EPAR Research Brief #158
Wed, 08/03/2011
Jacob Lipson
Travis Reynolds
C. Leigh Anderson

This literature review examines the environmental impacts of water buffalo in pastoral and mixed farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South America). The environmental impacts of water buffalo are less widely studied than those of the other livestock species included in this series; typically, the environmental impacts of water buffalo are incorporated into discussions of cattle without more detailed impacts being broken down by bovine type. In Asia and India, where the majority of buffalo are raised, buffalo are typically kept in small herds of only a few animals, which may minimize the local impacts of their grazing on vegetation, soil erosion and water pollution. Some aspects of buffalo feeding and life cycle patterns, as observed in the Amazon, may cause their greenhouse gas emissions to differ from those of cattle: buffalo can fatten on a wider range of grasses, reach market size in a shorter time, transition better from dry to wet seasons, and are more resistant to bovine diseases. While buffalo grazing and trampling can lead to land degradation, buffalo can contribute to nutrient and resource cycling in farming systems because their manure is considered good fertilizer and they can remove and utilize biomass grown on agricultural plots. 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, 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 #155: Environmental Implications of Livestock: Cattle

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

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


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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