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Practices that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock sector

Broadening Horizons N°6, February 2014

By Harinder Makkar, FAO, Rome

Direct link exists between greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensities (emissions as CO2 equivalent per unit of product) and the efficiency with which natural resources are used. Therefore, to a large extent possible interventions to reduce emissions hinges on technologies and practices that improve production efficiency at animal and herd levels.

While mitigation interventions will need to be tailored to local objectives and conditions, currently available mitigation options are presented below.


For cows, the greatest promise involves improving animal and herd efficiency. This could be achieved by  using better feeds and feeding practices, which has the potential to reduce enteric methane as well as the  amount of methane and nitrous oxide released by decomposing manure.

Interventions that improved breeding and animal health will be of great help. This could allow availability of  fewer and more productive animals, leading to decrease in herd sizes.

Better manure management practices that ensure recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy, along with  the use of energy saving devices, also have an important role.

In addition, better management of grazing lands could improve grass productivity, create carbon sinks with  the potential to help offset emissions from livestock sector, and concurrently increase livestock productivity.


For poultry and pig, precision feeding, breeding, and better animal health care offer ways to reduce emissions  from feed production and manure management. A shift to using feed sources whose production is less  energy-intensive, and to more sustainable sources of power would allow additional decrease in GHG  emissions.

Policy options

Research and development. To build the evidence base for mitigation intervention and technologies R&D is necessary. It is also necessary for increasing the supply of new, improved and innovative mitigation technologies, practices and tools. It is required to tailor adapt effective mitigation strategies and plays an important role in refining existing technologies/practices to increase their applicability.

Extension and agricultural support services. By providing access to good practices and technologies that mitigate GHG emissions and building capacity to implement them, these set of approaches facilitates practice change required for mitigation and production enhancement. Commonly used mechanisms include communication, training, and establishment of demonstration farms and producers’ networks for knowledge sharing.

Financial incentives. These include either ‘beneficiary pays’ mechanisms (e.g. abatement subsidies, carbon credit markets) or ‘polluter pays’ mechanisms (e.g. emissions tax, tradable permits). Economically efficient mechanisms for incentivizing the adoption of mitigation technologies/practices also include support (e.g. soft loans) to initial investments associated to the adoption of most efficient practices.

Market friction instruments. The measures that that seek to increase the flow of information about the emissions associated with different livestock commodities (e.g. labeling schemes) can help consumers and producers to better align their consumption and production preferences with the emission profiles of these commodities.

Advocacy. In order to influence and promote mitigation policy development for the sector, enhancing awareness about the role of livestock in tackling climate change will help.

Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions. The development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for livestock are national level processes through which countries can develop sectoral mitigation policies that integrate other development objectives, and seek international support towards their implementation.

International agreements. These include commitments, both within and outside the UNFCCC that provide high level incentives to mitigate livestock sector emissions and ensure that mitigation effort is shared between the different sectors of the economy.

Mitigation potential

Currently, even within similar production systems, a wide variability in production practices exist, which results in a large variation of emission intensity within the systems. In other words a large emission intensity gap prevails between different livestock operations. FAO estimate that a partial reduction in this gap using the existing practices could reduce GHG emissions by about 30%.

Grassland carbon sequestration could further contribute to the mitigation effort, with global estimates of about 0.6 GT CO2-equivalent carbon sequestered per year.

Source: FAO: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

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