Feed production for intensive systems has increasingly become decoupled from livestock farms, sourced from high-input intensity grain and legume monocultures, and supplied from international markets. This can result in remote impacts on natural resources in feed-exporting regions, as well as competition for resources between the production of livestock feed and human-edible food. This fourth principle provides guidance for sourcing feed and applies to systems that import off-farm feed.

The procurement of feed from sustainable production systems contributes to global environmental outcomes.

Importing feed from sustainable production systems can reduce remote environmental impacts in feed-producing regions. Key aspects of sustainable feed production include precision use of irrigation water, fertilizers, and pesticides, as well as principles of organic agriculture where possible. These practices also contribute to agricultural resilience. Sourcing feeds produced on existing cropland is also key to avoiding feed-driven deforestation. Mixed systems and agroforestry can further help improve agrobiodiversity.

Most of water used in livestock supply chains (about four-fifths) is dedicated to feed production. Water use efficiency in feed crops and the efficiency with which feed is used at animal production level (feed conversion ratio) are thus determinants to the water use efficiency of the system. The relative reliance on irrigated feed crops in the ration and the sheer size of the sector will further affect the absolute impact livestock systems may have on water resources.

Although human-edible products only account for less than a fifth of the global livestock ration, livestock consume more than one-third of the world’s cereal grain and 70% of the grain used in developing countries. In regions facing resilience challenges, this can result in the allocation of scarce biomass resources to the production of livestock feed instead of directly human-edible food. Using nonhuman-edible material in livestock feed, such as crop residues and industry waste, can reduce pressure on land and water resources and thereby contribute to global food and nutrition security.

Points of Consideration:

Does the project import feed from off-farm sources? If so, in project design:

Identify and contract feed producers with environmental standard certification.

Carry out a comprehensive feed resource assessment survey, including crop residues, industry byproducts, swill, and restaurant wastes into livestock. Avoid as much as possible feeding human-edible material to livestock.

Include indicators in project M&E to track the benefits of sourcing feed sustainably in the project.


Approaches and Tools:

To procure feed crops from sustainable production systems, identify and contract feed producers with environmental standard certification. These certifications may relate to the use of fertilizer, pesticides, and water in feed production; conversion of natural areas for feed production; and greenhouse gases emitted for feed production, processing, and transport.

To minimize pressure on natural resources, integrate crop production and industry wastes into livestock diets. Explore options to include material other than human-edible grain and legumes in livestock diets. Ruminants in intensive systems can consume hay, silage, and crop residues that are too fibrous for human consumption. Most livestock can consume industry by-products such as brewer’s grain, wheat processing, sugar mill waste, and whey from milk and cheese production, as well as restaurant waste.

Variables to Consider:

Proportion of feed consumed by livestock in the project which meets select environmental standards.

Proportion of feed consumed by livestock in the project which is not directly human-edible.

The rapid growth of livestock production has partly been enabled by decreasing prices of intensive feed production (e.g., corn and soy). Feed produced through more environmentally sustainable practices may have higher costs, resulting in higher animal production costs, and thus reduced competitiveness compared to conventional production. Increased consumer awareness and market differentiation may stimulate willingness to pay for more environmentally sustainable products.