The Breakthrough Institute summarizes their report on the environmental impacts of pasture land in, “Achieving Peak Pasture. “Pasture is the largest human use of land in the world, accounting for more than twice the land used to harvest crops globally. Over the last 320 years, a space the size of North America has been cleared for pastureland. As a tradeoff, clearing land for pasture has been a prominent force behind the deforestation of the Amazon and the destruction of grasslands around the world.
However, contrary to expectations, pasture land has decreased by 40 million hectares over the last twenty years. That is equivalent to the size of Peru. According to additional statistics provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, many first-world countries achieved “peak pasture” (pasture lands are either constant or declining) in the 1960’s. Fortunately, over the last twenty years, the rest of the world has followed. Infact, “more than two-thirds of all countries now experiencing flat or declining pasture area. Notably, since 2000, pasture has also leveled off in the rapidly developing middle-income countries that saw the greatest pasture expansion in the late 20th century, including China and Brazil, as well as in low-income countries.”
Farmers today are able to produce meat and milk at a higher rate with less land. Although pasture land has decreased in the same time frame, from 2000 to 2013, ruminant milk and meat production rose from 12% to 32%. Cows are currently producing milk and meat and this higher animal yield has been coupled with an increase in stocking density, cattle per land. Both of these categories, animal yield and stocking density, have actually been improved in recent times except in Sub-saharan Africa. This regions lack of resources is resulting in pasture land with low animal yield and absurdly high, unhealthy, and unsustainable stocking density.
The cattle issues of Sub-saharan Africa give light to a threat in maintaining global peak pasture. As the human population increases exponentially over the next few decades, especially in economically disadvantaged regions, those extra people will need extra food. The stocking density is already a statistic out of control in these regions. Furthermore, unless farming technology greatly improves in these regions and the animal yield increases, people will have little choice but to clear more land for pasture. Unfortunately, clearing land for pasture has only helped contribute to environmental collapse over the last few centuries.
In order to increase animal productivity, farmers need to focus on better feed, optimized breeds, and improved animal health. Cattle need an energy rich and nutritionally balanced diet to be able to produce at their highest potential. Additionally, cattle can be bred specifically to increase productivity in different regional conditions. And of course, if an animal is healthy, it will produce at a higher rate. The only issue is all three of these objectives take care, research, and resources. It is one thing for pastureland to increase productivity in North America, however, in Sub-saharan Africa the issue is far more challenging. Unfortunately, the places that most need an increase in productivity are isolated from the best resources fitted to accomplishing it.