Dr. Biraj Kumar Sarma
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Lakhimpur College of Veterinary Science. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Climate change is one the main hindrances for progress and development of various sectors and has an adverse effect on sustainable development of agriculture-cum-livestock sector-cum-the people whose livelihoods are involved directly or indirectly with it. This obstacle is more pronounced in the developing countries like India where a large section of the population mostly dependent on agriculture-cum-livestock sector. But due to lack of resources, technologies, infrastructure and institutions to cope up with climate risks like droughts, drought-like situations, flash floods, cyclones, heat-waves etc., this section of the peoples are adversely affected. Indian economy is closely tied to its natural resources and climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry etc., play a major role. Indian people are still dependent on weather and rain for agricultural production in a traditional way. Under agricultural sector, livestock plays a significant role in the livelihood of farmers and also plays an important role in poverty alleviation. It is the key assets for the underprivileged people for providing multiple economy, nutritional confidence, social security and economic insurance during emergency. But, the projected changes in climate is a major threat which may negatively impact on agriculture sector as our agriculture is still dependant on rain precipitation and monsoon as mentioned earlier. Climate change and globalization have threatened the livestock biodiversity and its efficiency. Less precipitation may results in crop failure as well as the livestock fodder, which affects the economy in an indirect way. Similarly, heavy precipitation also causes flash floods resulting in adverse effects on agricultural economy by damaging crops and livestock. The changing of climate will not only affect the production and productivity of agricultural commodities but also have its impact on other allied agricultural sectors like dairy industry, meat production, wool and other animal products in an indirect way.
Human activities such as deforestation, coal mining, and overgrazing etc., are resulted into degradation of nature accelerating the consequences of climate change. More or less, all the livestock species are adversely affected when the temperature and humidity exceed the threshold level of tolerance. Approximately, 20 to 30 per cent of plant and animal species may be expected to be in risk of extinction with increase of 1.5 to 2.5ºC which will result in severe consequences for food security in developing countries like India. Different animal species and breeds have different tolerance levels for temperature and humidity. Temperature higher than 25ºC and relative humidity more than 50% has a harmful effect on animal productivity. About 70% of livestock in India is owned by economically poor farmers and landless labourers. But due to financial limitations and unawareness regarding the latest technologies, such resource-poor livestock farmers don't posses necessary means of adaptation and mitigation, and animals are most vulnerable to the impacts of adverse climate change and ultimately have detrimental effects on their economy.
The climate change is concerned with the changes of surface and atmospheric temperatures in the upper several hundred metres of the ocean and lead to the rise of sea level along with changes in global levels of carbondioxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen etc., loss of biodiversity, natural habitat and other natural resources. Animals contribute towards climate change through emissions of 18% of total greenhouse gases, emission of 9% carbon dioxide, 37% methane and 65% nitrous oxide. India's contribution to global carbon dioxide emission is about 4.7%. Hence, the livestock can be considered as contributors as well as victims of the increasing global temperature. The major effects of climate on animal production are like reduction in production of milk, meat, egg, wool and fertility due to impact on normal physiological functions of the body, increasing incidences of various diseases due to increased temperature, reduction in the availability of animal feed components, which is further compounded by reduction in cropping area due to increasing population. As we know climate change has direct effect on air, temperature, humidity, wind velocity, solar radiation etc., and heat is the major constraint in tropical and subtropical climatic conditions and the thermal stress is a major factor negatively affecting production and reproduction of livestock species. Due to heat stress, it causes a chain reaction of physiological, behavioural and anatomical alteration leading to reduction in growth, productive and reproductive functions. Climate change has some potential effects to alter the disease pattern of livestock in terms of frequency and intensity. Some seasonal diseases like Foot and Mouth disease is associated with environmental temperature, humidity, rainfall etc., and hence, climate change can alter its frequency and intensity. The recent outbreak of African Swine Fever among the pig population of Assam which was previously confined to some parts of the world may be due to climate change which creates a suitable environment for the organism. Report of increased incidence of clinical mastitis in dairy animal is due to increased heat stress and increased tick populations due to creation of favourable environmental condition from climate change. Similarly, climate change is the key factor behind the increased number of the insect populations which destroys the agricultural crops and the recent attacks on agricultural crops by the locust migrated from the African continent.
There are different climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be made for sustainable livestock production. Adaptation strategies can improve the livestock productivity to climate change whereas mitigation measures could significantly reduce the impact of climate change in livestock production. Adaptation measures involve modification of production and management system, breeding strategies, science and technology advances and changing farmers' perception. Changes in mixed crop-livestock system are an important adaptation measures that could improve food security. This type of agriculture system is already in practice in most of the parts of the globe, producing increased amount of the milk, meat and crops such as cereal, rice and sorghum. Practising mixed farming system or integrated farming systems can improve efficiency by producing more food on less lands using fewer resources, such as water and sustainable agricultural-cum-livestock production during any natural calamities or disasters. Moreover, improving feeding practices as an adaptation measure and changes in breeding strategies of livestock can help the animals for increase their tolerance to climate change and disease and may improve their reproduction, growth and development.
To mitigate the increasing demand of animal protein, modernization of the livestock farms are utmost important for more production around the year and at the same time there are concerns for animal health and welfare. The some of the key measures to combat adverse impact of climate on animal production will include adopting optimal management options including eco-friendly housing system, modified management practices, genetic selection of animals with increase stress tolerance, improved biosecurity measures for disease prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases, development of alternate feed resources, contingency plans and emerging preparedness for addressing natural disasters including development of resource inventory and locator. Livestock sector is growing faster in India and any shock to livestock production would adversely affect the agricultural growth, food and nutrition security and poverty.