This information comes from the FAO and was collated by the Global Research Alliance, and looks at the important issue of reducing enteric methane. For more information on the Global Research alliance, please click here.
What is enteric methane?
Enteric fermentation is a natural part of the digestive process of ruminants where microbes decompose and ferment food present in the digestive tract or rumen. Enteric methane is one by-product of this process and is expelled by the animal through burping. Other by-products of the fermentation process are compounds which are absorbed by the animal to make milk and meat.
The amount of enteric methane expelled by the animal is directly related to the level of intake, the type and quality of feed, the amount of energy it consumes, size, growth rate, levels of production, and environmental temperature. Between 2 – 12% of a ruminant’s energy intake is typically lost through the enteric fermentation process.
Why is enteric methane important?
Enteric methane is a Short – Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) and has a half-life of 12 years in comparison to carbon dioxide, parts of which stay in the atmosphere for many hundreds to thousands of years. Methane traps 84 times more heat than Carbon dioxide over the first two decades after it is released into the air.
Even over a 100 year period, the comparative warming effect of enteric methane is 28 times greater than carbon dioxide (per kg). Therefore reducing the rate of enteric methane emissions would help reduce the rate of warming in the near time, and if emissions reductions are sustained, can also help limit peak warming.
Ruminants are responsible for 30% of global methane emissions.
Globally ruminant livestock produce about 2.7 GtC02 eq. of enteric methane annually, or about 5.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
Cattle account for 77% of these emissions, buffalo for 14% and small ruminants for the remainder.
What can farmers do?
Getting farms to improve the productivity of ruminants is a key way to improve rural livelihoods and improve food security. Farming systems that are much more productivity generally also reduce enteric methane emissions per unit of animal product. There are three key areas to focus on.
Feed and nutrition
Improving feed quality can be achieved through improved grassland management, improved pasture species, forage mix and great use of locally available supplements. Matching ruminant production to underlying grazing resources, ration balancing, undertaking adequate feed preparation and preservation will improve nutrient uptake, ruminant productivity and fertility.
Animal health and husbandry
Improving the reproductive rates and extending the reproductive life of the animal will increase their productivity and generally reduces methane emissions intensity.
The most relevant method of achieving this is to limit the incidence of disease within the herd / flock, as healthier animals are generally more productive and have lower emissions per unit of product.
Animal genetics and breeding
Genetic selection is a key measure in increasing the productivity of animlas. Breeding can help adapt animals to local conditions, and can also address issues associated with reproduction, vulnerability to stress, adaptability to climate change and disease incidence. Improved breeding management practices (using artificial insemination for example and ensuring access by farmers to wide genetic pools for selection) can accelerate those gains.
What the scientists / policy makers / industry need to do.
Care is needed ot identify the most effective package of interventions that fit local farm systems, resources and capabilities, and to avoid inadvertent trade-offs.
Methods need to be practical and usable on the ground in order for them to be taken up, and communicated to farmers in a way which conveys their use.
Win-win opportunities for farmers
Rumninant production systems with low productivity lose more energy per unit of animal product than those with a high productivity (not rocket science I know). This energy that is lost per unit of product includes methane, so the more productive we can make our systems, the more of that energy will be going into producing meat or milk and not being expelled from the cow and lost to the environment.
There is a strong correlation between animal productivity and methane emissions, which implies large opportunities for low cost mitigation and widespread benefits.
Ruminants are essential to the livelihoods of millions of farmers and critical to human health, global food and nutritional security. Ruminants convert their feed (from a diverse range of sources and production systems) into high value products for humans through fermentation. They also produce important components such as asset savings, traction, manure for fuel and fertilisers and fibre.
Relative to other global greenhouse gas abatement opportunities, reducing enteric methane through productivity gains is the lowest cost option and has a direct economic benefit to farmers.
What is happening?
Efforts to address enteric methane emissions in developing regions is relatively new and fragmented with a number of on-going initiatives each targeting a single component of the challenge. The project which is a collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhous gas Research Centre funded by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the New Zealand Government in support of the Global Research alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse gases.
What are they going to do?
Analyse and prioritise opportunities for improved food security and resource use efficiency and the identification of production systems / countries for detailed assessment.
Develop packages of appropriate cost – effective technologies; recommend policy options that improve resource use efficiency.
Identify demonstration sites and partners for Phase 2 on-farm testing of the technical packages.
Communication, dissemination and outreach.
For more information on what’s happening click here.
For more information on reducing methane from ruminants and production efficiency click here to go to the Toolkit section.