The role of livestock for sustainability in mixed farming: criteria and scenario studies under varying resource allocation

J.B. Schiere, M.N.M. Ibrahim, H. van Keulen

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87 Citations (Scopus)


Cropping, when possible, tends to become more important than animal production because, in general, it can feed more people per area unit in terms of calories and protein. In such systems, the role of wasteland grazing as a source of energy for agriculture through animals for traction and dung is often taken over by the use of resources from fossil reserves. This changing role of animals in the sustainability of agriculture is addressed in this paper to discuss options and constraints for animal production in newly developing farming systems. Based on a brief literature review, this paper discusses how and in which way ruminant livestock has played or can continue to play a role in (newly developing forms of) sustainable agriculture. The role of livestock in different modes of agriculture ranging from expanded agriculture (EXPAGR), and high external inputs agriculture (HEIA) to low external inputs agriculture (LEIA), and new conservation agriculture (NCA) are elaborated. It is argued that even when fossil reserves based external inputs such as oil and fertilisers become more widely used, they should still be used with care to save money and finite resources as well as to avoid problems of waste disposal. However, in conditions with limited access to resources, it continues to be difficult to obtain inputs from fossil reserves. Under these conditions, the major options to increase system sustainability by reducing pollution problems and dependency on external resources are (a) to adjust ways and objectives of production systems to the access to resources, and (b) to achieve increased use and recycling of resources within the system itself. Definitions for sustainability are given and translated into four criteria, i.e. food production and degree of self-sufficiency in the short term based on energy, protein, clothing, shelter, etc.; food production and degree of self-sufficiency in the long term expressed in the form of soil organic matter (SOM) content; reduced dependence of external inputs (=nitrogen use); and aspects of resilience, stability and equity in crop–livestock systems. The results of scenario studies concerning use of grass and legume leys for livestock production illustrate options and trade-offs for different crop–livestock combinations in terms of these criteria for sustainability
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-153
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Crop-livestock systems
  • Food production
  • Resource fluxes
  • Sustainability


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