A framework to understand water
In livestock production, water is the fundamental element, not only to meet the animals´ drinking needs etc, but also to produce feed for the animals. No economic sector consumes as much freshwater as agriculture, and researchers are calling for a paradigm shift to curb this trend.
An increased thirst for water will eventually disturb the ecosystems that produce the crops and grass the animals consume.
In their upcoming chapter on Livestock production and management, centre researchers Lisa Deutsch, Malin Falkenmark, Line Gordon, Johan Rockström and Carl Folke provide a framework to understand the role of water in ecosystems.
Time to focus on green water too
Their chapter is part of the book "Livestock in a Changing Landscape Volume I", which provides an introduction to the rapidly changing nature of animal production systems with particular focus on the increasing intensification and globalisation of it.
- Water needed for animal feed is by far the dominant freshwater challenge in the livestock sector, and a lack of comprehensive understanding of this relationship has led to inadequate management, says Lisa Deutsch.
Most of the water involved in meeting the water requirements in livestock is “green water", e.g. water in the soil that stems directly from rainfall. “Blue water", which is liquid water from rivers and aquifers, has up until now played a smaller role. Nevertheless, most focus has been on the role of blue water. This might change in the future. Since food production will have to expand to feed a growing population, considerable changes may be expected in both blue and green water use.
- To secure ecosystem protection, future water management needs to go beyond its blue water focus and include green water, Deutsch says.
New strategies needed
Together with her co-authors, Deutsch stresses the need to better integrate water resource management and land use. Agricultural production areas are expected to expand by 50 percent by 2050 which will certainly involve land cover changes with considerable water implications.
- The many ways in which ecosystem services may be disturbed by livestock production expansion in the next four to five decades will require the development of strategies and policies for knowledge-based trade-offs between the human need for increased food production and the need to protect the fundamental function of ecosystems services. It's time for a shift in thinking, Deutsch says.
Source: Deutsch et. al. 2010. Water-mediated Ecological Consequences of Intensification and Expansion of Livestock Production. In Steinfeld, H.; Mooney, H.; Schneider, F. and Neville, L. (eds.), Livestock in a Changing Landscape, Volume 1. Island Press.