This project will investigate the use of tropical grasses and legumes for feeding to ruminant livestock in Colombia, to improve productivity and reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming by helping to develop more efficient grazed cattle diets. Approximately 75% of livestock producers in Colombia are small family farmers (smallholders), who are generally within the poorest sector of the population. Agriculture contributes 6% of the GDP of Colombia, but contributes approximately 25% of the country's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 47% of these from nitrous oxide emissions from soils and 48% as methane from enteric fermentation.
Ruminant livestock, which are a critical resource for smallholders, producing highly nutritious meat and milk for the human population, but also contribute to the emissions of polluting GHG. Colombia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and therefore has a commitment to contribute towards the reduction of its GHG emissions. In May 2017 Colombia initiated its national climate change adaptation plan and data from this project will help ensure effective actions take place at national and regional scales. Colombia currently uses IPCC default emission factors for calculating its national agriculture GHG inventory, and this project will generate data for development of country-specific EFs for more accurate (Tier 2) reporting.
This project will generate information, using a range of lab and field-based studies in the UK and Colombia, that will directly benefit Colombian cattle farmers by demonstrating the potential use of improved forage crops and improved forage-based diets for beef production. Forages are the cheapest source of feed for livestock, and improved forage species and varieties improve production rates. This will increase economic returns for the farmer, and will help to improve the resilience of the farming system - beef production systems that grow and finish cattle quickly will be less susceptible to the increasingly prolonged droughts that are afflicting parts of the country. Identification of Colombian-specific ruminant animal feed resources will enable more efficient diets to be used by livestock farmers, thereby reducing emissions intensities and increasing the farmers' economic and physical wellbeing.
We will sample a range of tropical forages from plots maintained by CIAT at its headquarters in Cali, and at other locations in different geographical regions of Colombia. These samples will be analysed by IBERS using lab analyses to determine mixtures that potentially improve cattle growth rate and minimise methane emissions. Promising diet combinations determined this way will then be grown in at CIAT and offered to cattle to measure feed intake and emissions of methane and nitrogenous outputs in excreta. Nutritional modelling, and consequential life cycle assessment at Bangor University, will use collected data to upscale and estimate the consequences of changing cattle diets in Colombia on downstream environmental impacts.