Meat versus The Climate
This October, the majority of Nepalese kitchen is getting ready to be filled with the meat dishes for a week; because the greatest festival of Hindu people of Nepal i.e. Dashain is almost there. Every house usually has a goat ready to be slaughtered in the festive occasion. People believe it as an offering to their goddess and the meat is considered to be sacred. The whole country celebrates the biggest festival. This year more than 65,000 goats are expected to be consumed in the Kathmandu valley alone. Besides goats, large quantity of chicken and buffalo meats will be consumed here. Not just the Dashain festival, most of the festivals of Nepal is accompanied by meat dishes. Meat recipes are considered as a special food in Nepalese food menu either it is simple family gathering, guest welcome or a big party.
Annual household survey (2014/2015) conducted by Government of Nepal and United Nation Development Program (UNDP) released in 2016 reveal that meat and fish is the second largest food expenditure of Nepalese people with 14.4% share in total expenditure in food. Pulse and grain occupy highest share of 32.1 % and vegetables occupy third position with 13.3% of the total expenditure. However, the production in the country is not sufficient to fulfill the growing demand of the meat. Nepal foreign trade statistics (2015/2016) show that the total import of live animals is worth 3 billion, meat & edible meat offal is worth 101 million and fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatics is worth 800 million rupees. Comparatively, the export is very less. According to the data given by livestock statistics 2017, the number of cattle hold by farmer is 2,280,542; buffalo is 1,668,820; Yak/Nak/Chauri is 6,235; sheep is 98,464; goat is 2,463,253 and pig is 477,984 which do not meet the demand.
Kathmandu valley is the largest consumer of meat with 1.4 million people residing in it (according to the latest census 2011). But the population is expected to be increased now. According to the department of livestock services, per annum per person meat consumption is 16 kg. From this we can estimate the quantity of meat consumption of Kathmandu alone. The exact data for the whole country is not yet available. Consumption of meat is expected to grow further as the population is growing and so is the income of the people.
On one hand the meat consumers are increasing with the speed of rocket, while on the other hand, a report on climate science regarding meat consumption and livestock can surprise many people. People mostly think that the industrial emissions and the transport sectors are the major carbon emitters. But actually, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that the livestock sectors account for 14.5 % of green house gas (GHG) emission globally; this is more than the emission by the transportation sector. The carbon footprint of red meat is considered highly impacting climate change due to methane (CH4) emitted by livestock. A report reveals that the carbon footprints of livestock (in Kg CO2 –eq. /kg) are:
Beef - 26.61 kg
Lamb - 25.58 kg
Pork - 5.77 kg
Chicken – 3.65 kg
Fish – 3.49 kg
While, the carbon footprints of vegetarian food are:
Rice – 2.55 kg
Fruit & vegetables – 2.13 kg
Milk – 1.29 kg
Cereal & pulses – 0.51 kg
Field grown vegetables – 0.37 kg
The sources of GHG emissions by livestock are methane from enteric fermentation, methane and nitrous oxide from manure management, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide form feed production, processing and transport and also the energy consumption. The carbon footprint of non-vegetarian food is significantly higher than the vegetarian food. From this data and the number of livestock holding in Nepal, the carbon footprint Nepal leaves can be estimated. Since, the productions here do not meet the demand, so large share of carbon goes in the atmosphere through the consumption of meat.
A report by UNDP Nepal states that globally Nepal is ranked fourth, eleventh and thirtieth in terms of vulnerability to climate change, earthquake and flood respectively. Nepal was hit by devastating earthquake in 2015 taking lives of thousands of people. Many incidences of big flood and landslides frequently occur leaving behind painful wounds in the life and memory of people. The most recent report released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that it is very essential to limit the global warming to 1.5 ⁰C; otherwise the results will be the worst than expected for human and ecosystem. Such kinds of effects are more prone to occur in the least developed and geographically diversified country like Nepal. Therefore, it becomes the crucial responsibility of people of Nepal to bring behavioral changes in their excess meat eating habit, thereby reducing the carbon footprint.
IPCC suggest consuming 30% less animal products limiting the demand of green house intensive food and shift to the less green house emitting vegetarian foods which are healthier and more sustainable diets. But this journey won’t be so easy. In the developing country like Nepal, where majority of the people are engaged in the agricultural activity and the livestock contribute 11% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is pretty hard to convince the people to lower the livestock production and meat consumption for the wellbeing of climate and the Earth. In this course, it is important to find out the perception of local people on climate change. They understand the climate as normal regular phenomenon and with time they get habituated to get adjusted in the changing environment. But it is essential to make them know that the different kind of changes that they are observing in the climate phenomenon in the period of time and which is affecting their agricultural practices is a part of climate change and is going to be worst in the days to come, impacting their livelihood.
Initiations have to be started from the level of government, INGOs, NGOs, researchers and activists including all stakeholders. At present, the government of Nepal is in the path of promoting the livestock development as a part of economic enhancement among farmers. In order to uplift the status of livestock, recently the Ministry of Livestock Development (MoLD) has been formed bringing various programs to develop the sector. Many INGOs are working to improve the production and the government is also receiving the assistance from international organizations like World Bank. Thus, it is more than challenging to transform the scenario. But indeed we cannot stay quiet.
There is an urgency to develop scientific techniques, cost effective and energy efficient methodologies and mitigation interventions to reduce the impact from livestock sector. It has to be a global effort than just an individual nation’s small effort to make a bigger impact worldwide. Beside this, as stated by IPCC that change in people’s behavior has a lot to contribute to protect Earth. So it is necessary to spread food and nutrition education that grow healthy eating habit among people. According to Health SDG Profile 2017, released by World Health Organization (WHO), 21.8% of mortality in Nepal between 30 and 70 year age occurred from cardio vascular diseases, cancer diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases in 2015. The unhealthy meat eating habit is also responsible for causing such diseases to the greater extent. People should be made aware and encouraged to shift towards less but healthy proportion of meat consumption that maintain good health among people and also contribute to cut the GHG emissions from meat consumption and production. The products like veg.-meat are also found nowadays in the market which gives the taste and feeling of meat when eaten; this can probably substitute the livestock meat for meat lovers. Moreover, in the country like Nepal, rapid awareness of climate change and its impacts should be widespread such that people show more willingness to bring change in their behavior. Now the greater share of responsibility comes to the hand of young people, researchers, environmental activists and climate warriors to put best effort for the current scenario change and protection of the mother Earth.
So, what do you prefer; diet change or the climate change?
I do prefer the diet change going pro-veg.