Humans destroy the environment, not livestock
Livestock and environment are back on the agendas of international development agencies. Last week, a motley crowd of livestock experts gathered in Wageningen to discuss the relations between these subjects in the light of policy recommendations compiled by World Bank and FAO livestock experts
Whereas the organizers had expected acceptance of the recommendations to be a mere formality, so that a concrete plan of implementation could be drawn up, things worked out differently. Disneyland recommendations, as one Canadian participant aptly voiced the general mood among the audience
The world's livestock sector is growing at an unprecedented rate and this growth is mainly taking place in developing countries. Twenty six percent of the world's land area is already used for livestock grazing. In addition, 21 percent of the world's arable land is used to produce cereals for livestock feed. Degradation of semi arid lands is a major problem in the Sahelian zone and India. Deforestation and loss of biodiversity is occurring in Central and South America, where extensive large-scale grazing still advances at the expense of rainforests. Animal waste surpluses in Northwest Europe and the northeastern USA are a heavy burden on the environment
Last week, from 16 to 20 June, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the International Agricultural Centre (IAC) hosted a four day conference in Wageningen to address the various interactions between livestock and environment. Prior to the conference, two documents had been prepared describing the diversity of the problems. An analysis of how these problems arose is lacking, but various policy recommendations and strategies are put forward. Raising awareness, consistent policies, abolition of trade barriers, institutional development and better technologies are apparently what is needed. Cees de Haan, livestock adviser at the World Bank's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department and one of the draughtsmen of the documents, explains that he had hoped to see the recommendations concretized
De Haan is strongly in favour of intensification of livestock production systems for the following reasons. The productivity of both livestock and feed production has to be increased in order to meet the growing demand for livestock products worldwide. The main environmental challenge is to limit the land required for both. The technologies to achieve these goals either exist already or are being developed
That is too simple reasoning, argues Piet Leegwater, rural development and livestock officer at the IAC. He explains that the documents focus exclusively on the technical interactions between livestock and ecology. If you are discussing possible strategies to solve these problems, you also have to take social, economic and political factors into account and these factors are hardly touched upon in the documents. Leegwater admits that at present industrial livestock systems are in favour due to increase in demand for livestock products. However, the environmental costs of transport and processing of concentrates are not reflected in product prices. This comparative advantage would be reduced considerably if all the environmental costs in the production chain, from concentrate production to waste disposal of slaughterhouses, were passed on to the consumer. Leegwater goes on to mention the social costs as well. The expansion of soya production in Brazil to feed the pigs in Europe, has forced small farmers to encroach on the rainforests. Marginalisation and poverty are known to have a negative impact on the environment as well. In that respect Leegwater is disappointed that the human factor is absent in the conference documents. This issue was already raised a year ago, when the first drafts were circulated and later through E-mail conferences preceding the actual conference. He feels that this is due to the fact that mainly livestock experts were involved in the drafting. There was hardly any input from developing countries and from general development experts in this consultation process.
Patricia Howard-Borjas of WAU's department of Gender Studies agrees that leaving out the human factor is a problem, but feels that more has been overlooked. A horrendous omission is their absolute failure to understand trends in animal produce consumption patterns. They claim that the increase in demand for livestock produce is due to urbanization and increase in average incomes. However, the beef and dairy sectors are among the most aggressive as far as marketing strategies go. The retail and processing industries are trying not only to homogenize what livestock eats but also who eats livestock. The policy documents deny possible policy recommendations at this level. Howard-Borjas disagrees totally with the recommendation to intensify the livestock sector further. Industrial livestock production is highly capital intensive which means that it will ultimately end up entirely in the hands of the industrial giants. Why, in the name of development, invest in this way instead of investing the money in a larger group of smaller farmers? Howard-Borjas feels that the World Bank needs to be far more humble in its recommendations. They failed to address their own historic role in this respect. The World Bank has contributed two billion US dollars worth of loans to the expansion of the grazing area in Latin America. Nevertheless, Howard-Borjas is glad that they organised this conference: It took them 15 years but they finally did something.
The recommendation to introduce taxation schemes for livestock producers met with severe criticism from participants from the South. In many instances, the general taxation systems do not function properly. It would be unacceptable to tax farmers while wealthier people in the cities escape the burden. In response to the grumbles from the audience the conference organisers managed to make some extra time for discussion among the barrage of paper presentations. To make sure that all remarks will be included in the follow up papers, participants requested and got evaluation forms
Water circulation keeps Philippine reef clean
Over 90% of the total suspended solids (TSS) concentration in the Bolinao reef system in the Philippines comes from internal and local fluxes of resuspension and sedimentation of bottom sediments. Paul Rivera was surprised to find that less than 10% of the TSS concentration comes from the discharges of local rivers. Rivera, who obtained his PhD degree last Friday 21 June, studied the hydrodynamics, sediment transport processes and light extinction in the waters around Cape Bolinao at the mouth of Lingayen Gulf. This marine ecosystem, on the northwestern coast of the Philippines, is rich in flora and fauna species. According to Rivera the system is threatened by siltation and eutrophication due to intensified agricultural practices, deforestation, increasing domestic sewage and mining activities in the area. However, sediment discharges in the vicinity of the cape appear to be diverted away from the reef
Rivera developed models to describe and predict local processes around the cape and transport processes for the entire gulf. According to the Philippine researcher, the resulting model can provide the basis for future environmental impact studies. The research was sponsored and supervised by the CEEDC Project (Cooperation Environmental Ecotechnology with Developing Countries), a joint project of WAU and the International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE) in Delft