ECLIPSE related : re-evaluate downwards the carbon footprint of farms

The livestock sector contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities (Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock (FAO, 2013). However, research conducted in Senegal shows that pastoral territories can have a neutral carbon balance: emissions from livestock can be offset by carbon sequestration in the soil and vegetation. These emissions could even be reduced through certain land-use developments, making pastoral livestock farming not only a means of combating global warming but also a lever for political stabilisation in the region.


 This article is based on the Cirad policy brief "Perspective" N°52 and on the article published on December 9th 2019 on

au sahel les territoires d elevage attenuent le changement climatique lightbox

Mixed herd of sheep and zebu drinking from a waterhole at the beginning of the rainy season (Ferlo, Senegal) © S. Taugourdeau, CIRAD



How ?

The ecosystem method used here, also known as the "territorial" method, takes into account the entire ecological functioning of a territory to calculate its carbon balance. All exchanges, i.e. greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and carbon sequestration in the ecosystem, are counted. The perimeter of the territory is defined, then its main elements (animals, soils, plants) and the interactions between them and with the atmosphere are described. 


The method results in a spatial and dynamic representation of emissions and stock variations, depending on the season and location. The ecosystem approach takes into account processes specific to the territory studied: for example, in Senegal, the presence of animals consuming standing fodder reduces the risk of fire and termites. As a result, methane emissions from livestock digestion have been re-evaluated downwards and, in the end, the carbon balance of this region is neutral or even slightly negative. "By consuming the plants, the livestock limit the production of methane by termites and reduce the risk of fire," says Jonathan Vayssières, an agronomist and modeller at CIRAD who supervised Mohamed Habibou Assouma's thesis on these issues.


Pastoral territories as political stakes too 

Encouraging the maintenance of pastoral mobility is a key action to preserve both populations and the balance of ecosystems. This mobility is regularly threatened by insecurity and conflicts, population growth and urban and agricultural expansion. Beyond its role in mitigating climate change, pastoral livestock is an optimal form of occupation and development of vast areas that are not conducive to other activities: it is one of the means of securing these regions and stabilising human populations there.
This work, financed by the European programme AnimalChange and the Islamic Development Bank (BID) and carried out with the help of the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA), is revaluing these pastoral areas.