[ASC-media] "Grassroots Action" in Livestock Feeding to Help Curb Global Climate Change

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Sun Sep 15 13:17:38 PDT 2013



16 September 2013

Media Contact: Cathy Reade, 0413 575 934

Program at  <http://www.igc2013.com/pages/program.php>


"Grassroots Action" in Livestock Feeding to Help Curb Global Climate Change


Scientists meeting in Australia describe how they are turning

a dream into reality, with major benefits for people and the environment


In a series of papers prepared for the 22nd International Grasslands
Congress, scientists offer new evidence that a potent chemical mechanism
operating in the roots of a tropical grass used for livestock feed has
enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Referred to as "biological nitrification inhibition" or BNI, the mechanism
markedly reduces the conversion of nitrogen applied to soil as fertilizer
into nitrous oxide, according to papers prepared for the 22nd International
Grassland Congress in Sydney on 15-19 September 2013 - a pre-eminent global
forum held only every four years. It is to be attended by over 1000
delegates from more than 60 countries.  


Nitrous oxide is the most powerful and aggressive greenhouse gas, with a
global warming potential 300 times that of carbon dioxide.


"Nitrous oxide makes up about 38 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in
agriculture, which accounts for almost a third of total emissions
worldwide," said Michael Peters, who leads research on forages at the
Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a
member of the CGIAR Consortium. "BNI offers what could be agriculture's best
bet for keeping global climate change within manageable limits." 


Scientists at CIAT and the Japan International Research Center for
Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) have researched BNI collaboratively for the
last 15 years.


"This approach offers tremendous possibilities to reduce nitrous oxide
emissions and the leaching of polluting nitrates into water supplies, while
also raising crop yields through more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer,"
said G.V. Subbarao, a senior scientist at JIRCAS.  

As a result of recent advances, scientists have developed the means to
exploit the BNI phenomenon on a large scale: 


.      CIAT researchers have found ways to increase BNI through plant
breeding in different species of Brachiaria grasses. The new techniques
include methods for rapidly quantifying BNI in Brachiaria together with
molecular markers, which reduce the time needed for field testing.


.      Center scientists have also just gathered evidence that a maize crop
grown after Brachiaria humidicola pastures gave acceptable yields with only
half the amount of nitrogen fertilizer normally used, because more nitrogen
was retained in the soil, thus reducing nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate
leaching. The researchers determined that BNI had boosted nitrogen-use
efficiency by a factor of 3.8. 


.      In addition, scientists have developed hybrids of Brachiaria
humidicola and delivered these, with support from the German government, to
farmers in Colombia and Nicaragua for productivity and quality testing.
Previous grass hybrids have increased milk and meat production by several
orders of magnitude, compared to native savanna grasses, and by at least 30
percent, compared to commercial grass cultivars. Based on evaluation of the
new hybrids and with the aid of simulation models, researchers are studying
where else the hybrids can be introduced and on how large a scale.


"Livestock production provides livelihoods for a billion people, but it also
contributes about half of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions," Peters
explained. "BNI is a rare triple-win technology that's good for rural
livelihoods as well as the global environment and climate. It defies the
widespread notion that livestock are necessarily in the minus column of any
food security and environmental calculation."


"The problem is that today's crop and livestock systems are very 'leaky,'"
said Subbarao. "About 70 percent of the 150 million tons of nitrogen
fertilizer applied globally is lost through nitrate leaching and nitrous
oxide emissions; the lost fertilizer has an annual estimated value of US$90


"BNI has huge possibilities for reducing nitrogen leakage," said CIAT
scientist Idupulapati Rao. 


"Grassland pastures are the single biggest use of agricultural land-covering
3.2 billion hectares out of a global total of 4.9 billion. In Brazil alone,
11 million hectares of grassland have been converted to maize and soybean
production, and another 35-40 million could be shifted to crop production in
the near future. Instead of more monocropping, developing countries need to
integrate Brachiaria grasses into mixed crop-livestock systems on a massive
scale to make them more sustainable."


