A Practical Tool to Drive Climate-Smart Dairy Production in Sri Lanka
Dairy is a vital component of the global food system, providing essential nutrients such as Vitamin D, Calcium and protein to millions worldwide. The scale is staggering, with an estimated 800 million tons of milk produced per year, twice the volume produced fifty years ago. The sector has also been identified as a potentially significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making it crucial for dairy producers to adopt practices that minimize environmental impact. Advancing climate-smart dairy is not only environmentally beneficial, it also improves natural resource use efficiency, reducing production costs, improving productivity and increasing incomes for producers, particularly smallholders. In Sri Lanka, where the dairy industry increasingly contributes to economic growth and nutrition, the FAO has identified areas for improvement in national dairy production efficiency and emissions reductions.
Climate-Smart Dairy is a new concept in Sri Lanka and was previously thought to be beyond the reach of small-scale producers. In alignment with global best practices, the USDA Food for Progress-funded Market-Oriented Dairy (MOD) Project, implemented by Improving Economies for Stronger Communities (IESC) in collaboration with the Sri Lankan Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has developed a unique Climate-Smart Dairy Model to enable small- and medium-scale dairy farmers in Sri Lanka to both mitigate climate impacts and adapt to the changing climate.
Increased Productivity is Necessary but Insufficient to Maximize Emissions Reductions
Interestingly, there is a distinct difference in dairy emissions intensities between regions. Generally, the emission intensity of milk production is lowest in developed dairy regions, while developing dairy regions such as South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have higher emission intensities. While larger developed country industries emit more carbon overall, their emissions on a per-animal basis compared to developing countries are far lower. This demonstrates the vital role of increased productivity in reducing the rate of carbon emissions, as productivity measures the efficient allocation and utilization of resources.
Although productivity is a key contributor to reducing the rate of emissions, Climate-Smart Dairy involves several critical aspects of farm management beyond productivity alone. In dairy production, emissions are the result of various biological processes. For example, enteric fermentation produces methane as a by-product of the digestion process. Additional methane and nitrous oxide emissions occur while managing manure from livestock in pastures, in buildings, during storage, and when spreading manure. Further factors, such as the management of pasturelands, application of nitrogen fertilizers for fodder production, water conservation strategies, and the utilization of different energy sources, also influence the “climate smartness” of a dairy production system.
Measuring the Adoption of Climate-Smart Practices
Measuring the factors that drive emissions at the farm level is a critical first step in reducing emissions. This enables progress to be tracked and specific areas for production-level improvements to be identified. This information can then be used to develop strategies at both the farm and policy levels that will support a transition to a more resilient, low-carbon sector. The USDA Food for Progress-funded MOD Project’s Climate-Smart Dairy Model consists of a scorecard for measuring 32 criteria grouped into four modules: Low Carbon Farm Productivity Management, Animal Welfare and Comfort Management, Emissions Management, and Land and Water Management. To measure these criteria, farmers are scored based on the status of their current application of climate-smart practices on their farm (“Achieved,” “Partially Achieved,” and “Not Achieved”).
The Climate-Smart Dairy Model was initially tested with data collected from 27 dairy farmers receiving technical assistance from the MOD Project. As shown in the accompanying graphs, the MOD Project has helped farmers increase productivity and reduce their emissions rate across several of the target criteria. The tool has also identified additional areas of on-farm practices that require improvement, highlighting focal areas to integrate into farm-level trainings of public and private sector extension systems going forward.
Using these data helps farmers understand where specific improvements can be made and helps public and private sector extension agents identify where to focus technical training efforts. Through the MOD Project, IESC and the DAPH will be rolling out the tool across the broader dairy sector in Sri Lanka to evaluate the climate-smart progress of individual farmers and identify areas for investment by public and private sector stakeholders.
Next Steps in Sri Lanka
This initiative by the USDA Food for Progress-funded MOD Project has the potential to help achieve emissions reduction targets cited in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) while improving farmer incomes and realizing national nutrition and milk self-sufficiency objectives. To do so, the Climate-Smart Dairy model must be mainstreamed by raising awareness and coordinating closely with key public and private dairy sector stakeholders to promote farm-level adoption of these practices across the country. Additionally, to advance evidence-based decision-making at the national level, an essential next step will be to measure the actual reduction in emissions and the rate of emissions that results from the adoption of these improved practices.
Post Contributors: Laura Vanin: Manager, Agriculture-led Growth; Adam Keatts: Associate Vice President and Practice Lead, Agriculture-led Growth; Nilmini Jayasinghe: Communications and Outreach Specialist, MOD Project; and Pradeep Liyanamana: Chief of Party, MOD Project.