Beyond production systems

This chapter assesses the environmental impact of those inputs and outputs of livestock production and processing, which affect the natural resource base beyond the confines of a particular production system. They are the effects of :

Box 5.1 Grain and animal production: the competition and efficiency arguaments

Livestock are often blamed as inefficient users of feed and energy. And indeed, in some systems, and especially in some phases of the production (e.g. the last phase in a beef feedlot), energy and nitrogen conversion is poor. However, if efficiency is seen over the entire production chain, and expressed as input of edible human food/output in human edible food, the picture changes, as shown, for example by the following estimates from California.

Energy Protein
Milk 101 182
Beef 85 120
Pork 58 86
Poultry 31 75

On a global scale, the picture is not much different. If it is assumed that all 966 million ton cereals, roots and tubers used for livestock are edible for humans (in effect they are not, as there are considerable preparation losses in milling etc.), then livestock gets 74 million ton edible protein. On the positive side, the 199 million ton meat, 532 million ton milk and 53 million ton eggs produced globally in 1996 contain53 million ton protein. So while input is higher than output, if cereal preparation losses on the input side and improved protein quality on the output side is considered, a reasonable balance emerges.

A recent FAO study (1996) shows that the increasing use of feed grains has not had an adverse effect on the provision of cereals for human consumption. In times of food shortages such as in 1974/75, rapid adjustments are made in particular in feed use and food consumption of cereals remained largely unaffected. Indeed, many argue that the use of cereals for feed acts as a global buffer and therefore has a positive effect on global food security.

Source: Baldwin et al., 1992 and FAO, 1996.

Concentrate feed production

For thirty years livestock production and productivity have grown by feeding ever greater amounts of high quality feed. This feed connection has been one ofthe most debated livestock-environment interactions, because it involves ethical issues of competition of human and animals for food, efficiency and food security. It is also the subject of generalizations based on ill-founded assumptions and might well have a positive effect on global food security (Box 5.1).

Pigs, poultry and intensive dairy and feedlot animals require diets with a high concentration of energy and protein. This is provided by concentrate feed. Concentrate feed is tradable, allowing farmers to separate decisions on feed production and use; and trading these concentrates means that their environmental impact is also traded. Worldwide, trading grain involves a massive transfer of nutrients, depleting production resources, and fertilizing and often polluting the location of final use (Box 4.2).

Environmental challenges

Concentrate feed production has an impact upon the natural resource base at various stages of crop production, trade and processing. There are direct effects of cropping on soils, water and air; and indirect effects of the production and supply of inputs to agriculture such as machinery, fuels, fertilizers and pesticides. Crop production also has indirect effects on land use, particularly with regard to deforestation, change of habitats, biodiversity and the aesthetic aspects of the landscape. The challenge therefore is two-fold: first to reduce the environmental impact of the production of crops used for feeds; and second to optimize the use of concentrates so as to limit feed use and corresponding land requirements.


Roughly 21 percent of the 1.4 billion hectares of cropland used globally for cereal production is used for livestock feed production and an additional 10 percent is used to produce oilseeds (primarily grown for oil, the by-product being fed to livestock) and roots and tubers. For the rest, livestock feed is a by-product of agro-processing. For example, cottonseed meal is a high protein livestock feed, but is a by-product of cotton production and is not produced with the primary purpose of feed. Livestock use of the cotton seed may be simply an additional incentive to farmers to grow cotton.

Cereals are a major component of livestock concentrate feed. Of the average global cereal production of 1,854 million tons in the period 1990-1992, 600 million tons (32 percent) was used for livestock feed; an additional 144 million tons comes from oilseeds and roots and tubers. Another 252 million tons are processing by-products (brans and oilcakes) for which there is little alternative use.

Figure 5.1 Global total utilization of concentrate feed resources ('000 MT per year)
Figure 5.1
Source: Hendy et al., 1995.

The environmental impacts of crop production are site-specific, depending on a whole range of natural and socio-economic conditions and technologies. Some specific characteristics of feed concentrate production are:

By the mid 1980s concentrates accounted for about a quarter of all feeds for livestock; this proportion was growing at about 0.2 percent points annually. Concentrate feeds comprise about 40 percent of all feeds in the developed countries and 12 percent in the developing world.

Figure 5.2 Concentrate feed use.
Figure 5.2
Source: Hendy et al., 1995.

Trends in global utilization of concentrate feeds

Figure 5.2 and Table 9 Annex 2 show concentrate feed use for different systems, world regions and species. Land-based production systems used more concentrate feeds than industrial production systems. The industrial systems combined consume 500 million tons or 44 percent of total feed concentrates; industrial pig and poultry systems are the largest single users accounting for almost one-third of the total.

