Farmers’ Forum panel: Livestock keepers cope with environmental and social challenges

By Ilaria Firmian and Sundeep Vaid

This side event, held yesterday as part of the Farmers’ Forum at IFAD, was proposed by four members of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) Europa. VSF is a network of nine non-governmental organizations dealing with animal health, livestock production and development.

The room was packed to capacity with representatives of farmers’ organizations and NGOs debating the role of these organizations in supporting their members – especially small-scale livestock keepers. Participants also discussed how they could ensure sustainable production whilst coping with climate change, thus contributing to food security.

Antonio Rota, IFAD Senior Technical Advisor, Farming Systems and Livestock, opened the session. He reminded the participants that, to date, much has been said about the effects of climate change on livestock, but added that he wished to hear more about tangible actions that were being taken to address the issue.

Alessandro Broglia, President of VSF Europa, said his organization believes strongly in food sovereignty and briefly presented their experience with small-scale livestock in the context of climate change. Reflecting on the demand side of the world’s food problems, he described the alarming levels of obesity prevalent today. “We choose the food that we eat and how much we eat,” he said. “What we need are not only small-scale livestock keepers but also small-scale thinking consumers who can drive changes in the market.”

During the discussions, a shared view of the impact of climate change on small-scale livestock keepers started to take shape.

Marta Guadalupe Rivera Ferre of Centro de Investigación en Economía y Desarrollo Agroalimentario, based in Barcelona, spoke of adaptation strategies and future scenarios. One the one hand, livestock contributes to greenhouse gas emission, she said, but on the other, climate change causes serious problems for smallholders: reduced water availability, extreme weather events and increased pests, just to name a few.

Climate change also causes loss of local vegetation. As medicinal herbs that livestock keepers use to treat their animals start vanishing, traditional knowledge is lost.

In the debate that followed, some examples of good practices in livestock production came up.

Oumou Khairy Diallo of the Senegalese development organization CNCR outlined the benefits of biogas to women in cooking. Antonio Rota said similar results are witnessed in our projects and noted that he would like to see IFAD become a champion of biogas.

Taghi Farvar, of CENESTA in Iran, gave the indigenous and mobile pastoralists’ perspective, saying that some strategies’, such as biogas, are not easily applicable to mobile nomadic pastoralists – who, however, play a key role in maintaining natural resources and biodiversity, and help fight climate change.

Andrea Ferrante of Via Campesina chose to speak on a different tack. He emphasized that small-scale livestock farming is not the problem but the solution to climate change. As highlighted many times during the Farmers’ Forum, farmers have sustainable solutions. The challenge is how to scale up such solutions.

A set of key policy recommendations came out as a result of this session, as seen in the picture at left.

At one point in the session, the participant from Cambodia offered this anecdote: “Before, when we weren’t using biogas, a husband comes home hungry and if the wife hadn’t had the time to collect firewood for cooking, this would lead to a fight in the family. Now we don’t have this problem with biogas. In this way, biogas is tackling domestic violence!”