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Biodiversity & Environment

Carbon Farming

  • 13 Oct 2021
  • 8 min read

Introduction

  • Carbon:
    • It is recognized as a key energy currency of biological systems, including agriculture.
    • Agricultural production depends on plant photosynthesis to move CO2 out of the atmosphere and into the plant, where it is transformed into agricultural products: food, flora, fuel or fiber.
  • Agriculture and Carbon Emissions:
  • Carbon Farming:
    • Carbon farming (also known as carbon sequestration) is a system of agricultural management that helps the land store more carbon and reduce the amount of GHG that it releases into the atmosphere.
    • It involves practices that are known to improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and soil organic matter.
    • Carbon farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management or conservation practices exceed carbon losses.

Methods for Carbon Farming

  • Forest Management: Healthy forests absorb and hold CO2 emissions produced from other sources. Carbon offsets can be created by:
    • Avoiding deforestation
    • Permanent land conservation
    • Reforestation and replanting activities
    • Improved forest management
  • Grasslands Conservation: It includes maintaining native plant life through permanent land conservation and avoiding conversion of grasslands for commercial development or intensive agriculture.
  • Mixed Farming: A climate-friendly strategy of raising livestock and crops together.
    • Rotating cows among pastures allows grasses to recover from grazing and the animals’ manure and the impacts of their grazing regenerate carbon in soils.
  • Using Cover Crops: These crops are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. They are planted after the harvest of the main crop.
    • They return more carbon to the soil and sustain soil microbes that play key roles in carbon storage.
  • Reduction of Soil Tillage: Tillage is normally used to loosen and aerate the soil and to remove initial weeds.
    • However, tillage increases carbon mineralization (decomposition of chemical compounds in organic matter) leading to CO2 emissions from the soil.
    • Reducing the soil disturbance is a useful tool to protect soil organic matter.
  • Wetland Restoration: Wetland soil is an important natural carbon pool or sink as the wetlands conserve about 14.5% of the soil carbon found in the world.

Significance of Carbon Farming

  • Multidimensional Benefits: Increasing Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) through various methods can improve soil health, agricultural yield, food security, water quality, and reduce the need for chemicals.
    • It would not just address carbon mitigation but also improve other planetary boundaries in peril such as fresh water, biodiversity, land use and nitrogen use.
  • Offsets Carbon Emissions: An international initiative called “4 per 1000,” showed that increasing soil carbon worldwide by just 0.4% yearly could offset that year’s new growth in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel emissions.
    • The ‘4 per 1,000’ initiative was launched by the France government at the COP21 Paris climate summit in 2015.
    • The aim of the initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned.
  • Acts as an Intermediate Mitigation Strategy: Increasing soil carbon offers a range of co-benefits along with buying the time before other technologies can help the world transition to a zero-carbon lifestyle.
  • Helps Restoring Carbon Cycle: Worldwide, soils are estimated to contain about 10 times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere; far more than what is found in normal vegetation.
    • Carbon farming is seen as a way to help restore balance within the carbon cycle.
    • It also helps soil build a resilience to drought and increases agricultural productivity in a natural way

Challenge Associated

  • Requires Participation at a Larger Level: For the overall framework of carbon farming to be successful, it would have to include sound policies, public-private partnerships, accurate quantification methodologies and supportive financing to efficiently implement the idea.
    • It requires to be done at a scale where measurable carbon capture can be achieved along with maintaining healthy soils that absorb and store carbon.
  • Limited Benefit: The areas with long growing seasons, sufficient rainfall and substantial irrigation make viable opportunities for carbon farming.
    • However, carbon farming, likely, is more of a challenge for farmers in hot and dry areas of the country.
    • Moreover, many farmers may not be able to afford the cost of implementing environmentally beneficial measures without some sort of financial assistance.

Way Forward

  • Direct Incentives for Farmers: The land sector is key for reaching a climate-neutral economy, because it can capture CO2 from the atmosphere.
    • However, to encourage the agriculture and forestry sectors, it is necessary to create direct incentives for the adoption of climate-friendly practices, as currently there is no targeted policy tool to significantly incentivise the increase and protection of carbon sinks.
  • Carbon Credits and Carbon Banks: The farmers can be rewarded through globally tradable carbon credits and ‘carbon banks’ can also be created that would buy and sell carbon credits from farmers.
    • These credits could then be sold to corporations needing to offset their emissions.
    • Paying farmers to restore carbon-depleted soils offers a great opportunity for a natural climate solution and to stabilize global warming below 2°C.
  • Organic-Carbon Rich Fertilisers: Fertilisers such as compost and solid manure with wide C:N (carbon:nitrogen) ratios will have a slow carbon turnover compared to other materials. They should be part of the farming system.
  • Biofuel over Fossil Fuels: Nearly all biofuel systems (mainly biodiesel and bioethanol) produce fewer GHG emissions than fossil fuels.
    • Using biofuel as a replacement for fossil fuels is an opportunity for farmers to diversify income, reduce costs, and assist in reducing global GHG emissions – mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
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