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A Heifer project participant cooks on a stove fueled with biogas.

by Terry Wollen

This year’s international round of discussion on climate change is taking place in Cancun, Mexico. Officially known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, this summit is focusing on numerous topics – not the least of which is greenhouse gasses. Indeed, one of the important themes around climate change has to do with mitigation of the effects of greenhouse gasses – in other words, “What can we do to make these changes less severe or hostile?”

Here at Heifer, we’ve been answering this question for years through our innovative yet simple agroecology programs. All over the developing world we’re fighting the environmental effects of greenhouse gasses by training smallholder farmers to use sustainable methods of rearing animals and raising crops.

Here are just a few of our programs that improve local ecosystems while helping families lift themselves out of poverty:

· Improving soil water retention through planting trees and wise grazing management

· Controlling soil erosion

· Rotational grazing practices for small and large ruminants like goats, cattle, llamas alpacas, and water buffalo

· Periodic or sustained use of zero-grazing pens

· Improved animal feeding with local resources, using an educated understanding of animal nutrient requirements

· Better manure management through composting, covering wet and dry manure storage and incorporation of this animal by-product in crop grounds.

While animals and animal by-products do emit greenhouse gasses, an educated understanding of where these gasses come from and means to reduce their impact are mitigation practices that can be accomplished by all smallholder farmers.

Let me offer a real-world example: In the Conco community in Copan Ruinas, Honduras, the family of Jesus Esquivel and other partners of the local Heifer Honduras project have transformed the fragile surrounding hillsides from erosion and excessive tree harvesting to a sloping landscape that now holds water for irrigation, productive livestock for community markets and a school for local children. This has been accomplished through wise management of livestock grazing and zero-grazing pens, tree planting, contour land management for farming, manure composting and application to soils, along with improved kitchens using biogas from the animal pens and improved stoves.

The issues surrounding greenhouse gasses and climate change are many and complex. Heifer International can speak with authority on ways to mitigate the effects of climate change as we’ve seen our model yield real, life-changing results in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Terry Wollen is the Interim Vice President for Advocacy at Heifer International and a former livestock veterinary practitioner.


Casey Neese