Livestock: A Key Solution for the Climate Crisis and Women’s Empowerment
Welcome to Livestock Month on Agrilinks! Livestock play a vital role in maintaining food security, nutrition and livelihoods for countless households and communities across the globe. Livestock keepers, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), depend on livestock not only for food and nutrition, but also for agricultural production (farm labor, fertilizer), as a source of income, for transportation, and in helping with a variety of household chores. Studies have also highlighted the importance of livestock to women’s empowerment, reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience for poor populations. Women’s empowerment is critical to enhancing climate mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector.
While livestock systems contribute about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global averages tend to mask critical differences in the highly diverse livestock sector. In reality, the type of production system is what matters the most for emissions contributions. For example, rangeland and silvopastoral livestock systems can actually function as carbon sinks! In other words, “it’s not the cow, it’s the how!” When these nuances — such as differences between species, production systems, productivity within systems, and between economies of LMICs — are understood, context-appropriate and pragmatic climate-smart options become easier to identify and implement.
It is through these lenses that we approach this month’s Agrilinks theme of livestock as a key solution for the climate crisis and women’s empowerment.
Women make up almost two-thirds of the world’s 600 million low-income livestock keepers. Evidence has shown that empowering women leads to healthier communities, animals and environments. Investing in gender-equitable livestock production in LMICs will lead to more economically and climate-resilient agricultural systems, increase the availability of nutritionally rich animal-source foods in vulnerable communities, and restore ecosystems globally. Investing in women-centered livestock-related interventions also has the potential to cost-effectively improve childhood nutrition and health. Women have disproportionate responsibility for childcare, and animal-sourced foods are excellent sources of high-quality, nutrient-rich foods for children between 6 and 23 months.
USAID’s Gender Good Practices in Livestock Programming Technical Brief provides guidance for strengthening gender equality and female empowerment in livestock programming. The guidance is aimed at strengthening livestock market systems and integrating livestock into multi-disciplinary designs that promote sustainable economic growth, strengthened resilience and improved nutritional outcomes.
While important to development, livestock are also necessary in humanitarian contexts. Strategic livestock interventions can play vital roles in mitigating the effects of disasters, such as drought. Childhood malnutrition usually spikes during periods of drought. Yet, livestock programming that effectively uses early warning systems to implement anticipatory action can stymie the effects of drought-induced malnutrition in children and pregnant and lactating women. For humanitarian interventions in general, the Gender and Livestock in Emergencies Discussion Paper provides a starting point to reflect on the intersection of gender and livestock in humanitarian response contexts.
With livestock serving such an essential role in communities and for women around the world, the livestock sector is likely to continue to grow in the coming decades. The trajectory of the livestock sector’s growth can be improved by investing in sustainable intensification and climate-smart strategies. These strategic investments can increase productivity and the resilience of those most vulnerable to climate impacts while decreasing GHG emissions intensity per unit of nutritious food produced. Gender-sensitive training and interventions can also increase women’s ability to gain decision-making power while supporting climate adaptation and farm productivity. If designed and implemented effectively and thoughtfully, livestock systems can be a part of the climate solution, providing valuable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, producing organic fertilizer, preserving biodiversity and contributing to a circular bioeconomy.
This month, we highlight the important role of livestock in women’s empowerment and as an integral tool necessary for climate-resilient livelihoods and mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis. We will be sharing a series of blog posts and resources from our partners, featuring examples from the field and actionable recommendations for the development and humanitarian communities. We look forward to learning more with you, exploring opportunities in livestock interventions for empowerment and mitigation.
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