As terms like carbon farmers and compensation for sequestration are becoming common phrases in eco-sensitive group discussions, one might wonder about the possibilities of a fully green agriculture. Carbon-neutral farming is the newfound rage of this decade, with various countries pushing hard to reduce their emissions without impacting economic growth. The article below explains the contemporary clamour around carbon-neutral farming and what lies ahead.
What is Carbon Neutral Farming
Carbon emissions from agriculture account for almost 24% of the total Greenhouse gas emissions. Both field inside and related land use factors contribute to carbon emission. From crop management to manure addition, every step has revealed glaring numbers for the world. According to a report by FAO, the carbon contribution of the agriculture sector accounted for 9.3 billion tons in 2018.
The carbon emissions from farming can be divided into following three ways for a holistic understanding:
Emissions due to land use pattern
These include carbon emissions because of inappropriately using the land. For example, the use of pesticides and fertilizer on cropland determines the absorption rate and the amount of carbon discharged into the atmosphere.
Emissions due to ruminant farming
Ruminants are herbivore animals that perform fermentation on plant-based food to obtain nutrients in a specialized chamber. Large-scale domestication of animals like a cow has resulted in massive Greenhouse gas emissions. One cow can expel about 220 pounds of methane in one year. Methane has a 28% more chance of ocean warming than other gases.
Emissions due to rice growth
Emissions from rice farming not only contribute to an early climate crisis but also reduces the nutrient quotient of the variety. Food production causes immense emissions into the environment. From using machinery to adding fertilizer, farmers unintentionally have been fuelling the ejection of excessive carbon into the atmosphere.
Ways to control carbon emissions from the agriculture sector
Carbon-neutral farming is all about practicing a scientifically proven methodology that arrests carbon emissions without affecting agricultural output. Proper farm management techniques can result in healthy crop yields, without endangering the planet. This section discusses various approaches from multiple standpoints that can result in a climate-friendly crop occupation.
Medium and small-scale farmers, farming cooperatives, and poultry farms
For small-scale farmers and cooperative societies, the following steps can cause a reduction in emission rate,
- Revitalizing the soil without affecting the structure or disturbing the microbes present in it. Using the no-till method will keep GHG-producing microbes at bay.
- Crop diversification and reducing dependence on nitrogen fertilizers.
- Monitoring fodder quality for easy digestion for the livestock variety, such as high-quality beets over barley for animals.
- Better use of locally available resources, for instance; using understory crops like ryegrass and clover beneath wheat plantations reduces the need for inorganic fertilisers.
Food processing companies
If data is to be believed, the top meat and dairy processing companies emit more carbon than the gasoline industry. Some of the steps that can be taken include the following,
- Switching to Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) practices that prioritize local resources in agriculture over a chemical one.
- Keeping aside carbon budget and setting gradual and realistic carbon emission cuts.
- Using renewable energy sources at multiple stages of the supply chain.
Achieving net zero emissions also requires national commitment framed in policy frameworks to ensure that targets are also being achieved in a phased manner. Government, civil societies, and private organizations must come up with plans that commit to the future sustenance of the agriculture sector.
Now that we are data fed, let us examine how different economies cater to the issue of increasing emission rates because of farming.
Carbon Neutral farming and the world: Recent innovations and trends
Two countries can emit different percentages of carbon into the environment despite growing the same set of crops because of differences in methods, regional disparities, etc. The ‘net zero’ targets with a deadline are already staring back at everyone’s faces and although the road has a few bumps, the goal is not impossible to achieve. Ecological engineers are proactive globally, propagating scientific methods to improve the carbon content in soils and reduce the emission rate from raising livestock.
In North America, private players like PepsiCo have already declared plans for 2030 that call for full-scale regenerative farming. Regenerative farming is a technique that helps replenish the soil nutrients with practices like no-till cultivation and using fewer artificial fertilizers. The method helps with the sequestering of CO2. The European Union has also followed up with policy frameworks under Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to promote Carbon neutrality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Another mission, ‘A soil deal for Europe’ is also gathering momentum to bring back soil health by 2030 by establishing living labs. Similar political interventions are also being taken in South Asian countries. Despite having many small-scale farmers, governments in south Asian economies are promoting the use of excess farm waste in ethanol blending.
Carbon Neutrality in Africa
Agriculture is the chief driver of growth in sub-Saharan Africa, employing 60% of the population while contributing to more than 20% of the GDP. The region primarily thrives on mixed crop-livestock farming, a type in which farmers practice both mixed cropping and livestock on the same land. Farmers primarily depend on rainfall to feed their crops, which often gets hampered due to climate invariability. The farming pattern is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but also helps keep up the protein requirements of the population. Ruminants alone contribute to more than 60% of the emissions. However, the emission rate is still lower than in grazing-only fields because of the improved quality of fodder. The livestock also adds 15% of the nitrogen content in the soil in the form of manure. Present-day efforts by small farmers will have to undergo trade-offs in the long run.
Today individuals, systems, and structures are becoming more and more focused on reducing their carbon footprint. Various Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) apps are being developed to accurately measure the carbon footprint of every activity. The food security needs of the world, which are already grappling with the after-effects of the pandemic can also not be ignored. It will, without a doubt, be interesting to watch how economies create and promote sustainable farming practices that are embedded in practicality and potential.
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