Improving on the UN Panel: Can SADC lead a global shift to poultry?

14Aug 2019
Miki Tasseni
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Improving on the UN Panel: Can SADC lead a global shift to poultry?

TINKERING with suggestions raised by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the top most global advisory body on the matter, routinely relayed  an impression of impotence before the rush of climate change and all what that portends for the future of humanity.

The point is that weather catastrophes are becoming unmanageable by the day and scientists say this is just the beginning, and they insist on cutting gas emissions to something similar to pre-industrial levels, which is unthinkable.

And while they see current gas emission s as too high, most poor countries are pushing with industrialization.

While the pursuit of emission reduction via changes in industrial technology are plausible in many areas, in many cases they are modifications rather than ‘leaps’ in effectiveness of technology, for instance in the shift to natural gas in cooking, while many still can’t afford it. There is also the spectre of electric cars which is likely to make a difference the more it spreads, while abandoning lead in petroleum improves the quality of air rather than cutting on gas emissions. It is in the whole idea of reducing meat consumption that plenty of innovation is feasible, namely in abolishing the cattle industry for mass poultry farming.

What distinguishes poultry from cattle is that the latter is a field animal that requires plenty of space to be cared for, and many years for it to reach its commercial potential, etc. Comparing the gas emission potency for livestock, one finds that poultry provides two net advantages, first that cumulatively when compared to cattle poultry has less gas emissions by far and away, while in terms of the use of space, it takes infinitely less amount of necessary space. Poultry can be ‘farmed’ in concentrated areas, or even in the open and layered manner, where a small patch of household backyard can handle hundreds of chicken.

A chronicler on gas emissions in livestock says that ‘when comparing the distribution of methane emissions from enteric fermentation among animal types, poultry had the lowest amount with 0.57 pounds of methane per animal per year when compared to dairy cattle, which produces 185 to 271 pounds of methane per animal per year, and swine, which produce 10.5 pounds.’ Obviously the issue there wasn’t emissions per animal but rather per hundredweight, as to what 100kilos of poultry would have cost in gas emissions compared with 100 kilos of meat, where it is evident the poultry would amass many birds, but 100kilos of meat often doesn’t clear much of a big carcass of a methodically fed animal.

Suggesting that SADC can lead the way to a shift to poultry in a global manner isn’t a figment of the imagination as the region as a good portion of the world’s cattle, as data shows that Sudan leads with the largest number of cattle followed by Tanzania. The Gulf Zone has for many years relied on imports from East Africa and especially from Somalia as in the latter context worries about halal requirements do not arise, unlike the rest of the eastern belt of countries. The point is that SADC countries are being afflicted by the ravages of climate change and thus keeping cattle is often a liability, like seasonal field crops, etc.

What this means is that the world needs to shift to climate-adapted sources of animal protein like fish and poultry, since cattle produce substantial amount of methane gas, compelling the misuse of vast tracts of land for that purpose. In Tanzania the keeping of large herds of cattle is a source of constant friction and innumerable cases of violence between cattle keepers and farmers. Is it out of the question for traders or the government to simply buy all the cattle, resettle cattle keepers and direct them to keep poultry instead?

At a different level, it means that large animal meat, including bush-meat for that matter, would be left to the only sector where such a shift is evidently impracticable, namely in the wildlife sector. Hence it would be left to lions and tigers etc to hunt down and maul buffaloes, giraffes, impala, wildebeest, wild pig and the rest, but none of these large animals ought to be domesticated or farmed industrially. The matter is nearly as simple as banning the use of plastic bags, with minimal shift in cost calculations, opportunities.

In a factsheet on gas emissions in the zone, it is said that ‘Southern Africa emitted 1,027 million metric tons (MtCO2e) in 2011, with South Africa, Angola and Zambia having the highest total of greenhouse gas emissions. The region’s emissions represent nearly 2.2 percent of global emissions. Since 1990, total emissions have increased in eight countries, and have decreased in Swaziland, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe.’ That series of data is interesting as 2.2 per cent of gas emissions isn’t in line with the total population, and certainly the region emits much more if cattle production of methane gas is tackled alone.

A shift to poultry would free up plenty of land to commercial agriculture of grain thus reducing the price, while households are encouraged to keep poultry wherever possible to replace seasonal crops, as they can take eggs and occasional supply of meat, along with household farming of vegetables as the mainstay of urban family activity. In similar manner as barter economies of old, it is from surpluses of chicken and at times eggs that a household would be assured of its grain, even without being employed on any street.

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