South African Food and Agriculture Impacts (SAFARI)
Environmental hotspots in the South African food and agriculture value chain
The SAFARI project was funded by the Swiss South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) and aimed at analysing the environmental hotspots of the South African food and agriculture value chain. The project consortium consisted of four partners from South Africa and Switzerland: three academic partners (the University of Cape Town UCT, Stellenbosch University SU and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW) and one business partner (The Green House TGH, an LCA consultancy).
Life Cycle Assessment of agricultural goods
Life Cycle Assessments of maize, cows’ milk and beef based on data collected in South Africa and country-specific statistics were carried out. For maize, datasets on silage maize as well as grain maize (both irrigated and rainfed production) were produced. In addition to raw milk, milk processing was also modelled and datasets for milk products such as butter, cream, yoghurt, cottage cheese and maas (a fermented milk product) were created.
Greenhouse gas emissions in maize production arise largely due to fertiliser use, irrigation, direct emissions and diesel consumption. The analysis of the impact of raw milk showed that for climate change, direct methane emissions from dairy cows are responsible for the largest share of the impact, whereas for other impact categories, feed dominates the impact. Feeding methane-inhibiting additives to cows can therefore be recommended to reduce the impact of milk providing its long-term safety can be guaranteed.
The electricity demand associated with irrigation is responsible for a considerable share of the climate change impact of maize production. This impact can be reduced by using solar electricity instead South African grid electricity, which is mainly generated using coal (almost 90%). The introduction of so-called “variable speed drives” (VSD) in water pumps is another option to reduce the impact: a VSD allows regulation of the motor speed according to the actual demand instead of running it continually at maximum capacity and therefore reduces the electricity demand of the water pump by a third. These options can all be recommended and can also be combined to reduce the environmental impact of milk.