Why does silvopastoralism reduce environmental impact of cattle farming?

The friendly environmental alternative decreases cattle ranching impact

Why does silvopastoralism reduce environmental impact of cattle farming?

Silvopastoralism has been proposed as a productive system and a sustainable alternative that reduces the environmental impact generated by cattle farming. This proposal increases the productive activity.

Cattle ranching is a huge enemy of environmental protection. The deforestation of extensive areas of forest, to give way to pastures where livestock grows, has generated soil compaction, loss of biodiversity, and carbon sinks. However, perhaps the more serious impact is the exponential growth of greenhouse gas emissions from cattle droppings.

Intensive silvopastoral systems combine different strata, grasses, shrubs, and large trees in such a way that they generate plausible benefits for the development of livestock in an environmentally friendly way.

The dead fences with wood, extracted from deforested forests, are eliminated and replaced by a combination of live fences and electric fences, reducing the impact and operating costs for the farmer. Additionally, the separation of paddocks is a protective barrier against the wind that drains the land dedicated to the cultivation of feed for livestock.

With the presence of trees, shade is provided to paddocks. This can reduce temperatures up to 10 degrees Celsius, minimizing heat stress of livestock avoiding excessive sweating that inhibit the gain in weight of each animal.

In paddocks where the sun falls directly, the presence of insects that usually live underground is considerably less than those pastures that have trees offering shade. These subterranean insects open tunnels that allow the oxygenation of soils favoring the root system of any plant species. As a consequence, the exchange of nutrients favors the health and fertility of soils.

Fodder shrubs such as Leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala) or 'Golden Button' (Tithonia diversifolia) provide cattle with an important feed that provides a significant protein content.

Nevertheless, not only it has the nutritional value of the intake of these shrubs been demonstrated; to a large extent, the breeding of cattle is responsible for the emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes generously to Global Climate Change. Thus, the consumption of forage species of shrubs decreases the methane gas content (CH4) of animal excretions.

The presence of trees and shrubs encourages the diversity of organisms by increasing the biodiversity that generates immense environmental benefits by providing food to the communities, medicines, useful fibers for handicrafts, and countless social benefits.

The reduction of erosion, because of the effect of water and winds, constitutes an environmental and social benefit, due to the reduction of the sedimentation of water bodies, such as rivers, lagoons, or reservoirs.

The presence of leguminous species is associated with bacteria of the genus Rhyzobium that contribute to the fixing of nitrogen in soils, reaching 200 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year in the tropics.

While it is true that livestock is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and ecosystem functionality due to deforestation and environmental degradation, there are also production alternatives that minimize the impacts of this activity on the planet and its resources.

LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza