Breeding cows in a zero-grazing system can be a dual environmental solution

Climate changeEnvironment and climate changeLivestock and beekeeping

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Raising livestock is part of the culture in Rwanda. Cows are at the centre of Rwandan social life. They are given as dowry gifts, they identify parental heritage, and they are considered to be the supreme gift. Historically, the number of cows a person owns was a measure of wealth. It is still the case today in parts of the country.

However, Rwanda is a small country, and land is becoming more expensive, making it harder to practice traditional ways of farming which require a lot of land. To address the lack of land for farming, there is a new government policy that promotes intensive farming. Livestock experts say this policy is not only a response to land management, but also to global warming. The policy was established after research showed that large livestock herds are a major producer of methane, a greenhouse gas.

However, given the importance of traditional breeds in Rwanda, and farmers’ misconceptions about hybrid breeds, some farmers believe cows cannot produce methane. “It is impossible, the cow did nothing wrong,” they say. This script will help farmers understand that cows do contribute to global warming and climate change. It will also help Rwandan farmers understand that intensive farming with improved cow breeds is a good way to address climate change as well as fight against overgrazing.


  • Cue in signature tune to begin the broadcast. The signature tune fades after 15 seconds and dissolves under the voice of the program host.
    Dear Radio Salus listeners, greetings and welcome once again to our agricultural show. To begin, here is the theme of this show: Breeding cows in a zero-grazing system can be a dual environmental solution.
    Dear listeners, dear producers, this is a surprise! Did you know that dairy cows play an important role in climate change? Did you know that you can take measures to reduce the impact of raising cows on climate change? Stay tuned for the answers in this show. This is a program prepared and presented by Jean Paul Ntezimana. Stay with us!Ten second musical interlude that fades and dissolves under the host’s voice
    Dear listeners, today we will talk about the impact of cows on climate change.
    As you can see, the climate is changing. There are fewer rains and they come later in the year. When it rains, there are disastrous floods. There is a lot of sun for prolonged periods. Farmers no longer know how to predict the seasons.
    The causes of climate change are mostly man-made. Research has shown that our farms also play a role in climate change.
    As you know, many Rwandans raise cows. Everyone in Rwanda wants a cow. The richest people want to own many cows. The poorest of the poor want to at least own one cow. So the cow can indicate a person’s economic status.
    We went to the eastern and southern provinces to discuss the role of the cow in climate change. For the scientific details, we talked to Mr. Gasore Désiré, a researcher at the Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda. Dear listeners, in a moment, we will get some answers on this subject!
    Ten second musical interlude that fades and dissolves under the voice of the program host
    To address this issue, we first give farmers a voice. For this reason, we went to the district of Gatsibo, in northeastern Rwanda. There we met Mr. Muganza, one of the farmers in the region.The tone of the host changes and he tells a descriptive story
    (Sound of cows) It is an early summer afternoon in Rwanda. The tops of small trees and savanna grasses sway with the wind. Mr. Vianney Muganza speaks.
    Voice off mic:
    Ela, ela SYI!
    He is saying, “Come back from there!”
    Voice off mic
    Ca aha, aha ca!
    He is saying, “Go through here!” He is talking to his cows. This is the language of the pasture.
    Mr. Muganza keeps two herds of cows. One is a local breed and the other is an improved breed. The two herds of cows do not mix. They graze on different sides.
    Because they move, the pastoralist always has his stick in hand. I stop to talk to him.
    After a little conversation, I ask him whether he is aware that big cattle herds are polluters. After a moment’s hesitation, the pastoralist stands, crosses his legs and leans on his stick.

    Mr. Muganza:
    Yes, this may be true because in the last few years, we have had many problems during the dry seasons. Our area was almost deserted and the cows were dying! Before, everyone had about 120 cattle on approximately 15 hectares.
    But these days, the government has asked us to reduce the number of cattle we have. I had over 50 cows of local breed, but now I have only a few local cows and eight cross-bred cows. Because we have less cows to feed, no farmer loses a cow during the dry season. This reduction was of great importance because it is true that the cow can be a polluter.
    Ten second musical interlude that fades and dissolves under the voice of the program host
    After a look at Mr. Muganza’s cows, our conversation continued. We asked whether farmers know that cows contribute greatly to climate change. That is to say, we wanted to know if farmers know that cows create greenhouse gases, which are gases that pollute the atmosphere. Muganza shakes his head.

    Mr. Muganza:
    (In a stern voice) No, I do not think cows pollute the atmosphere. I hear it’s the major industries in Kigali that emit a lot of smoke!

    But if it’s true, we will take all necessary measures that our government will ask. You see, we have reduced the number of cows we have and all is well! I believe that every farmer must be sensitive to anything that can improve the climate.

