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Carbon Farming: Sutainable Agricultural Management

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Carbon Farming: Sutainable Agricultural Management

Indian agriculture has undergone intense cultivation practices for the past six decades to ensure food security in the country. This has resulted in significant loss of Soil organic carbon, deterioration of soil fertility and chemical pollution in major cultivated lands across the country. Further, intensive cultivation together with mono-crop cultivation of major cereals led to loss of biodiversity and exhaustion of ground water resources. These cultivation practices have also led to an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. The emissions from rice cultivation accounted for about 17.4 % of total GHG emissions from agriculture sector in the country.
Agriculture and forestry practices account for at least 24 percent of global carbon emissions and 9 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Under current land management practices, agriculture remains one of the leading contributors to global carbon emissions. However, it is the only economic sector with the potential to transform itself from a net carbon emitter to a net sink using practices broadly classified as “carbon farming”. These practices can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and store it for long periods of time in soil, microorganisms, and plant matter. Climate scientists estimate that 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide would need to be removed from the atmosphere to halt and begin to reverse the effects of climate change. The world’s agricultural soils can meet this challenge if change the way we grow food.
Carbon farming is the use of specific on-farm practices designed to take carbon out of the air and store it in soils and plant material. Carbon farming practices include application of soil amendments like compost or bio char, conservation tillage, agroforestry, whole orchard recycling, cover crops that maximize living roots, and many others. Building soil organic matter on croplands and rangelands sequesters carbon in soils, which helps mitigate the effects of climate change while potentially providing co-benefits for soil health and increased adaptive capacity. Soil amendments may increase the amount of carbon held in soil organic matter, leading to greater carbon sequestration. Soil amendments, simply speaking, are products added to soils to improve soil qualities like soil fertility. Many of the soil amendments that can improve soil health, also sequester carbon. Amendments that increase soil organic matter may improve the water holding capacity and infiltration in soils, which promotes resilience to climate-related impacts such as drought, heat waves, or heavy rains. Additionally, research shows that amendments can promote biological activity and supply vital nutrients, resulting in healthier plants that are less vulnerable to pests and disease.
Indian agriculture is highly fragmented, with more than 80% of holdings being small and marginal. Hence, the size of holdings poses a major constraint, as pooling land across farms with diverse cropping patterns can be challenging. Another major challenge is the lack of awareness and knowledge to participate in Voluntary Carbon Market(VCMs). Moreover, it takes a considerable amount of time to receive the monetary benefits: up to 1.5 years to list and another 8 months to a year for receiving the money, studies show.       Transaction costs – in the form of measurement, monitoring, third party verification and certification etc. – too add to the challenge. These costs may be very high, resulting in limited net monetary benefits for farmers. Accurate measurement of carbon in the soil, before and after the implementation of proposed practices, is another major problem. Availability of technology, data and trained personnel are crucial for precise measurement.
Carbon credit market in agriculture is in its nascent stage and requires a strict monitoring and regulatory system. There are concerns that asymmetric information, lack of transparency, and inadequate regulation could lead to unfair pricing practices for carbon credits, resulting in low earnings for farmers. Additionally, the lack of knowledge and awareness among farmers and rural communities may lead to their exploitation. Given the fast-growing VCM in the country, there is an urgent need for policy measures to ensure transparency, regulation, and widespread awareness about VCM. These systems are essential for the efficient and transparent functioning of VCM in the country to ensure that the intended benefits reach farmers. At the same time, concerns regarding the calculation of credits under the GCP need to be addressed. Activists and experts have expressed doubt over the methodology used in the process, which may lead to further exploitation of natural resources instead of protecting and conserving them. The future demand for carbon credits is expected to increase about 15 times by 2030, according to McKinsey and Company. To address the long wait time to receive carbon credits Green Credit Programme(GCP) may provide initial incentives to encourage farmers’ participation in VCM until they start receiving monetary benefits from carbon credits. It is essential to strengthen and equip the agricultural extension system in the country to create widespread awareness among farmers about the framework and processes of VCM, the direct and indirect benefits of regenerative agriculture, and its long-term positive impact on their cultivated lands and crop yields.
Although the concept of carbon markets has been around for a few decades, global participation in them started after legally binding emission reduction targets were set for developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Subsequently, the Paris Agreement in 2015 made provisions under Article 6, allowing international cooperation to establish functional carbon markets. In simple terms, a carbon market is a marketplace where carbon credits are traded. One carbon credit is equivalent to one ton of emissions removed in CO2 equivalents (tCO2e). At present, there are no set targets for emission reduction in the Indian agriculture sector and hence farmers can trade their carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets to earn additional income.
In addition to offsetting emissions, carbon farming practices have the added benefits of restoring degraded soils, enhancing crop production, and reducing pollution by minimizing erosion and nutrient runoff, purifying surface and groundwater, and increasing microbial activity and soil biodiversity. It is important to recognize the value of these other benefits, so they don’t aren’t overlooked when implementing policies that encourage carbon sequestration in soil. The added benefits of carbon farming mean that more food can be produced with less pollution while building soil and sequestering carbon dioxide. If accomplished at a large enough scale, carbon farming practices have the potential to begin to reverse the catastrophic effects of climate change. Promoting and growing the use of these practices is one of the best avenues for meeting carbon emissions reduction goals and mitigating climate change.
(Writer can be reached at:[email protected])

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