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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ADAPTING SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF A CHANGING CLIMATE

Location: Great Plains Agroclimate and Natural Resources Research Unit

Title: Enhancing soil and landscape quality in smallholder grazing systems

Authors
item Steiner, Jean
item Franzluebbers, Alan
item Neely, Constance -
item Ellis, Tim -
item Betemariam, Ermais -

Submitted to: Advances in Soil Science
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: February 12, 2014
Publication Date: July 6, 2014
Citation: Steiner, J.L., Franzluebbers, A.J., Neely, C., Ellis, T., Betemariam, E. 2014. Enhancing soil and landscape quality in smallholder grazing systems. In: Lal, R., Steward, B.A., editors. Soil Management of Smallholder Agriculture. Boca Raton, Florida:CRC Press. p. 63-104.

Interpretive Summary: Grasslands constitute the largest global land use and are an important part of agricultural and ecological systems on every continent, across a wide range of potential productivity. Ruminant livestock grazing on these lands constitutes an important form of agricultural production. It is estimated that 1 billion people depend almost exclusively on livestock, and livestock serves as at least a partial source of income and food security for 70% of the world’s 880 million rural poor. Grazinglands provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including provision of food, livelihoods, biodiversity, habitat, carbon storage, water filtration, and others. Grazinglands are particularly important in the world’s dryland areas, which are especially sensitive to land degradation and are subject to pressures of increasing population, encroachment of cropping onto former grasslands, uncertain land tenure, lack of infrastructure, lack of capital, and are faced with increasing pressures of variable and changing climate. Over 70% of the rangelands worldwide are estimated to be affected by soil degradation. Grazinglands are highly diverse, and there are many opportunities to enhance soil quality, but results in the literature about impacts of grazing on soil quality have been mixed. In dry regions, rangelands are particularly vulnerable to degradation and it is essential that the vegetative and plant litter cover be maintained to protect the soil from raindrop impact and temperature extremes. In many cases, excessive grazing has resulted in severe soil degradation. Where grazing timing, duration, and intensity are managed, the effects of grazing have been neutral or positive to soil quality characteristics. As demand for cropland increases, there are many opportunities for mixed crop-livestock systems that may have many environmental as well as economic benefits. Science must continue to develop better predictive understanding of the degradative and regenerative processes of grasslands in order to develop improved management systems. Looking forward, the pressures on fragile grassland ecosystems will increase with increased human population; demand for cropland, bioenergy, and livestock products; and increasing climate variability and change. Policies to address these challenges must address the inter-twined issues of poverty, malnutrition and health challenges, and land degradation in pastoral regions.

Technical Abstract: Grasslands constitute the largest global land use and are an important part of agricultural and ecological systems on every continent, across a wide range of potential productivity. Ruminant livestock grazing on these lands constitutes an important form of agricultural production. It is estimated that 1 billion people depend almost exclusively on livestock, and livestock serves as at least a partial source of income and food security for 70% of the world’s 880 million rural poor. Grazinglands provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including provision of food, livelihoods, biodiversity, habitat, carbon storage, water filtration, and others. Grazinglands are particularly important in the world’s dryland areas, which are especially sensitive to land degradation and are subject to pressures of increasing population, encroachment of cropping onto former grasslands, uncertain land tenure, lack of infrastructure, lack of capital, and are faced with increasing pressures of variable and changing climate. Over 70% of the rangelands worldwide are estimated to be affected by soil degradation. Grazinglands are highly diverse, and there are many opportunities to enhance soil quality, but results in the literature about impacts of grazing on soil quality have been mixed. In dry regions, rangelands are particularly vulnerable to degradation and it is essential that the vegetative and plant litter cover be maintained to protect the soil from raindrop impact and temperature extremes. In many cases, excessive grazing has resulted in severe soil degradation. Where grazing timing, duration, and intensity are managed, the effects of grazing have been neutral or positive to soil quality characteristics. As demand for cropland increases, there are many opportunities for mixed crop-livestock systems that may have many environmental as well as economic benefits. Science must continue to develop better predictive understanding of the degradative and regenerative processes of grasslands in order to develop improved management systems. Looking forward, the pressures on fragile grassland ecosystems will increase with increased human population; demand for cropland, bioenergy, and livestock products; and increasing climate variability and change. Policies to address these challenges must address the inter-twined issues of poverty, malnutrition and health challenges, and land degradation in pastoral regions.

Last Modified: 10/23/2014
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