Improving the environmental performance of sheep farming could help combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and maximising ecosystem services. It could also promote the socio-economic sustainability of local supply chains, adding value by connecting products with the environment and land use and enabling business diversification into areas such as eco-tourism.
SheepToShip LIFE seeked to contribute in a practical way to EU climate change objectives by helping to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the sheep farming sector and dairy supply chain in Sardinia. The main objective of the project was to reduce by 20% in 10 years greenhouse gas emissions (nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide) from the Sardinian livestock sector and sheep industry, with an annual rate of reduction equal to about 3 500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.
The immediate objectives of the project were:
- Encouraging environmental improvements of production systems in the sheep sector and demonstrating the environmental, economic and social benefits deriving from eco-innovation in the dairy supply chain and sheep farming sector;
- Promoting the implementation of environmental policies and rural development, guided by the life-cycle approach, and aimed at enhancing the environmental quality of local sheep’s milk and cheese supply chains; and
- Increasing the level of knowledge and awareness of stakeholders and the general public regarding the environmental sustainability of products made from sheep’s milk and their contribution to the mitigation of climate change.
SheepToShip LIFE was aligned to the Europe 2020 strategy and in line with EU policies and regulations in terms of combating climate change, environmental protection and sustainable development. It demonstrates strategic and methodological approaches to develop knowledge for estimating and monitoring the mitigation measures of climate change, and applying good practices and solutions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the sheep sector in Sardinia.
SheepToShip LIFE demonstrated the environmental, economic and social benefits deriving from eco-innovation in the dairy supply chain and sheep farming sector in Sardinia. The project team conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which addressed several challenges. For this, they collected site-specific data, developed models and contributed to the building of specific LCA rules for the dairy sheep sector. During the collection of the LCA data, the technical staff of the project actively promoted knowledge transfer to farmers and agricultural advisers, improving their awareness and empowering their environmental role. The project team produced dedicated guidelines, with best practices for the livestock sector and the sheep industry.
Monitoring of the implementation of the project’s pilot measures showed that a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) by 20% from the Sardinian livestock sector and sheep industry could be obtained in ten years, if the application of the defined measures is extended to the whole sector, with an annual rate of reduction of about 3 500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.
The project team produced an Environmental Action Plan for the sheep sector as a whole, and implemented it through a participatory process. The Action Plan contains a climate change mitigation strategy for the sector, as well as a manual with best practices for improving the environmental performance of sheep farming systems. It has been disseminated among farmers, technicians and policymakers, through many demonstration and dissemination events. The inclusion of the proposed measures in the Environmental Action Plan in the next Regional Rural Development Plan was confirmed by the Sardinian Region.
The project’s eco-sustainable solutions were demonstrated to have the possibility of producing long-term economic benefits for the Sardinian dairy supply chain and the livestock sector. These benefits derive from: i. increased competitiveness and profitability of high value sheep farming systems; and ii. valorisation of the ecosystem services of grassland-based sheep farms. This will be achieved by ensuring that environmental standards are always compatible with production quality and socioeconomic demands.
Despite certain specific features of Sardinian sheep farming systems, all the above-reported results could be replicated in other European and Mediterranean areas. The project was thus confirmed as a model of good practice for other European contexts. The main eco-innovation practices promoted were based on the positive correlation between environmental and economic effects, where the increased efficiency of input use and the optimisation of productivity are the key elements.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).