A path towards a greener Nicaraguan livestock sector

A strategy for sustainable growth in the Nicaraguan livestock sector developed by UNEP DTU points to practices that would allow for more cattle while turning the sector into a carbon sink.

January 10, 2018

A new strategy developed by UNEP DTU Partnership is giving farmers, some of whom are struggling with extreme poverty, a chance for sustainable growth while considerably lowering the adverse effects on the climate.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, only surpassed by Haiti. It is primarily an agricultural country dependent on farming and in need of economic growth.
65% of Nicaraguan households are considered poor, earning less than two dollars a day. This situation of poverty is especially acute in rural areas that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Therefore, it is of utmost urgency to invest in adaptation actions which also contribute to climate change mitigation.
UNEP DTU Partnership has developed a Low Carbon Development Strategy for the Nicaraguan livestock sector, focusing specifically on the production of cattle. It is a proposal for a way forward that would enable the sector to grow significantly and yet have a positive impact on the emission of greenhouse gasses.

Click to download the Low Carbon Development Strategy for Nicaragua Livestock sector (in English) and (in Spanish).

Reduction of emissions in a growing sector

The goal of the strategy is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) while ensuring that the Nicaraguan livestock sector can continue to grow in a sustainable manner. In terms of GHG emissions, the LCDS will transform the current development path of increasing emissions and actually convert the sector into a carbon sink, while bringing increased productivity for farmers, ensuring that they will not revert back to their former practices.

Cattle and forests

Livestock is one of the most important land-use activities in terms of emission of GHG into the atmosphere, contributing 57% of total agricultural emissions. Deforestation, whose main drivers are small landowners, insecure land tenure, livestock and the expansion of the agricultural border, is another main source of increasing levels of GHG in Nicaragua as well as the rest of the world.

Between 1960 and 1998 the country saw a substantial reduction in forest cover of 50%, and a study of protected areas on the east coast, shows that 40% of the forest has disappeared from 1983 to 2011, with the last two years of the survey accounting for more deforestation than the previous 26 years combined.

This is part of a vicious circle of impoverishment, exacerbated by low levels of education, high population growth and over-exploitation of natural resources. Implementing the practices in the LCDS would not only turn the production of cattle into a carbon sink, but alleviate some of the poverty that the majority of the Nicaraguan population lives under. In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals this means contributing to the achievement of 10 out of the 17 goals.

Good practices for 120.000 producers

The goal of the LCDS is to promote the implementation of good livestock practices to improve production in the 2016-2030 period, while contributing to substantive mitigation of GHG emissions.

It proposes several practices that can reduce emissions, and if implemented turn the production of especially cattle in Nicaragua into a net GHG fixer, even with a projected growth from 4,168,000 heads of cattle in 2011 to 7,935,000 in 2030.

1) Rotation and division of paddocks in conjunction with silvopastoral systems with energetic fodder banks, live fences and scattered trees
2) Manure management through the installation of biodigesters (biogas)
3) Production and use of biofertilizers

These practices are intended for small, medium and large-scale producers which will include a total of 120,000 producers in Nicaragua.

A strategy based on broad cooperation

The LCDS was developed by UNEP DTU and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) in close coordination with the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), consulting with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). Support for the LCDS development has been provided by the Nordic Climate Facility (NCF).

As well as cooperating with national entities, the LCDS was developed through several workshops with livestock producers, to ensure that their priorities are represented in the strategy. Other livestock- and forestry-related initiatives are continuing through the INTA and other national institutions and NGOs, especially through the establishment of Field Schools, which have proved to be a successful method of capacitating livestock producers in new practices and technologies.

The Livestock LCDS will liaise with these relevant stakeholders and provide capacity and financing opportunities to livestock producers to implement the practices that have been identified and prioritized nationally.

Financing a greener livestock sector

Changing practices in the Nicaraguan livestock sector requires financing from external donors. Establishing silvopastoral systems and other planned practices requires intensive training of producers and detailed technical knowledge.

Institutions already exist for the provision of capacity-building activities, and expenses for this part of the LCDS can be almost entirely covered by existing programmes. For investments needed by farmers, these can be covered by preferential loans, where Nicaragua would need international assistance. UNEP DTU is ready to assist the Nicaraguan institutions in this effort, should they decide to adopt the LCDS and move forward with the strategy to allow the livestock sector to grow in a sustainable manner.