A joined-up food system

Pasture-based ruminant livestock farming has a positive impact on ecological subsystems.

Future Pasture

The Swiss food system is facing major ecolo­gi­cal and socioe­co­no­mic chal­lenges. The stake­hol­ders in the value network are not only under finan­cial pres­sure but are also subject to growing social demands. Plus – from an ecolo­gi­cal perspec­tive, six of the nine plane­tary boun­da­ries have alre­ady been brea­ched. At natio­nal level too, there has been a fail­ure to meet envi­ron­men­tal goals that are stron­gly linked to agri­cul­ture. For a viable ecosys­tem, we need a para­digm change – from sustaina­bi­lity to regeneration.

Good start­ing point

The fact that many of the rele­vant initia­ti­ves do not move beyond postu­la­ted targets is not down to a lack of know­ledge or skills. Switz­er­land has a large number of excel­lent stake­hol­ders as well as rese­arch, agri­cul­tu­ral and consul­ting orga­ni­sa­ti­ons – and, not least, a major network of commit­ted funding bodies. In short, the tech­ni­cal and mone­tary resour­ces requi­red to design and imple­ment a viable food system are there. But the food sector is not just rele­vant when it comes to food secu­rity. Agri­cul­ture, in parti­cu­lar, is essen­tial where ecolo­gi­cal impact and system plan­ning are concer­ned, as it inter­acts directly with the ecosys­tem. This is ther­e­fore where we can achieve the grea­test causal leverage on the environment.

Diffe­ren­tia­ted view needed

Live­stock farming is often at the heart of public and acade­mic debate. Cattle farming, in parti­cu­lar, is said to have a serious, nega­tive impact on the ecosys­tem. People tend to talk about milk and meat produc­tion in homo­ge­neous terms, making very little diffe­ren­tia­tion. Howe­ver, live­stock and feeding systems differ enorm­ously – and the degree of inten­si­fi­ca­tion also affects the ecolo­gi­cal and socioe­co­no­mic impact. Extre­mes of public opinion range from calls for inten­sive indoor housing for live­stock to calls to abstain from meat altog­e­ther. Both perspec­ti­ves lack an under­stan­ding of nutri­ent cycles and crop rota­tion, of the syste­mic corre­la­ti­ons between live­stock farming and species diver­sity, and of produc­tion that has been adapted to its loca­tion and the available resources.

Targe­ted support

From an agri­cul­tu­ral, cultu­ral and socio-ecolo­gi­cal stand­point, live­stock farming will conti­nue to play a signi­fi­cant role where sustainable or rege­ne­ra­tive food systems are concer­ned. It is important, howe­ver, that its para­me­ters are properly defi­ned. The afore­men­tio­ned pola­ri­sa­tion does not bene­fit anyone. Instead, we need to rese­arch, plan and promote the poten­tial of rege­ne­ra­tive live­stock farming and its value network.

Posi­tive impact

Pasture-based rumi­nant live­stock farming has a predo­mi­nantly posi­tive impact at ecolo­gi­cal subsys­tem level on biodi­ver­sity, soil health, soil ferti­lity, soil conser­va­tion and water regu­la­tion. Pasture mana­ged by rumi­nants is better protec­ted against climate extremes. 

Three key requi­re­ments for a viable Swiss food system are, therefore:

  • Better networ­king among stake­hol­ders to pool forces, use syner­gies and work on joint solutions.
  • Concrete support for the imple­men­ta­tion of impact-based projects accor­ding to a suita­ble logic model, and measu­re­ment of their success on the basis of holi­stic KPIs tail­o­red to the stakeholders.
  • Increased public and poli­ti­cal aware­ness of the huge poten­tial and the important posi­tive syste­mic effects of pasture-based rumi­nant live­stock produc­tion systems. And add to that the mone­ti­sa­tion of ecosys­tem services. Because, at the end of the day, the future of our food system depends on whether our society can succeed in ensu­ring that produ­cers are paid fairly for their services to society.

Added to this is the mone­ti­sa­tion of ecosys­tem services. Ulti­m­ately, the future of our food system depends on whether our society succeeds in remu­ne­ra­ting produ­cers appro­pria­tely for their social services.

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