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Amps for animals: greening Africa’s livestock sector

Livestock systems are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, hence climate change. However, while the focus tends to be limited to emissions from the “agriculture, forestry and other land use” (AFOLU) sector, and (methane) emissions arising from enteric processes and manure management, little attention has been paid to emissions from energy consumption in other parts of the value chain. 

Livestock systems, particularly large-scale commercial operations, can consume vast amounts of energy, whether it is during the production of inputs such as feed, or through the production, processing, and transportation of the animals and their products. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that in 2017, Sub Saharan Africa’s (SSA) emissions from on-farm energy use (e.g. from heating and ventilation) and post-farm processing and transport of livestock goods amounted to 5.3 MtCO2e. Although this represents a meagre 1 percent of total emissions from SSA’s livestock sector, it is higher than total emissions from several African countries. Total emissions from The Gambia in 2016 amounted to 2.4 MtCO2e, Eswatini at 3.24 MtCO2e, Lesotho at 3.67 MtCO2e and Guinea Bissau at 4.21 MtCO2e. 

Energy forms one of the costliest inputs in poultry production. Hatcheries require electricity for egg incubation and cleaning. For certain points of flock growth, lighting must be on continuously. Large-scale climate-controlled chicken houses consume vast amounts of energy for ventilation, heating, and cooling as well as automated feeding machinery. It is estimated that poultry enterprises in SSA use 75kW per hectare in commercial production sites. Moreover, automated processing operations require power for stunning, scalding, defeathering, evisceration and water chilling. 

In dairy systems, electric milking machines generate up to 0.61kW of energy demand per hectare, while cooling, processing, transportation, and cold storage add to the overall energy footprint. For the meat industry, commercial abattoirs and refrigeration require between 7–60 kWh/pig and 20–310 kWh/cattle, whereas heating water for sanitation purposes requires additional energy. 

A low carbon livestock sector

The use of energy in automated processes and value addition contributes towards higher productivity, lower spoilage, better quality and higher hygienic standards, greater variety of outputs, and access to higher-value markets. As livestock production grows to meet rising demand, energy consumption in the sector will rise too. As several African countries are already investing heavily in rural electrification, it is essential to factor in the growth of the livestock sectors.  

For instance, solar panels located on top of poultry sheds can offset farm energy needs. Switching to LED bulbs for lighting and improving the airflow can further reduce the cost energy inputs in poultry operations. In dairy value chains, small-scale, off-grid, battery-free, solar-poweredand portable refrigeration solutions are transforming the storage and transport of milk in Kenya and Rwanda, ensuring that less milk is spoilt between collection and processing. 

In fact, the livestock sector itself can play a role in contributing towards lower-carbon energy sources. For example, cattle manure can be used for biogas production which can be used to power heating, cooling, and cooking systems – thus closing the loop on inputs and outputs. By capturing the methane from manure fermentation, its impact as a short-term climate warmer is also significantly reduced, and the by-product from the process can be returned to farms as organic fertilizers.

A biogas-powered milk chiller developed in Kenya provides farmers the first step towards a reliable dairy cool chain. As the gas is produced from an on-farm digester, the solution allows even small farmers to reduce losses and supply milk that meets quality standards. For evening milk production, which does not get to market until the following day, a Ugandan combined heating and cooling solution powered by biogas, reduces the potential for bacterial growth, hence keeping milk fresh for longer. At the same time, combining slaughterhouse waste with manure significantly improves the biogas yield, further reducing the overall impact of the livestock sector on the environment and the climate. In  South Africa, electricity generation from a mix of manure and abattoir waste showed the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of beef and pork value chains by 10 percent and 30 percent, respectively – equating to approximately 1.56 Mt CO2eq per year.

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Africa’s livestock sector is ripe for innovation in energy saving technologies and a transition to low carbon energy sources. To reduce the impact of the livestock sector on climate change, it is essential to support and scale up innovation in energy solutions across value chains. Promoting an inclusive, sustainable and profitable livestock sector in Africa will require affordable, clean, reliable and continuous supply of energy to meet production, processing and supply requirements. 

Not only do renewable energy technologies supply clean and affordable power, they also connect those who are off-grid. Fostering innovation will require greater access to finance to unlock the development of new technologies and solutions. At the same time, building awareness among farmers and livestock producers – supported with appropriate financing methods – will enhance uptake of existing solutions. 

**This blog complements the Malabo Montpellier’s reports, “Meat, Milk & More: Policy Innovations to shepherd an inclusive and sustainable livestock sector in Africa”, and “Energized: Policy Innovations to power the transformation of Africa’s agriculture and food system”.

Read the original blog here