Our latest paper describes why and how Forest Gardens must be used to improve livestock rearing practices, reverse, land degradation, and increase smallholder income.
Throughout the developing tropics, much destruction of forests and arable land results from the poor management of grazing animals like cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys and camels. Traditional systems, particularly open grazing, result in the continuing loss of the carrying capacity of the land through severe land degradation, soil compaction, and desertification.
On Earth Day of 2015, Bill Gates tweeted about how livestock now inhabit ¾ of our planet’s non-ice covered land, drawing attention to a problem that has gotten out of control. Globally, livestock are a major contributor to desertification of an area twice the size of the state of Texas every year. This global crisis beckons the question: How we can feed the growing livestock population throughout the developing world without accelerating the loss of arable land and forests? An obvious answer is to stop the consumption of animal products all together, and while that movement grows, the vast majority of communities across the developing tropics are experiencing a steady increase in the demand for meat and dairy.
However, livestock and environmental sustainability are not necessarily mutually exclusive. After working with farming families for 25 years throughout the developing world and coming to understand farmers’ needs and constraints as they pertain to livestock, Trees for the Future (TREES) has developed a new system to make livestock production more environmentally and economically sustainable. The Forest Garden, TREES’ flagship farm optimization methodology, offers a superior system for animal fodder production that enables smallholders throughout the developing world to not only become more profitable, but also actually halt and reverse the land degradation caused by their open grazing animals.
This paper provides a global perspective on the livestock crisis and describes the application of more sustainable livestock management system that boosts farmer incomes while reversing the centuries of land degradation caused by open grazing. By planting trees that revitalize degraded farmland, using the trees’ fodder to feed confined livestock, and then returning livestock’s manure to the farmland, we cannot make livestock production perfectly sustainable, but we can change it for the better.