I was disappointed to see an article on the US website of Huffington Post by president and CEO of Heifer International, Pierre Ferrari. He was spruiking the supposed benefits of his organisation’s livestock programs in Africa.

Heifer International raises funds to provide “gifts” in developing countries, usually in the form of goats, cattle and water buffalo. Although the organisation claims to relieve hunger and poverty, such programs generally appear to have the opposite effect.

Here’s the comment I left on Ferrari’s article:

Please see Geoff Russell’s 2010 article “Burning the biosphere, boverty blues (Part 2)” on Prof. Barry Brook’s “Brave New Climate” website, in which he commented on the extremely negative impact of livestock grazing in Africa.

Russell coined the term “boverty blues” to mean “the human impact of too many bovines overwhelming the local biosphere’s ability to feed them”. (The FAO has since reported there were around 310 million head of cattle in its most recent reporting period, 2014.)

Russell described Heifer International as “the king in the international spread of boverty”.

Along with other material, he cited a study by Sankaran, et al. (“Determinants of woody cover in African savannas”, Nature 438, 846-849, 8 December 2005), indicating the massive potential for reforestation in the northern and southern Guinea savanna if livestock were removed and the related annual savanna burning ceased.

Cattle degrade soil through hoof action and residue grazing. He said, “. . . these grazing practices are effectively trading the long term food security of good soil management for a little milk and an even tinier amount of meat”.

Also: “Nigerian studies compared leaving residues in place with removal and showed that residue removal halved crop yields over a period of 13 years and had a range of bad impacts on soil parameters.”

And: “If you want perfection in land degradation, you need to add an animal who can clean up any young shrubs and trees which the cattle hooves miss. You don’t want any vegetation to impede the winds in their efforts to blow away your topsoil. Goats are pretty well perfect for the job.”

Commenting on an alternative approach in an October 2012 interview on Australian radio station 3CR, former principal scientist with the Queensland government, Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop, referred to the Kenya Hunger Halt program, administered by the World Food Program. Under the program, people have been taught to grow alternatives such as root crops. The Maasai, traditional herders, have been converting to the program, growing nutritious crops and thriving.


Similar material elsewhere

The Huffington Post article reminded me of the sort of material disseminated by other livestock related groups, such as the International Livestock Research Institute.

Interviewed on ABC Radio National Breakfast on 17th September, 2013, the institute’s Director General, Dr Jimmy Smith, sought to perpetuate the so-called “protein myth” in favour of meat production. He ignored the fact that soybeans (for example) contain around 35 per cent more protein per kilogram than beef, with all the essential amino acids.

In discussing livestock-related climate change impacts, he also ignored the fact that soybean production emits around 5.5 kilograms of greenhouse gases per kilogram of protein, while “grass-fed” beef production emits around 774 kilograms. [Footnote]

The beef figure is the global average for specialised beef, calculated over a 20-year time horizon for determining the warming impact of methane and nitrous oxide. The 20-year time horizon is critical when considering potential climate change tipping points and the possibility of runaway climate change, whereby we would lose any ability to overcome the crisis.

A major contributor to deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado regions of South America is conversion of forest and other wooded vegetation to soy bean plantations. Most of the world’s soy is fed to livestock, including around 480 million pigs in China, in an inherently and grossly inefficient system of producing nutrition for the world’s human population.

That inefficiency also leads to under-nourished populations in developing nations, who could be adequately fed if we had the political will to distribute food equitably and decided to transition, in general, from animal-based to plant-based agriculture.


If we are serious about overcoming climate change and ending world hunger, we must address the livestock issue with the urgency those issues require.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


See page 57 of “The Low Emissions Diet: Eating for a safe climate“, which utilised emissions intensity figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Oxford University, and nutritional information from the United States Department of Agriculture. The combination of different emissions factors in the FAO analysis reflected overall non-dairy figures, including cattle exclusively “grass-fed” and others. As methane’s percentage contribution would be lower in mixed systems than in grazing systems, the figure of 774 kilograms shown here for “grass-fed” product may be understated.


Ferrari, P., “Surprise! Livestock Helps Farmers Become Resilient to Climate Change”, Huffington Post, 15th October 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pierre-ferrari/livestock-helps-farmers-b_b_12501722.html

Russel, G., “Burning the biosphere, boverty blues (Part 2)”, 10th February, 2010, http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/02/04/boverty-blues-p2/

Sankaran, M; Hanan, N.P.; Scholes, R.J.; Ratnam, J; Augustine, D.J.; Cade, B.S.; Gignoux, J; Higgins, S.I.; Le Roux, X; Ludwig, F; Ardo, J.; Banyikwa, F; Bronn, A; Bucini, G; Caylor, K.K.; Coughenour, M.B.; Diouf, A; Ekaya, W; Feral, C.J.; February, E.C.; Frost, P.G.H.; Hiernaux, P; Hrabar, H; Metzger, K.L.; Prins, H.H.T.; Ringrose, S; Sea, W; Tews, J; Worden, J; & Zambatis, N., Determinants of woody cover in African savannas, Nature 438, 846-849 (8 December 2005), cited in Russell, G., ibid.

Lal, R., “Crop Residues and Soil Carbon”, Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/Carbon%20Offset%20Consultation/CARBONMEETING/3FULLPAPERSBYCONSULTATIONSPEAKERS/PAPERLAL.pdf, cited in Russell, G. op. cit.

FAOSTAT, Production, Live Animals 2014, Cattle in Africa (310,277,515) and Pigs in China (480,093,253), http://faostat3.fao.org/download/Q/QA/E

3CR Freedom of SpeciesGerard Wedderburn-BisshopThe environmental impacts of livestock farming”, 7th October, 2012

ABC Radio National Breakfast, “Feeding a hungry world”, 17th September 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/feeding-a-hungry-world/4961802

Brown, L.R., “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Chapter 9, China and the Soybean Challenge”, Earth Policy Institute, 6 November, 2013, http://www.earthpolicy.org/books/fpep/fpepch9


IFPRI Images | “Cattle in Senegal” | Flickr | Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Reference to “grass-fed” beef inserted 16th October 2016.