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Results of two years of research on the sustainability of the dairy industry in Costa Rica are being discussed

  • The research showed results that will help the Costa Rican dairy sector to orient its actions for the future.

September 9, 2019. Like other Central American and Caribbean countries, Costa Rica's dairy industry is experiencing a period of change due to trade openings, low prices for dairy products and the need to make livestock more compatible with environmental conservation. In the times ahead, the industry is challenged to improve its competitiveness while reducing carbon emissions, avoiding deforestation and the loss of nutrients and leachate that contaminate soils and water.

In 2017, with funding from the United Kingdom's Global Challenges Research Fund, the Sustainable Future research project for the Costa Rican dairy sector was launched in Costa Rica: Optimizing Environmental and Economic Objectives, known as SusCoRiDa, which is implemented by CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center), the University of Bangor and the Rothamsted Research of the United Kingdom, with the support of several local actors, such as, livestock farmers, Sigma Foods, the National Chamber of Milk Producers, the Livestock Corporation (CORFOGA, its Spanish acronym), the Technological Institute of  Costa Rica (TEC, its Spanish acronym), the National Technical University of Costa (UTN, its Spanish acronym), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, its Spanish acronym), National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer (INTA), The University of Costa Rica (UCR, its Spanish acronym), the National University (UNA, its Spanish acronym), The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG, its Spanish acronym) and the private company Dos Pinos.    

This project focused on four research components: quantifying ammonia losses, the risk of nitrogen and phosphorus losses, which are potential soil and water pollutants; studying the environmental footprints of dairy farms; identifying and developing new ways to mitigate these negative effects; and mathematically and financially modeling the economic consequences of proposed mitigations to improve the farming practices of dairy families.

After more than two years of intensive research, this September 9, in the framework of a participatory workshop, researchers, politicians, extension agents and farmers discuss the results of the project.

The research showed that ammonia emissions and the risk of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching from pastures are low and lower than expected. However, it was found that the risk of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off should be assessed in the future. It was also quantified that the inclusion of trees in live fences can sequester much of the carbon emitted by dairy farms.

The project also showed other important results. For example, although specialized and intensive dairy farms produce every kilogram of milk with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, when meat and milk production are considered, dual-purpose systems have the lowest environmental impact. These options include the selection of more digestible pastures, better management of pastures and rotational grazing, management of animal manure and wastewater, as well as the establishment of trees in live fences.

According to Eduardo Somarriba, leader of CATIE's Agriculture, Livestock and Agro-forestry Program, the results of this project will help the Costa Rican dairy sector to orient its actions in the face of the pressures that will accompany the tariff reduction of milk and its derivatives, to weigh the measures required to mitigate the economic effects on farms and to create enabling environments that promote the innovations required on farms and throughout the dairy chain to adapt to the new global conditions of the sector. In turn, Somarriba said the results will guide the transformation of the dairy sector to reduce its environmental footprint and align it with national goals of decarbonization of the economy and environmental concerns of consumers.

For his part, project leader Dave Chadwick, professor of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, commented that, together with producers and Costa Rican researchers, possible future scenarios facing the national dairy sector have been constructed and detailed and that in the remaining months of the project this information will be used to model and identify which types of dairy farms will be most affected by tariff reductions and which will have the greatest impacts on the environment.

The workshop was attended by more than 36 people, representing all actors and links in the country's milk value chain.

Rafael Rodriguez, representative of the National Chamber of Milk Producers, mentioned that the project has been very important for the dairy sector because it was able to determine the impact of GHGs produced by cows in tropical production systems and also generated information on the reality of the effects of global warming.

Following the workshop, the SusCoRiDa project team thanked Costa Rican researchers, farmers, milk processors and MAG for their active participation in the development of the project, providing valuable information on farms and other components of the sector, raising awareness and increasing capacity to explore the consequences of current and future management practices on milk production and the environment.


More information:

Claudia Arndt
Postdoctoral researcher
Agriculture, Livestock and Agroforestry Program
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