Giving It Up for the Alleviation of Hunger and Poverty?

As the number of hungry people worldwide tops 1 billion, and droughts and heat waves brought on by climate change increase, what is a socially and environmentally conscious meat-eater to do about it? In a recent blog post on Time Magazine’s Ecocentric, Eben Harrall suggests giving up bacon cheeseburgers, as well as other meat products.

To make his point—in addition to the Food & Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) recent findings that meat production accounts for about 18 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions—Harrall references a recent issue of the journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, focused on global food security.  If the world’s population continues to grow at its current rate it will reach 9 billion by 2050 and we’ll need to find a way to increase food supplies by 70 percent if we want to keep up.

But while industrial meat production is damaging to the environment and to the world’s potential food supply, abstaining meat  to alleviate global hunger is not the only option.

The Royal Society B’s issue on food security introduces technological innovations such as growing meat in test tubes for more sustainable food production, and recommends that, especially in developed countries where one third of edible food is thrown away, more resources be directed towards waste reduction. And as part of our research for State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, we’ve highlighted various ways of raising livestock that not only help to alleviate poverty and hunger, but also to mitigate climate change.

In Rwanda, livestock farmers are using biogas technology to turn one greenhouse gas, methane, into fuel. Biogas units use methane from manure to produce electricity, heat, and fertilizer while emitting significantly less smoke and carbon monoxide than other sources of fuel. (See also: Got Biogas?)

In Zimbabwe, the director of the organization, Njeremeto Biodiversity Institute, Osmond Mugweni,  is helping livestock farmers adopt modern grazing methods, such as rotational and collective grazing, to avoid soil erosion and other damaging consequences associated with cattle.

And in Ghana, many poor farmers use slash and burn methods on grasslands to provide short-term nutrients to the soil for agriculture, and to drive out grasscutters—small rodents that are considered a delicacy in the area— for their meat. But the Neleshi Grasscutter and Farmers Association (NAGRAFA) is helping farmers raise grasscutters domestically for sale at restaurants and grocery stores. Not only are grasslands preserved, but farmers have more control over the quality of their product, increasing its value and improving their incomes.

To read more about the impact of livestock on climate change, hunger and poverty, see the FAO report,  Livestock’s Long Shadow.

For more information about how sustainable livestock production can actually mitigate climate change and improve livelihoods and diets, see Making a Living Out of Conservation, Creating a Roadmap for Sustainable Meat Production, Healing With Livestock in Rwanda, Teacher Turned Farmer. . .Turned Teacher, Got Biogas?, Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya, Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa, Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World, The Keepers of Genetic Diversity, Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use and Happier Meals.

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