperatures and disruption of the climate cycles.
To reduce the effect livestock have on climate change, especially in developing countries, Herrero says farmers need to become more market orientated, "so that they can try to produce more animal product.
At the same time, creating more markets also implies the provision of services, improved varieties of grasses, and other inputs. "It's really a whole package to help farmers intensify their production practices," the scientist emphasizes.