Grazing – optimal intensity
Intensive grazing on grasslands reduces the productivity of plants and reduces the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Optimizing the intensity of grazing reduces carbon loss to the atmosphere.
Ranchers can optimize grazing through methods such as rotational grazing (which involves local monitoring of livestock movements and grazing patterns to allow grass to recover) and bunched grazing (in which livestock are tightly concentrated in an area for a set period of time, then moved on to let the land recover).
Such practices are not only beneficial for carbon storage, but also increase profits for ranchers, reduce soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat.
Optimizing the intensity of grazing is an intervention that could apply to 712 million hectares of rangeland worldwide – an area nearly the size of Australia.
Improved grazing practices could sequester up to 89 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2e/year). That’s comparable to the emissions from 19 million passenger vehicles per year.
To better quantify carbon soil potential in different regions, more research is needed to understand the relationship between specific grazing practices and soil carbon in various climates and soil types.
Implementing this pathway around the world will also require educating ranchers about improved practices and the economic benefits they can offer.
Improving the intensity of grazing is a low-cost natural climate solution that can be implemented quickly by ranchers as part of their standard business practice. Many ranchers are already using these practices to maximize productivity on their rangelands.
Spotlight: Northern Kenya Rangelands
Grazing cattle have been a feature of northern Kenya’s grasslands for hundreds of years, but in recent decades the productivity of those rangelands has been impaired by shifts in settlement patterns, growing human populations and increasing climate variability. Those changes pose a threat to both wildlife and sustainable livelihoods in the communally owned rangelands.
To counter those threats, the people who rely on those rangelands created the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) to advance community conservation on their lands. The NRT’s rangeland management program combines traditional approaches to land management with new techniques such as land use planning, rotational grazing and land rehabilitation. To date the program has benefitted 12,000 households and improved management on 1.8 million hectares of rangeland.
Similar approaches will be particularly important in areas with significant overgrazing, including Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and East/South-East Asia.