The Pasture Problem
Can Smart Development and Intensification Slow the Expansion of Pasture?
Recent decades have seen remarkable developments across the pastures of the world. Even as production of meat and dairy from ruminants (grazing animals such as cattle and sheep) increased by almost a third, the footprint of pasture has begun to decline. And this change is significant, shrinking by nearly 64 million hectares, an area larger than France, between 2000 and 2013. The gains have been considerable for conservation. To the benefit of endangered species from the Asiatic cheetah in Iran to the saiga antelope in Kazakhstan, pastureland is going out of production and returning to nature.
While promising, these developments will not be enough to assure that rising demand for meat does not put new pressure on critical habitats. Global demand for ruminant meat and dairy is expected to rise by 44% between now and 2050. Even as pasture has shrunk in the global aggregate, it continues to expand in many parts of the world, particularly in emerging economies and the tropics, where some of the most intact and threatened areas of natural habitat remain.