Why invest in sustainable livestock

The question is not whether to invest in the livestock sector but how to do it sustainably.

The world has become increasingly concerned about the environment and climate change in recent years. All major sectors – including agriculture and livestock – have been scrutinised for their impact on global warming to verify the figures and understand how and where to intervene. In the agricultural sector, in particular, livestock production has been identified as a significant source of climate-changing emissions, not only methane (CH4) but also nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). We are well aware that the data is not the same everywhere.

Italy, for example, is one of the most virtuous countries. But this is not always the case abroad. This has made the sector less attractive in the eyes of financial institutions and development agencies, which increasingly focus on the sustainability of their investment portfolios.

A recent article, “Investing in low-emission and resilient livestock production: the why and how” by Mottet, Teillard and Özkan, published in Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, questions how to invest in the livestock sector, highlighting that the crucial question is “not whether or not to invest in this sector, but how to do it sustainably”. To support this new approach, the authors argue that financial institutions should equip themselves with specific data and tools to assess the climate co-benefits of livestock production. This change of perspective is essential to reconcile environmental sustainability with the socio-economic role of the livestock sector.

The benefits of investing in agriculture and livestock: food and jobs

As the paper points out, investors have focused on valuing total emissions, neglecting the multiple benefits of livestock, such as its crucial role in food security, nutrition, job creation and the livelihoods of billions worldwide.

However, as the authors point out, we have a limited budget for greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 or 2°C, and decisions about how to spend it should be based on the overall benefits achieved. For example, as the text notes, “investing” one tonne of CO2 in agriculture, including livestock, generates about $600 of the average global GDP. It generates more than $2000 if invested in other sectors such as industry and services. Regarding employment, however, a tonne of CO2 generated in agriculture creates twice as many jobs as in other sectors.

Finally, only by investing in agriculture that CO2 can be used to produce food and nutrients. In light of these data, it would therefore seem to be in the interests of job creation and food security to prioritise using our limited carbon budget in the agricultural sector and, therefore, to direct more and more investment to this sector. This is done to maximise the overall benefits of economic development, employment, and food security.

Investing in sustainable livestock production to tackle the climate crisis

Rather than rethinking investments from a sustainable perspective, choosing not to invest in this sector would also ignore the contribution livestock can make to the fight against climate change by financing supply chains with low greenhouse gas emissions.

By supporting sustainable livestock production that is resilient to climate change, we could effectively support the transition to lower-impact agriculture. For example, the paper cites the FAO study “Tackling climate change through livestock, in which Gerber and the other authors “estimate that a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is achievable globally using best practices“.

Meanwhile, in “Climate change mitigation and productivity gains in livestock supply chains: insights from regional case studies“, Anne Mottet and her colleagues “calculate a potential reduction in emissions of up to 24% in dairy production in East Africa through improvements in feed quality, animal health and husbandry, and from 14% to 38% in other systems and regions”.

The authors of the publication stress that it is vital that financial institutions and development agencies continue to invest in smallholder and pastoral livestock production in low- and middle-income countries to make it more efficient and sustainable.

By improving livestock supply chains through these investments, livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced while increasing the climate resilience of communities involved in the sector, particularly in developing countries.

The role of research in assessing the climate impact of livestock production

However, having the right information to make investments supporting sustainable livestock supply chains while mitigating climate impacts is essential. Unfortunately, as the authors point out, the specific data needed to make an accurate assessment are unavailable in all countries. In this area, scientific research is key in guiding the investment decisions of financial institutions and development agencies.

In particular, it is essential to assess and measure the mitigation potential of the options available, both through improved livestock management and new technologies.

Research should also propose methodologies and criteria that allow broader environmental, economic and social sustainability dimensions to be included in impact assessments rather than focusing solely on greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, it would be possible to direct investment towards truly resilient and sustainable livestock supply chains with a systemic vision.

Content Manager e storyteller 2.0. Fa parte del network di Eco Connection Media. Redattrice per il webmagazine Economia Circolare. Scrive anche su Si occupa di strategie di comunicazione web, gestione social, consulenza 2.0 e redazione news e testi SEO. Per Green Factor, all’interno dell’ufficio stampa, si occupa delle relazioni istituzionali.