North America, eastern Europe and CIS, and eastern Asia each consumed over 20 percent of the world's total concentrate feeds, and western Europe used an additional 16 percent. Africa and Latin America still have very low levels of consumption. Starting in the late eighties, growth in global consumption flattened due to recession and market saturation in the OECD countries and structural adjustments in the former centrally planned economies. The main growth, however, has occurred in China and in South East Asia and these will remain the main determinant for future growth (Box 5.3).

Driving forces

Increasing human populations, growing income and accelerated urbanization in the developing world are the prime driving forces for the rising demand for animal products and, hence, for concentrate feed production. Growing demand for concentrate feed leads to area expansion and intensification, and thus potentially exerts a wide range of pressures on the environment. Area expansion is the least important with 0.1 percent annually compared with growth in crop production of 1.9 percent per year (Alexandratos, 1996).

The small increase in the area of cropland is at the expense of other forms of land use, mainly grazing and forests. This, in turn, places potentially greater pressures on that land, with subsequent threats to habitats and biodiversity. The extent of this pressure needs to be put in the context of overall land use. In developing countries, land with potential for cropping, including marginal areas, represents some 40 percent of their total unused land surface, mainly in the humid and sub-humid zones of Africa and Latin America. Of this unused land, it is estimated that in the year 2010 less than one-third will have been brought under cultivation (Alexandratos, 1996). Thus, while changes in land use may look significant in some countries or locations, their extent will be limited at the overall level. The exception is deforestation where cropland development accounts for up to 60 percent of the annual deforestation rate, as shown in Chapter 2. But recently there has been little net change in the area of grazing land in developing countries as a whole (WRI, 1994), although the conversion of grazing to crop land has been a significant component of increased pressures on grazing livestock in, for example, the dryland areas of India and Africa.

Table 5.1 Environmental pressures and components of the environment affected by feed concentrates demand.
Sources of environmental pressures Impact on environmental components
Indirect Direct
Demand for concentrate feeds
1. Human population.
2. Incomes and demand for livestock products.
3. Livestock production using concentrate feeds.
Production of concentrate feeds
1.On-farm production of concentrate feed.
2. Export and import of concentrate feeds.
3. Competition for food or feed uses.
Cropping systems and intensity
1. Cropping systems (crops and rotations).
2. Cropping frequency.
3. Husbandry practices (soil conservation, manuring etc.).
Crop input utilization
1. Fertilizer and pesticide use.
2. Mechanization.
3. Transport and trade.
Land use
1. Expansion of crop area.
2. Forest and grazing land loss.
3. Use of marginal croplands.
Water use
1. Use of irrigated croplands for feed crops.
2. Irrigation water utilization (rates, husbandry and drainage systems).
Air pollution
1. Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2):
- from forest clearance.
- from soil organic matter loss.
- from energy consumption.
Habitats and biodiversity
1. Loss of habitat diversity.
2. Increased pressure on natural and crop and livestock species diversity, although some reduction of pressure on fragile ecosystems.
Landscape and amenity
1. Loss of landscape diversity and countryside amenity value.
Fossil fuel use
1. Increased mechanization (risks of soil damage, effects of energy use).
Soil condition
1. Erosion and downstream impacts of crop area expansion.
2. Salinization of irrigated areas.
3. Decreasing fertility status (pH, N,P,K,micro-nutrients, organic matter).
4. Losses in physical status (water holding capacity, bulk density, compaction).
Water resources
1. Reduction in availability of irrigation water.
2. Aquifer resources depletion.
Water quality
1. Contamination of water run-off and drainages with N, P and pesticides
2. Eutrophication of aquatic life in water bodies.
3. Drinking water quality.
Sources: Compiled from Hendy et al., 1995.

Table 5.1 summarises the direct and indirect pressures on arable land and their effect on various components of the environment. First, all cultivation results in soil loss and invariably depletes soil nutrients and organic matter. Excessive soil losses result in land degradation and, off-farm, in siltation, reduced water holding and contamination of water supplies. Soil erosion and salinization in irrigated areas causes a loss of 6-7 million hectares per year or 0.5 percent of the global cultivated area (El Swaifi, 1991). On a pro rata basis, concentrate feed production would thus be responsible for the degradation of about 1 million hectares per year.

