Dependence on the socio-economic system impairs the sustainability of pasture-based animal agriculture

Sci Rep. 2023 Aug 31;13(1):14307. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-41524-4.


Livestock systems contribution to environmental change is controversial. Pasture-based systems are considered a sustainable alternative due to their adaptation to the use of local natural resources. However, they have limited productivity per product unit and, in Europe, depend on public economic support. Furthermore, they are heterogeneous in farm structure and resources use, which may determine their sustainability. We use emergy accounting to assess the sustainability of mountain pasture-based cattle systems and analyse the variability among farms. Emergy accounting assesses the sustainability performance of complex systems (i.e., farming systems) and their interaction with other systems (i.e., the environment and the socio-economic system) focusing on the origin, quality and quantity of the energy required for the system to function. Results show that pasture-based systems largely use local natural renewable resources but depend largely on the wider socio-economic system given their reliance on public economic support and purchased animal feeds. This economic dependence turns out in most farms largely using non-renewable resources. Increasing self-produced feeds and grazing on natural pastures can reduce the dependence on the socio-economic system and improve farm sustainability.

PMID:37653233 | PMC:PMC10471625 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-41524-4


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