EPAR Research Brief #155
Sun, 07/31/2011
Jacob Lipson
Travis Reynolds
C. Leigh Anderson

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of cattle in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Cattle are frequently cited as having the most severe overall environmental impacts among livestock species due to: methane and nitrous oxide released from digestion and manure; land use and conversion; desertification; inefficient ratio of weight of feed and water consumed to weight of meat and dairy produced; conflicts between livestock herders and wildlife; the large volume of wastewater produced in meat and hide processing; and overgrazing of riparian areas. However, cattle have also been found to provide several environmental benefits such as keeping wildlife corridors open, preventing the spread of noxious weeds, and promoting the growth of local vegetative species. Mitigation strategies vary by category of environmental impact, but largely suggest improved productivity to reduce land conversion, modified management systems (e.g., biodiversity, water use and consumption, farm and pastures, grain and other feed, and waste), and the reduction of livestock numbers altogether. 

This brief is part of the Environmental Implications of Livestock series (EPAR Briefs #155-158). The series identifies environmental impacts related to either climate change and air pollution, land degradation, biodiversity, or water resources. We review environmental analyses on the general and species-specific impacts and discuss two types of interventions to mitigate the negative and enhance the positive environmental impacts of livestock: (1) biophysical interventions directed at natural resource components of farming systems, and (2) socio-political-economic interventions directed at individual incentives, policies and institutions. Most analyses of environmental impacts across livestock types recommend both a reduction in overall meat consumption by those who can nutritionally afford it, and a shift in dietary emphasis from ruminant species (cattle, water buffalo, goats), to monogastric species (poultry).

See also:

EPAR Research Brief #156: Environmental Implications of Livestock: Goats

EPAR Research Brief #157: Environmental Implications of Livestock: Chickens

EPAR Research Brief #158: Environmental Implications of Livestock: Water Buffalo


Type of Research: 
Literature Review
Research Topic Category: 
Sustainable Agriculture & Rural Livelihoods
Environment & Climate Change
Geographic focus: 
South Asia Region and Selected Countries
Sub-Saharan Africa

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