Decarbonising Agriculture: Reducing Emissions Through Better Farm Practices

The agricultural sector contributes to more than one-quarter (about 24%) of the world’s GHG emissions. The IPCC report on the impacts of global warming clearly states that a “rapid and far-reaching” transition is required to limit the impact of climate change to 1.5 degrees. Achieving these goals can be more challenging for the agricultural sector than others as it requires the collective effort of more than two billion people who depend on farming for their survival. Alongside climate goals, it must contemplate nutrition needs, food security, and the livelihood of farmers and farming communities.


Major sources of GHG emissions in agriculture are:





Levers for Decarbonisation

Deep decarbonisation pathways would include collective efforts from all stakeholders across the food production chain - cooperation of consumers, farmers, government, investors, and regulators. 

The most crucial areas to potentially mitigate GHG emissions are:


  • Soil Management - Soils hold more carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined, only second to the oceans. On-farm weather like high soil temperatures and fluctuating moisture levels along with excessive nitrogen fertiliser result in increased N2O emissions. Increasing carbon stored in soils has the added benefit of higher yields and costs little for the farmer to implement.

  • - Conservation Tillage - Disrupting the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere. No‑till or reduced‑till practices leave residue on top of the soil-this is done to reduce carbon emissions and to improve soil health-instead of being ploughed (done for weed control and to prepare soils for the next season).

  • - Cover Crops - Those planted temporarily between main cash crop plantings can extract excess nitrogen not used by the previous plants and help to sequester carbon. Retaining cover crop residue on fields can further increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil. 

  • Reducing Methane Emissions - Researchers are experimenting with alternative types of feed to reduce the methane produced by cows and looking at ways to manage manure more efficiently by covering it, composting it, or using it to produce biogas.

  • Precision Farming Technologies - Climate‑smart agriculture manages the health of crops with real-time data and monitoring weather conditions. This enables farmers to know exactly how much of what resource to use when to extract maximum yield from the field.

  • Building Coherent Policies - Considerable technology that allows sustainable agricultural practices exists but is it utilised by the entire one-quarter of the global population who practise farming? As in all big questions, the right policies need to be set that ease the way for innovations and have the power to accelerate change-Where are they being practised? How many farmers have adopted them? Which organisations are promoting such practices? What impact has such practices had on farm incomes, environment and social outcomes? In addition, we need a common set of science-based standards for Monitoring, Reporting and Verification, e.g. of how we can measure carbon in the soil? Or how do we verify the vegetables being grown are organic?


Many industry experts and policymakers believe that we are in the advent of a fourth agricultural revolution-the first: 10,000 years ago, when humans left the hunter‑gatherer lifestyle for the one that provided more stable food; the second: in the 1800s, when mechanisation of farming and the use of chemical fertilisers gave rise to large commercial farming operations; and the third: in the 1970s and 80s and introduced the world to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)-that focuses on sustainable farm management and relies on digital technologies to achieve it. Smart farm technologies aim to maximise yields, preserve soil health, and reduce inefficiencies. These technologies will not only help to ensure that production can scale to meet the rising demand for food but could also drive down GHG emissions in the process. The agriculture sector now has an opportunity to make yet another major contribution to humanity’s success during this crucial window for action.

 

References:

 


This is the first blog of the ‘Decarbonisation Agriculture’ series. In the next blog, the author will present the state of sustainable agriculture in India and how Yuktix Technologies plays a crucial role in it. 



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