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Already, climate change is already affecting Africa’s livestock. Here’s how COP26 might help
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Already, climate change is already affecting Africa’s livestock. Here’s how COP26 might help


It’s a common scene across many African countries’ rural areas: cows grazing peacefully. This familiar scene may be drastically altered by heat stress due to climate change by 2050.

New findings from the International Livestock Research Institute show that, unless massive adaptation measures are put in place, the number of extreme heat events driven by climate change – especially in the continent’s tropics – will increase. Poultry, pigs already faceMajor heat stress issues are facing many tropics regions where they are currently being raised. The same holds true for all five domesticated species in large swathes West Africa. Heat stress can make it nearly impossible to keep livestock outdoors.

Heat stress is likely to only be the beginning of the problems. There is not enough information available about the likely future effects of climate variability on feed and forages and grazing area, water and livestock, as well as about climate-sensitive diseases and their impacts on livestock.

Even underIt will be necessary to reconfigure or relocate agricultural systems in order to meet the realistic, but mild, climate conditions. This will have profound consequences for people’s nutrition and well-being. This will threaten the livelihoods of livestock producers. The livestock sector contributes about 30-50% of agricultural GDP and supports the food security and livelihoods of about one-third of Africa’s population, or about 350 million people.

Livestock is often viewed as a part of the climate change problem. Research focuses on reducing the harms that livestock causes. Some of these harms, especially from livestock emissions, are very real. are responsible forGlobal warming is caused by a large fraction of the gases in this region. But sub-Saharan Africa accountsOnly a small fraction of those emissions are harmful.

These harms are more than offset by the benefits they bring to the developing world. Livestock provides livelihoods and nutrition, as well as cultural capital. How can we adapt to the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the sector?

The UN climate change conference, or COP26, in Glasgow offers an opportunity to highlight these problems – and to put forward solutions.

Threats to livestock

Projections showIn the future, heat stress in animals may increase in frequency and last for longer periods. This will have a negative impact on the production of milk and meat for cattle, small-ruminants (like goats, sheep), pigs, and poultry in East Africa. This will make much of the region unsuitable for exotic pig, poultry and cattle production – animals whose productivity is easily compromised by heat stress.

Already, rising heat and humidity are a problem causing a drop in Tanzanian dairy cattle’s milk yields, hitting the income of smallholder dairy farmers.

Uganda heat stress levelsThe number of pig producers is increasing and the risk of becoming extinct is high. Over 90% of Ugandan districts will be under severe heat stress by the end of this century, putting at risk the livelihoods and sustainability of the entire pig sector. The pig industry providesUganda is home to more than 2,000,000 households and has the highest per capita pork consumption in East Africa.

How to address the risks

These risks have been addressed by the International Livestock Research Institute in a variety of ways.

  • The Index Based Livestock Insurance programmeProtects livestock keepers from climate-related loss in drought-prone arid and semiarid lands in Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries. Unlike traditional insurance programmes, which pay out on the loss of the animal, it is tied to climatic conditions – such as the amount of rainfall and distribution of pasture availability – over a season. The programme avoids moral hazards associated with traditional insurance programmes and gives herders the tools to help their animals in times of crisis.

  • Rangeland ecology in East Africa and West Africa rationalizes land use and protects livelihoods. Conflicts between land users can be resolved through community land management programmes.

  • Recent modellingOur efforts to understand the impacts climate change has on heat stress are one of our main goals.

Farmers we’re working with are also making the necessary local adaptations.

In Ethiopia’s arid pastoral Afar region, pastoralists are experiencing increased flooding and drought and an overall shift in seasonal weather patterns. They are responding by shifting from large to smaller ruminants and changing their grazing practices and feed management systems.

In Kenya’s central rift valley, farmers who practise mixed crop and dairy farming have begun to experiment with different feed production and preservation strategies to overcome feed shortages in the prolonged dry seasons.

But this is just a fraction. We need to do more to collaborate with governments and help livestock farmers across the continent face the challenge of adaptation.

Moving forward

To build climate-resilient livestock systems that can withstand these challenges, investors and policymakers must work together at both the national and international levels. This will require a solid research foundation that scientists have only begun to build with the limited funds available.

Unfortunately, due to donor priorities, most research attention has been focused on reducing the climate change impacts of livestock production. adapting to its consequences – even though the priority in African countries is adaptation. It has been a focussed area of adaptation research in countries where it has been conducted. primarily onClimate-induced impacts on cropping systems are more important than those on livestock.

Researchers must create a toolbox of adaptable technologies, policies, and practices that are resilient across different scales, priorities, climate futures. They must also collaborate with governments and funders to prioritize investments for the livestock sector. It’s not just technical inputs that are needed, but institutional change in the way that livestock are viewed by funders and governments. This will require a large evidence base.

We are still far from these goals, and we don’t have enough resources to reach them. Take into account that US$185.8 million was spent on climate-related development projects between 2012 and 2017. with onlyThe livestock sector receives 0.57%, or about US$1 billion.

The cost of mitigation and adaptation measures for livestock over the next five year is estimated at billions of dollars. Much of this will be supported by partners in finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

COP26 offers a rare opportunity to address these funding gaps. To protect Africa’s livestock and the millions who rely on it, the time for action is now.

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