India, World’s Largest Livestock Owner


At the United Nations climate talks in Doha this week, India opposed any move that would require developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
With an estimated 485 million cattle, goat, buffalo and sheep, India has the most livestock in the world, and it is the second largest producer of methane in the world after China. Methane, a byproduct of livestock’s digestive process, is the second most abundant greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide, and it traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide does.
Agriculture is too important to India to ask farmers to change their practices now, Indian representatives said in Doha. 
“Agriculture is not only a source of economic growth but also a source of livelihood for millions of people,” R.R. Rashmi, a senior negotiator from India, told delegates.  A majority of developing countries agreed that agriculture-related emissions – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — should not be included in the gases nations are being asked to commit to cut. Instead, they’d like discussions on the topic to focus on how to help poor farmers affected by climate change.
India’s methane emissions have grown from 18.85 million metric tons in 1985 to 20.56 million in 2008, according to a study by P.R. Shukla published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. The agriculture sector contributed 83 percent of methane emissions, by way of livestock, manure use and rice production, according to the study.
Scientists have suggested alternative methods of cultivation and water management to reduce methane emissions from rice. One, called intermittent irrigation, involves draining rice fields midseason, along with occasional irrigation.   In a 2009 study, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute said the system could reduce methane emissions by 40 percent.
A farmer inspecting a field on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, Orissa.Biswaranjan Rout/Associated PressA farmer inspecting a field on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, Orissa.
Indian officials, however, say it is difficult to see how the country’s diverse agricultural practices could be subjected to an organized program of emissions reduction, and they don’t want to put farmers at risk by asking them to deviate from their traditional practices.
About 60 percent of India’s 600 million farmers rely almost entirely on rainfall for irrigation and cannot risk draining their fields, Indian experts say.  Their vulnerability is only being exacerbated as monsoon patterns in the country change, a development attributed to climate change.
“We are working on adaptation as far as rice cultivation is concerned,” said Meera Mehrishi, head of the Indian delegation to Doha. “But that’s going to take time.”  India can’t ask farmers to also try to alter the way they handle their livestock at the same time, she said.
Methane emissions from cows can be reduced by altering their diet. Scientists say that livestock fed on grains such as barley, corn and wheat produce less methane than grass-fed cattle. In India, however, most farmers cannot afford to buy fodder, and cows mostly graze.
“Our animals are not stall-fed,” Ms. Mehrishi said. “So it’s very difficult for us to control any emissions” from livestock.
India’s Space Application Center, in a 2009 study based on 2003 data, found methane emissions from livestock to be 11.75 million metric tons a year, an increase from 9 million in 1994. The Ahmedabad-based institute in 2009put  average methane emissions from rice cultivation at 3.38 million metric tons per year.
In the two-week Doha talks, developing nations have mostly worked together, pushing for developed nations to honor previous commitments and do more to fund climate-change efforts in developing countries. Divisions within the developing countries have  emerged on agricultural issues, though.
Gambia, representing the so-called least developed countries, proposed a focus on reducing agricultural emissions, rather the just helping farmers deal with the effects of climate change. But China and other nations from the developing bloc prevailed.
Bangladesh, which wants quick action and funds for agriculture-related changes to cut emissions, expressed disappointment that disagreements had postponed discussions on the topic to the next round of talks, in Bonn, Germany, in May.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy,” with 160 million people dependent on farming, said Quamrul Chowdhury, a senior negotiator from Bangladesh. “It is unfortunate that we could not reach consensus at this level.”
While developed countries have greater agricultural output, developing countries have more farmers who would be affected by moves to cut carbon-related emissions, some experts say.
Ram Kishan, a livelihood analyst with Christian Aid, a British antipoverty organization, said it was still unclear whether developed or developing countries produce more emissions from agriculture. He said the intensive agriculture practiced in developed countries, using mechanized farming equipment and advanced irrigation systems, has the potential to emit more than small-scale agriculture does.
Agriculture-related emissions first became part of the climate-change talks in Durban, South Africa, in 2011. Some activists call that a mistake. “Developing countries should have killed the move in Durban,” Mr. Kishan said.


http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/india-worlds-largest-livestock-owner-balks-at-farming-gas-curbs-in-doha/

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