The sustainable transformation of the Colombian cattle sector: Assessing its circularity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Circular food systems are increasingly acknowledged for their potential to contribute to the transition towards sustainable futures. In a circular food system, the use of finite and limited resources is minimized, and nutrients in residual streams and inedible biomass for humans are reused as inputs in the bioeconomy. Livestock has become relevant in this narrative for upcycling nutrients contained in food by-products and grass resources into nutritious food for humans without using human-edible resources. Evaluating on-going national sustainability initiatives in the livestock sector is key to determine if circularity elements are already represented and to identify new opportunities and pathways for the future. In this paper we synthetize the environmental actions promoted by different initiatives driving the sustainable transformation of Colombian cattle production systems and assess the inclusion of circularity elements in these actions. The proposed environmental actions were concentrated in the conservation of remaining natural ecosystems, zero-deforestation and the sustainable intensification of cattle production through silvopastoral and paddock rotational systems. Circularity was addressed by some initiatives via the use organic fertilizers and the use of manure as fertilizers or feedstock for bioenergy generation. However, given that cattle farming is often practiced in low-input systems where the collection of by-products for reutilization (e.g., manure) is not always feasible, these actions are expected to have limited impact in the sector. Silvopastoral systems can positively promote circularity by creating the conditions for internal nutrient recycling via litterfall, biological nitrogen fixation, phosphorus solubilization, and presence of beneficial insects. However, to avoid food-feed competition and to remain circular, these should only be installed in agricultural areas unsuitable for crop production. In areas where crops can grow, other production systems that prioritize the production of plant biomass for human consumption (i.e., agrosilvopastoral systems, mixed crop-livestock systems or forms of crop intercropping) should be considered.
Original languageSpanish
JournalPlos Climate
StatePublished - 12 Oct 2022

Cite this