Second, increased crop production impacts upon the availability and quality of water. Irrigated areas are likely to grow by 23 million hectares or by 19 percent in net terms by 2010 (Alexandratos, 1996) although at a declining rate as increasing water scarcity constrains development. Asia currently uses about 54 percent of its stable water supplies while SSA uses less than 5 percent. Low recharge rates in many areas, such as in Central Asia (Aral Sea), western USA and parts of WANA show that irrigation is often not sustainable. The amount of water used for livestock production is, however, relatively minor. For example, Jordan uses about 8 percent of its usable water for feed and drinking water. Depletion of water resources affects surrounding and downstream habitats. Inappropriate management of irrigation has led to waterlogging and salinization. Suarez (1992) estimated that up to 50 percent of the global irrigated area may be affected to some extent. Water quality is also affected by pesticide residues.

Third, increased crop production also entails a decline in biodiversity through habitat loss and alteration in land use, combined with the specific effects of crop production, such as pesticide use and some tillage practices. Intensive cropping practices can also lead to reduction in genetic diversity in the crops grown, for example through the loss of traditional varieties.

Fourth, concentrate feed production requires non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels. Its use varies widely, but can be substantial. In crop production, energy is consumed directly for all field crop operations, threshing, transport, irrigation and others, as well as indirectly to produce inputs such as machinery, fertilizers and pesticides. Energy consumption is generally higher per hectare of cropland in developed than in developing countries, because fertilizer and mechanization levels are greater. They require between 40 to 60 percent and 30 to 40 percent of total requirements, respectively.

Table 5.1 summarises the potential positive and negative impacts of changes in land use, cropped areas, cropping intensity and yields. The occurrence and effects of these impacts vary between locations. Negative impacts are not always important, depending on the management of crop production and soils.

Different crops exert different pressures on the environment. Crops differ in the degree of depletion of soil moisture and water resources, in their relative demands on soil nutrients and in their pesticide needs. In general, cereal crops, and in particular maize, cause greater environmental damage than other crops, because of heavy fertilizer and pesticide use, high water demand and poor ground-cover in the early stages of plant development. On the contrary, potential impacts are lowest for legume crops, such as soybeans and pulses. Environmental risks due to nitrate and phosphate losses are greatest from maize and wheat, while risks of soil nutrient depletion are greatest in cassava and sweet potato (Table 5.2).

Table 5.2 Relative contribution to sources of environmental impacts on soils and water of different crops providing livestock feed.
Relative magnitude of impacts of crops on different components of the environment
Crop Erosion (risk and contribution) Nutrient loss (leaching and run-off) Water use (soil moisture fertility status) Nutrient demand (impact on soil) Pesticide use (impacts on biodiversity and pollution)
Maize ** *** *** ** ***
Wheat * *** *** ** ***
Barley * ** ** ** **
Sorghum ** * * * **
Pulses * * ** * **
Soybean ** * ** * **
Cassava * ** ** *** *
Sweet potato * ** ** *** *
*, ** and *** indicating low, moderate or high potential impact.
Source: Hendy et al., 1995.

Response: Technology and policy options

Most additional feed to fuel the future expansion of the world's livestock sector will have to be in the form of concentrates. The potential for increasing roughage production from natural grassland, improved pastures or fodder production is limited at a global level. The total pasture area is not growing on the contrary, high potential grassland areas are increasingly turned into arable land and urban areas. What is left is mostly marginal land without cropping potential, but also with low fodder production potential. Other human activities reduce the amount of grazing land available or limit access to it. While an increase in arable land could conceivably produce more crop residues, advances in crop technology are based on varieties with more grain and less straw, which again limits roughage production. Improved pasture and cultivated fodder are important in temperate and highland areas and in parts of the humid and sub-humid tropics, where impressive technological progress has been made (see Box 5.2). However, while these advances may have significant impact on feed availability for growing livestock production in certain areas or countries, they are not significant enough to contribute a substantial share globally.

Box 5.2 Alternatives to cereal feeding.
Typically, countries in the humid and sub-humid tropics are cereal deficit countries. Livestock production, in particular monogastric production, is thus faced with high, often prohibitive prices for feed concentrates. This has spurred the development of sugarcane-based feeding systems (Preston and Leng, 1994) in a number of tropical countries (Colombia, Cuba, Vietnam, Philippines). Sugarcane is one of the highest yielders of biomass per unit of time and area. Its juice can be used for monogastrics while the tops can be used in ruminant nutrition. As a perennial crop, sugarcane production has very low rates of erosion and can be produced with low external input. In the past, the association of sugar cane and livestock production has been problematic since sugarcane was traditionally produced on large plantations, geographically separated from livestock production. Recent developments on the diversified use of sugarcane may lead to more village based intensive monogastric production systems in the humid tropics.