"In the case of Australia," he added, "where nitrogen-based fertilizers are
applied to about 32 million hectares, mostly in the form of ammonium
phosphate or urea, BNI technology can contribute to an increase in the
productivity and profitability of the country's agricultural systems." 


Originally from sub-Saharan Africa, Brachiaria grasses found their way to
South America centuries ago-possibly as bedding on slave ships. Improved
varieties of the grass are widely grown on pasturelands in Brazil, Colombia,
and other countries, and they have recently been taken back to Africa to
help ease severe shortages of livestock feed.


In a major breakthrough, JIRCAS scientists discovered several years ago the
chemical substance responsible for BNI and developed a reliable method for
detecting the nitrification inhibitor coming from plant roots. Scientists at
CIAT then validated the BNI concept in the field, demonstrating that
Brachiaria grass suppresses nitrification and nitrous oxide emissions,
compared with soybean, which lacks this ability.


Other research has shown that deep-rooted, productive Brachiaria grasses
capture large amounts of atmospheric carbon-on a scale similar to that of
tropical forests-a further plus for climate change mitigation.


"Our work on BNI started with a field observation made by one of our
scientists in the 1980s-back then it was nothing more than a dream," said
Peters. "But now it's a dream with an action plan and solid scientific
achievements behind it."


BNI research forms part of a larger initiative referred to as LivestockPlus,
which proposes to deliver major benefits for the poor and the environment
through innovative research on tropical forage grasses and legumes.


The LivestockPlus initiative takes place within the global framework of the
CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, led by the Kenya-based
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The program aims to
increase the availability and affordability of meat, milk and fish for poor
consumers and raise the incomes of smallholders producing these commodities.


Other issues- from the internationally significant to the quirky - to be
covered include:

.         the global food security challenge and the role of livestock

.         trade-offs between livestock, human health and the environment

.         Australia as a drought hot spot in global grazing lands 

.         lessons from work underway to control pesky rabbits, squirrels and

.         what Mongolia can teach us about control of locusts

.         hopes for perennial wheat varieties and the benefits they hold
over annual varieties

.         new grasses that can deter birds from airfields and sportsgrounds

.         the latest technologies like remote sensing, GIS and precision

.         how farms in Asia and Africa could be boosted by garbage bag

.         what farmers need from grasslands and livestock research

.         how to engage more young people in study and careers in

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)-a member of the
CGIAR Consortium-develops technologies, tools, and new knowledge that better
enable farmers, especially smallholders, to make agriculture
eco-efficient-that is, competitive and profitable as well as sustainable and
resilient. Eco-efficient agriculture reduces hunger and poverty, improves
human nutrition, and offers solutions to environmental degradation and
climate change in the tropics. With headquarters near Cali, Colombia, CIAT
conducts research for development in tropical regions of Latin America,
Africa, and Asia. www.ciat.cgiar.org 


The Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS)
undertakes comprehensive research on agriculture, forestry and fisheries
technology in tropical and subtropical areas and other overseas developing
regions, as well as domestic research on agriculture, forestry and
fisheries, aimed at providing solutions to international food supply and
environmental problems through technology development; and collects,
analyzes and publishes information to grasp trends relevant to international
agriculture, forestry and fisheries as well as farming systems, through
international collaboration and cooperation.
<http://www.jircas.affrc.go.jp> www.jircas.affrc.go.jp 


CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food secure future. Its science
is carried out by the 15 research centers who are members of the CGIAR
Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.
<http://www.cgiar.org> www.cgiar.org 




Cathy Reade
Director, Public Affairs and Communication
Crawford Fund
Mobile: +61 413 575 934

Skype: Cathy.Reade
Web:  <http://www.crawfordfund.org/> www.crawfordfund.org

Twitter: @CrawfordFund

The Crawford Fund's mission is to increase Australia's engagement in
international agricultural research, development and education for the
benefit of developing countries and Australia.


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