Pastoral landscapes in the Sahel: a carbon balance with unexpected potential for climate change mitigation


Philippe Lecomte
Christian Corniaux
Pierre Hiernaux
Alexandre Ickowicz
Jonathan Vayssières


Version française de l'article

In the Sahel, pastoralism capitalises on an extreme environment. Although it is accused of producing excessive amounts of greenhouse gases per kilogram of milk or meat produced, a research study conducted in Senegal shows that pastoral landscapes can actually have a neutral carbon balance: emissions from animals are offset by carbon sequestration in soils and plants. These findings were obtained using an original evaluation method, known as ecosystem assessment, which integrates the use of the pastoral landscape as a whole, according to the seasons and the areas grazed by herds. These findings indicate that current standards for calculating feeding behaviour and methane emissions from ruminant digestion need to be revised downwards. Other implications are possible, such as improving the carbon balance through specific local practices and promoting these areas on the carbon market. Preserving this livestock system is also one way of fostering development and ensuring greater security in these regions.


Biographie des auteurs

Mohamed Habibou Assouma, CIRAD, UMR SELMET, Univ Montpellier, France

Mohamed Habibou Assouma is an agronomist-animal scientist at CIRAD in the SELMET joint research unit (Mediterranean and Tropical Livestock Systems, He conducted the research underpinning this edition of Perspective as part of his doctorate from 2013 to 2016.

Philippe Lecomte, CIRAD, UMR SELMET, Univ Montpellier, France

Philippe Lecomte is an agronomist-animal scientist at CIRAD in the SELMET joint research unit in Montpellier. He coordinated CIRAD’s activities in the context of the European project ANIMALCHANGE (2011-2015,

Christian Corniaux, CIRAD, UMR SELMET, Univ Montpellier, France

Christian Corniaux is an agronomist-animal scientist at CIRAD in the SELMET joint research unit. In Senegal, he jointly coordinates CIRAD’s platform in partnership for research and training Pastoralism and drylands in West Africa (dP PPZS,

Pierre Hiernaux, Bureau d'études Pastoralisme Conseil (Pastoc)

Pierre Hiernaux is an agricultural ecologist specialising in rangelands and extensive livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Now retired, he is head of the French consultancy Pastoralisme Conseil (Pastoc).

Alexandre Ickowicz, CIRAD, UMR SELMET, Univ Montpellier, France

Alexandre Ickowicz is a veterinarian-animal scientist at CIRAD and Director of the SELMET joint research unit. He studies the role of pastoral systems in territorial development. He is a member of the Comité Scientifique Français de la Désertification (French Scientific Committee on Desertification, CSFD, and joint coordinator of the action network Restoring Value to Grassland under the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock platform (

Jonathan Vayssières, CIRAD, UMR SELMET, Univ Montpellier, France

Jonathan Vayssières is an agronomist-modeller at CIRAD in the SELMET joint research unit. He supervised the thesis work that produced these findings during his posting in Senegal from 2011 to 2017. He studies the role of livestock systems in the organisation of nutrient and carbon cycles at different levels (farm, sector, landscape) and in different agro-ecosystems.


Authors' publications

Assouma M. H., 2016. Approche écosystémique du bilan des gaz à effet de serre d’un territoire sylvo-pastoral sahélien : contribution de l’élevage. Paris, Montpellier, AgroParisTech, 230 p. PhD thesis.

Assouma M. H., Hiernaux P., Lecomte P., Ickowicz A., Bernoux M., Vayssières J., 2019. Contrasted seasonal balances in a Sahelian pastoral ecosystem result in a neutral annual carbon balance. Journal of Arid Environments 162: 62-73.

Assouma M. H., Lecomte P., Hiernaux P., Ickowicz A., Corniaux C., Decruyenaere V., Diarra A.R., Vayssières J., 2018. How to better account for livestock diversity and fodder seasonality in assessing the fodder intake of livestock grazing semi-arid sub-Saharan Africa rangelands. Livestock Science 216: 16-23.

Assouma M. H., Serça D., Guérin F., Blanfort V., Lecomte P., Touré I., Ickowicz A., Manlay R.J., Bernoux M., Vayssières J., 2017. Livestock induces strong spatial heterogeneity of soil CO2, N2O, CH4 emissions within a semi-arid sylvo-pastoral landscape in West Africa. Journal of Arid Land 9: 210-221.

Rasmussen K., Brandt M., Tong X., Hiernaux P., Diouf A.A., Assouma M. H., Tucker C.J., Fensholt R., 2018. Does grazing cause land degradation? Evidence from the sandy Ferlo in Northern Senegal. Land Degradation & Development 29: 4337-4347.

Vayssières J., Assouma M. H., Lecomte P., Hiernaux P., Bourgoin J., Jankowski F., Corniaux C., Vigne M., Torquebiau E., Ickowicz A., 2017. Livestock at the heart of 'climate-smart' landscapes in West Africa. In Living territories to transform the world, Caron P., Valette E., Wassenaar T., Coppens D’Eeckenbrugge G., Papazian V. (Eds). Versailles, Éditions Quae, pp. 111-117. ISBN 978-2-7592-2731-0.

Other references

Agence panafricaine de la Grande muraille verte (Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall).

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Livestock and the environment.

Gerber P.J., Steinfeld H., Henderson B., Mottet A., Opio C., Dijkman J., Falcucci A., Tempio G., 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. FAO, Rome, 139 p. ISBN 978-92-5-107920-1.

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security (HLPE), 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? Report N°10, HLPE, Rome, 140 p.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

IPCC, 2006. 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Prepared by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme, Eggleston H.S., Buendia L., Miwa K., Ngara T. and Tanabe K. (eds). Published by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) on behalf of the IPCC, Hayama, Japan. ISBN 4-88788-032-4.

Mayaux P., Bartholomé E., Fritz S., Belward A., 2004. A new land‐cover map of Africa for the year 2000. Journal of Biogeography 31: 861-877.

United Nations Climate Change, 2017. Issues related to agriculture. Decision 4/CP.23: “Koronivia joint work on agriculture”.