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CRP Success Story: Optimizing Soil, Water and Nutrient Use Efficiency in Integrated Cropping-Livestock Production Systems (D12012)

Success story

Cow grazing after crop harvest in Argentina.  (Photo: M.Zaman/IAEA)

Introduction: Extreme climate conditions exacerbated by climate change, poor farming practices such as monocultures, burning of crop residues after harvest, and excessive ploughing lead to declining soil fertility and loss of crop productivity, unless the lost nutrients are replaced. Implementing Integrated cropping-livestock systems (ICLS) is one of the most beneficial practices of good soil management, enriching soil with essential plant nutrients and enhancing carbon (C) sequestration. Integrated cropping-livestock systems can increase soil fertility and crop productivity, reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, and contribute to greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions, when compared to continuous cropping (CC) systems, in which farmers grow similar crops on the same piece of land without rotation of pasture/legumes or livestock grazing. At the same time, ICLS can make agricultural production more resilient to climate change through C sequestration and thereby support farmers in climate change adaptation.

The objective of the Coordinated Research Project (CRP) was to develop a technology package for farmers using ICLS to improve soil fertility, increase crop and livestock production and mitigate GHG emissions from agriculture using nuclear and related techniques. Eight countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda, and Uruguay, participated in this CRP.

Specific Research Objectives:

The specific objectives of the CRP were to assess the potential benefits of ICLS in improving soil fertility and soil C sequestration to increase soil resilience against climate change, reducing GHG emissions and strengthening the capacity of the participating Member States in using isotopic techniques.

Global Impact:

In collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the CRP project gained new insights and knowledge on the impacts of ICLS on improving soil fertility, enhancing crop and livestock productivity, mitigating GHGs and building the resilience of soil under changing climate.

Impact on countries taking part in the CRP

Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda and Uruguay achieve significant improvements in soil fertility, sequestration of C, enhancement of crop and livestock productivity, and reductions in GHG emissions. In Argentina, 50 per cent more C was stored in ICLS compared to CC systems, in which the same crop is continuously sown on the same field every year without any rotations. Adopting ICLS in Brazil reduced emissions of GHG by 45 per cent. China showed 31 to 97 per cent lower soil erosion in ICLS compared to CC systems. In India, ICLS improved livestock reproductive performance as well as body weight of animals by 15 per cent. A brochure/guideline highlighting the benefits of ICLS was prepared in Indian local languages, which was disseminated to end users through farmer field days and training sessions. Kenya reported improved crop yield and decreased dependence on chemical fertilizers. Additionally, two students, one in Brazil and one in India, completed their master’s degree programs under this CRP. The use of integrated crop-livestock systems, promoted through this CRP, is likely to be adopted by countries beyond those that participated in this project. If land is suitable for crop cultivation, it is suitable for implementing ICLS.


Nuclear techniques play a major role in the evaluation and development of ICLS, because they enable the precise assessment of the effects that ICLS have on nutrient storage in soil, soil quality and health, and crop and livestock productivity. Nuclear techniques are one of the best options to evaluate ICLS practices both in terms of their effects on soil C storage as well as on processes responsible for the release of climate relevant GHGs.

The tangible results of this CRP were published in two success stories by IAEA OPIC and one success story by an Indian magazine, highlighting the role of ICLS in improving soil fertility, quality and health, mitigating GHG emissions, and enhancing crop and livestock production. Several Technical Cooperation projects including RAF5090, BDI5005, SUD5041, SRL5051, PER5035, RAS5083, PAK5053, have been developed as a result of this CRP.

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