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Managing landscapes for Climate-Smart Agriculture systems

Concept

Autochthonous pig breeds for climate-smart landscapes in the Balkans

Meat production is often associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Pig and chicken supply chains have relatively low emissions compared to cattle production. However, the scale and rate of growth of the pig and chicken subsectors needs to reduce the emission intensity of its products (MacLeod et al., 2013). Autochthonous pig production is attracting more costumer interest, as local pig breeds often uses less intensive systems and produce higher quality products. However, local animal breeds, even though they continue to have a significant importance for local livelihoods and culture, are declining across Europe. These breeds can often be raised on agricultural lands that are unsuited to other production systems and can play a significant role in conservation activities that follow a landscape approach. They also produce less emissions due to a more sustainable value chain.

In many Balkan countries, pig production is important for livelihoods, diets and culture. The typical cuisine of these countries contains a number of pork-based dishes. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the 'pig dance', is an important part of traditional weddings. Dancing members of the wedding party present a roasted pig on a silver platter to the bride and groom and guests contribute offerings to the happy couple to 'purchase' a portion of the feast. Traditional pig husbandry has a low agro-environmental impact, is resilient to variations in climate and can contribute to the restoration of agricultural ecosystems. 

In Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and other Balkan countries, autochthonous pig breeds are appreciated for their rooting activities. This behaviour, which keeps the ground open, helps conserve biodiversity. In shrubland, the pigs act as a 'living plough'. Their rooting creates open spaces that serve both as semi-natural firebreaks, and promotes the germination and succession of annual species. The traditional practice of allowing the pigs to range freely helps create a species-rich habitat mosaic, improves land cover and production, and enhances the aesthetic value of the agricultural landscape.  Traditional pig husbandry supports the preservation of the environment and the conservation of soil and biota regardless of climate variations. Although this activity increases soil carbon losses, the natural rooting of the pigs supports biomass growth above ground growth, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Because of the socio-cultural and agro-environmental benefits associated with local pig production, which are felt throughout the entire landscape, some local pig breeds have been officially protected as rare breeds. A project to stop genetic erosion of these species and increase animal numbers is helping to protect these breeds from the risk of extinction.

Figure 1. The Macedon pig