Concentrate feed will therefore have to support the future rise in demand for animal products. However, concentrate feed production will not need to increase at the same rate as the demand for meat. This is already shown by past figures. While meat production has grown at 3.8 percent per year over the last ten years, feed concentrate use grew only at 2.5 percent per year because the remaining growth comes from a 1.3 percent per year improvement in feed efficiency. In effect, the rate of improvement in feed efficiency in China might well be one of the most important factors deciding future cereal prices (see Box 5.3).

The commercial nature of concentrate feed production, and the flexibility with which the sector can switch between a great variety of feeds, makes it highly susceptible to policy changes. For the same reason, research and development can generate technologies quickly if scientists receive appropriate and consistent market signals. Especially in this area there is a strong interaction between policy changes and the inducement of technology, as explained in Chapter 1. Some examples:

Efficiencies in feed utilization can be improved through optimal diet balancing and feeding regimes, and improving feed digestibility, because feeding systems may be manipulated in various ways to reduce the concentrate feed requirements. (Chapter 4).

Box 5.3 China will determine the future feed grain markets.
China may decisively influence the world market as this country accounts for 40 percent of the total meat consumption of developing countries. Currently, the feed use of cereals is roughly 75 million tons or about 18 percent of total supply. With a grain deficit of 2 percent, China teeters on self-sufficiency. Although the data base on China is particular weak and sometimes contradictory, its opportunities to increase domestic crop production appear to be limited in view of already high yield levels and land claims of some of the best cropland by industrial development. Should meat consumption, and subsequently feed grain consumption, continue to grow at current rates of 6 to 8 percent, China could develop a grain deficit of about 50 million tons by the year 2010. This corresponds to about 25 percent of the current world trade in cereals, and would require a substantial crop area increase. On top of this comes a move from household production systems, using left overs, to grain based industrial production. The implications on world market prices and global food security would therefore be enormous. This scenario, however, may not develop if the potential for improving feed conversion in its industrial pig production systems is efficiently tapped. Assuming that half the production comes from industrial production, and that the productivity gap between China and OECD countries could be closed, more than 30 million tons of grain could be saved.
Source: World Bank, 1993.


Box 5.4 Cereal incentive policies and their effect on grain based livestock production
Over the past 30 years, relatively low international grain prices have spurred an unparalleled growth in livestock production and use of grain as feed. In intensive production systems, feed typically accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the production costs. This pattern is now being upset by a sharp increase in world grain prices. In 1995, many countries have reacted to the surge in grain prices by reducing import tariffs and grains and other concentrates or by imposing restrictions on their exports. Grain area set aside programmes were cancelled or reduced by large exporters, such as the United States and the EU. Canada abolished the grain freight subsidy to benefit local producers. China responded to feed grain shortages by allowing provincial governments to provide feed subsidies to farmers, who operate under a contract system with state agencies at guaranteed prices.
In 1995 the world experienced an increase in international prices of more than 20 percent for coarse grains. Similar increases were observed for the major food grains, wheat and rice. For several decades, the demand for cereals has been met at declining or stable real prices. With the global trend to market deregulation, it is expected that various types of market protection which have favoured grain production and livestock production will be removed. This will most likely lead to an increasing scarcity of feed grains and generally higher world market prices. Economic incentives for feed concentrate production and its use in intensive livestock production are being phased out in the EU and in North America. Additionally, there is the strongly growing demand for concentrate feed in Asia, particularly in China (Box 5.3) which will further drive up world market prices. To a certain extent the livestock industry will be capable of absorbing feed price increases and the remainder will be passed on to the consumer of livestock products. It can be expected that less efficient users of concentrate, like those, for example in WANA and CSA, will have to reduce feed concentrate use substantially.

Contrary to popular belief, intensive livestock production must grow, if millions of hectares of wildlife habitat are to be preserved. It is only through intensification of existing crop and livestock production systems that additional pressure on fragile and important environmental resources can be absorbed. The challenge is to support intensification in an environmentally balanced way by using technology that optimizes the use of natural resources by reflecting their social value.

As has been shown, policies can be directed at both ends: at the crop production level (which is outside the scope of this study) and at the feed utilization level. Price support to crop products has in many countries contributed to surplus production. Often this had the effect of subsidizing feed. In addition, a number of indirect and direct subsidies to agricultural production in the form of input subsidies, income support, tax exemption or deduction, or subsidized welfare schemes contribute to a cheaper supply of crop products. The alternative food or feed use of many commodities leads to mis-use of resources. For example, in many developing countries self-sufficiency and food security are still overriding national objectives. Staple foods are often subsidized to guarantee an accessible price for the poor. In the Near East and, until recently, in the former centrally planned economies, this often led to inconsiderate use of valuable foods for feed and, in effect, to a waste of the natural resources employed in the production process.

Next section Domestic animal diversity