    Ten second musical interlude that fades and dissolves under the voice of the program host

    Next we visited the southern province in the district of Muhanga, in the Nyamabuye sector. There we found Mr. Jean Bosco Bizimana, a farmer who raises cows. Mr. Bizimana has raised cattle for a long time. But he has already changed his breed of cows. Why did he change? Let’s go visit Bizimana’s farm to find out.
    The host changes his tone to tell the story of Bizimana
    It is almost ten o’clock in the morning. Mr. Bizimana has just finished cleaning the stable. The chickens wander inside. A little smoke is coming out of the kitchen and onto a banana field behind the house. Mr. Bizimana, in his red hat, feeds his three cows in their stable. After a Rwandan greeting, we wanted to know why Mr. Bizimana changed his breed of cows.
    Mr. Bizimana:
    For a long time, I raised many local breeds. But I did not have a good income.
    Three years ago, I decided to change. I wanted to test the government policy which says that improved dairy breeds are very beneficial. It is true, but improved cow breeds consume more water and plants than local breeds.
    Another reason for changing breeds was the government policy on space management. This policy encourages farmers to intensively use small areas to produce high yields. I don’t have a big farm. I just plant grass for my cows in different plots.
    Dear listeners, you are listening to the agriculture program on Radio Salus. We are discussing the role of the cow in the warming climate. As I did with Mr. Muganza, I wanted to know if Mr. Bizimana is aware of the role of the cow in air pollution.
    Mr. Bizimana:
    I do not know anything about greenhouse gas emissions. I do not even know that the atmosphere is polluted by emissions from the earth. (Pause) Ahhh! Yes, I remember, there’s a little smoke, not black as usual, that comes when we empty the composted manure from the stables.

    However, this is the first time I hear someone blaming it on the cows! I have often seen smoke from the waste of stable dung, especially in the morning! When we saw this smoke, we didn’t know that these gases pollute.

    Dear listeners, as we mentioned earlier, in order to clarify the role of the cow in the emission of greenhouse gases, we contacted Mr. Gasore Désiré. Mr. Désiré is a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of Rwanda. He tried to be brief and simple to explain the situation. However, science remains science. It’s complicated. Let’s listen to Mr. Désiré.

    Mr. Désiré:
    Cows emit lots of methane when they digest their food. Methane is a greenhouse gas, and it is the buildup of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere which is warming the planet.
    There is another way in which cows produce greenhouse gases. In the zero-grazing system, there are large concentrations of cow manure on the fields. These piles allow the formation of a different greenhouse gas. This gas is nitrous oxide, which is released as the nitrogen in the manure is released into the air.
    Ten second musical interlude that fades and dissolves under the voice of the program host
    We asked Mr. Désiré what farmers can do to reduce the negative impacts from gases emitted by cows. Mr. Desire talks about two ways of raising livestock: zero grazing and ranching. Here’s how Mr. Désiré responded.

    Mr. Désiré:
    Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. The zero-grazing system reduces the number of cows that are raised. Therefore, there are lower emissions of greenhouse gases than in the ranching system.

    Having improved breeds of cattle in a zero-grazing system is important because it allows the farmer to reduce the number of livestock. The farmer can reduce the number of cows and get the same amount of milk. This increases his or her income.

    In a zero-grazing system, the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted decreases because there are fewer cows. Its disadvantage is that there is an increase in the amount of nitrous oxide emitted from the dung piles.

    A little jingle

    Mr. Désiré:
    In ranching, the number of cattle is high. This means that the amount of methane produced is also high. Also, ranching causes great damage to the environment through overgrazing. Overgrazing can cause emissions of carbon dioxide, which is also a greenhouse gas. Overgrazing destroys the ability of the soil to store carbon. When a pasture is overgrazed, stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.

    However, one benefit of ranching is that there are no piles of dung, since the dung is scattered and becomes dry. This decreases the formation of nitrous oxide.
    So it’s true in general that farmers who want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should adopt the zero-grazing system with improved cow breeds.

    Dear listeners and farmers, I think you’ve heard about the role of the cow in creating greenhouse gases. You’ve also heard about how you can participate in reducing these emissions without affecting your livelihood. Mr. Désiré just talked about zero-grazing systems. Other animal scientists also encourage this kind of farming. In addition; they recommend using the methane from the dung as a biogas to generate energy instead of polluting the atmosphere.
    Some scientists suggest that it is possible to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide released from piles of dung. If you cover the piles, much less nitrogen will be released.
    Small jingle
    Dear listeners of Radio Salus, today we talked about how raising cows in a zero-grazing system can be a dual environmental solution. We hope you’ve understood the role that cows play in the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We hope you have also understood how you can participate in reducing those emissions. It’s very scientific, and if you need further clarifications, please contact us at Radio Salus’ usual address.

    Dear listeners, our program has come to an end. Thank you for your kind attention. And thank you to all our partners, including the farmers, and Mr. Désiré, who explained the role of the cow in greenhouse gas emissions. I’m your host, Jean Paul Ntezimana! See you next time.


  • Contributed by: Jean-Paul Ntezimana, Radio Salus, Butare, Rwanda, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
  • Reviewed by: Dilip Bhandari, veterinarian, Heifer International, and Terry Wollen, Director of Livestock Advocacy, Heifer International.

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