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:
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: Wetlandsoil 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
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.
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).