Considering the rapidity of the changes in global livestock demand and production, the large spatial extent of grazing systems (22% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface is under permanent pastures), as well as the impact of grazing systems dynamics on our society and the environment, there is an urgent need to influence the drivers of grazing systems dynamics to support more sustainable systems.
In a review recently published in Global Food Security, we aimed to 1) to identify the different drivers of grazing systems expansion and intensification around the world and their interactions with agro- ecological characteristics, 2) detail the recent past and projected future main dynamics of these systems in relation to their drivers, 3) assess some of the environmental consequences of these dynamics and 3) discuss priority research areas and issues for policy makers to consider.
We found that grazing systems dynamics are driven by a complex combination of socio-economic, political and environmental contexts. Although the drivers and dynamics can be highly location-specific, we focussed on describing global trends as well as trends by agro-ecological, socio-economic and political contexts.
Global grasslands have expanded in area over the last decades. A decreasing trend has however been observed since the 21st century. Grazing systems’ management has also intensified.
While these dynamics can have socio-economic and environmental benefits, they have often led to unsustainable systems, exemplified by deforestation and land degradation.
Opportunities for land expansion without damaging forests and natural ecosystems are increasingly limited around the world and future increases in grazing systems production will need to mainly come from increases in productivity per animal and per unit area.
Some priority research areas and issues for policy makers to consider to help the movement towards more sustainable systems are the following:
- Better knowledge of the extent and management intensity of grazing systems is necessary to assess their dynamics and implications for a sustainable future.
- Multiple parallel strategies are needed to limit land pressures and environmental damages caused by grazing systems (incl. moderating the demand for livestock products, reducing food waste, addressing population growth, improving governance, increasing livestock production per unit of land area).
- A better understanding of the trade-offs of grazing systems intensification strategies is crucial to implement successful policies.
- Large knowledge gaps exist on the impacts of climate change and climate variability on grazing systems dynamics, their potential for intensification and how these systems can adapt.
- Tailored strategies will be required in tandem with public policy support to ensure system sustainability, especially in times of change.
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Article citation: Godde, C., Garnett, T., Thornton, P., Ash, A., Herrero, M., 2017. Grazing systems expansion and intensification: Drivers, dynamics, and trade-offs. Glob. Food Sec. 16, 93–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2017.11.003