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Livestock enclosures appear source of greenhouse gas

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Recent research into the N2O  emission from 46 Kenyan livestock enclosures (or bomas) has shown that even after 40 years after abandonment, greenhouse gas emissions from those enclosures are still much higher than those from neighbouring savanna sites. 

IHE Delft, in collaboration with international partners at International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), ETH Zurich (Switzerland) have now identified bomas as previously unknown sources of a powerful greenhouse gas (N2O) in sub-Saharan Africa.

The results were published in Nature Communications, a top international peer-reviewed journal, in an article called Livestock enclosures in drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa are overlooked hotspots of N2O emissions.

Greenhouse gas hotspots in the savannah
Although a number of studies have focused on the importance of abandoned bomas as soil fertility hotspots and their role in landscape and ecosystem diversity the importance of bomas as possible landscape hotspots of soil N2O emissions remains unexplored.  To test the hypothesis that bomas are spatial hotspots of N2O emissions in semi-arid and arid regions of Sub Saharan Africa over decades, the researchers measured fluxes at abandoned bomas across an age gradient as well as in adjacent savanna sites in Kenya, East Africa .

The study shows that even 40 years after the pens are abandoned, the manure pile still releases considerable amounts of N2O, more than ten times than the normal savannah. They thus contribute at least 5% to Africa's N2O emissions, with a rapidly increasing trend. 

These emissions are not taken into account in the current emission estimates for sources of atmospheric nitrous oxide, nor are emissions from abandoned animal pens in other semi-arid areas in the world. This research suggests that we need more understanding of animal contributions to greenhouse gas emission in similar landscapes.

So what to do with the manure?
Given the remoteness of settlements of pastoral communities, there is unlikely to be an economically viable solution for transporting and selling manure. However, simple management practices such as the use of mobile bomas, which can be changed at monthly intervals, annual spreading or the distribution of manure upon abandonment on the adjacent rangeland, would not only significantly decrease N2O emissions, but could also work to restore rangeland productivity as nutrients are redistributed in the landscape, thereby creating larger areas with improved, nutrient-rich forage. 

Source: IHE Delft

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