Carbon Farming

Carbon Farming – A way for incentivising sustainable agriculture

In India, Carbon Farming is in its nascent phase. This blog briefs on necessity to promote and implement carbon farming in order to mitigate carbon emissions.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector is responsible for nearly 23% of global GHG emissions (OECD 2020), which are likely to rise in the coming future. In India, agriculture sector already accounts for 19.6% of the country’s total emissions. Efforts are being made by multiple stakeholders including the government, development agencies and even private organizations to help farmers’ climate proof their agriculture to existing and impending climate risks as well as reduce GHG emissions by promoting Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices in India.

CSA fall under the broader umbrella of Sustainable Agriculture. It addresses the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change and is an integrated approach to managing landscapes, which includes farmland, livestock, forests and fisheries. CSA aims at simultaneously achieving three outcomes namely increasing productivity, enhancing resilience and reducing emissions. CSA is built on existing knowledge, technologies, and principles of sustainable agriculture, but is unique in a way that it has an explicit focus on addressing climate change and systematically considers the synergies and trade-offs that exist between productivity, adaptation and mitigation (World Bank 2021).

Some of the practices promoted under CSA include (1) direct seeding of rice instead of transplanting paddy; (2) alternate wetting and drying, which is water management technique that utilizes much less water than the usual in paddy irrigation; (3) zero or reduced till agriculture; (4) and planting cover crops and green manuring after harvesting the main crop. Other practices considered under CSA include intercropping; crop rotations; shift from residue burning; and any practice that involves reduced or efficient fertilizer (e.g. urea deep placement) or pesticide use (e.g. shift to organic pesticides). All these activities not only limit agricultural emissions and increase soil carbon but also allow farmers to increase crop yields while building their resilience and adaptive capacity to growing number of challenges introduced by changing climate. However, increasing adoption of such practices need large-scale efforts. One of the ways to increase adoption of CSA practices among farmers currently being explored is through development of carbon farming projects that can incentivise adoption of sustainable practices.

Carbon farming projects formally recognize the change in carbon emitted or stored in agriculture because of implementation of one or more CSA interventions (e.g. DSR, ZT). Such projects assign “carbon credits” based on the tonnes of carbon abated or sequestered that are verified by a globally recognized third party agency. Once generated, these credits can be sold or freely traded in voluntary carbon marketplaces, where the price is determined by their supply and demand. Consequently, such trading helps firms offset their existing business emissions and the price of the credit goes to the landholder adopting the CSA practices. When correctly implemented such projects aim at win-win scenarios that benefit farmers financially while mitigating carbon emissions and making enterprises carbon neutral. Companies including Bayer, IBM, and Shell among others have all announced plans or already joined agricultural initiatives that support and pay farmers who adopt carbon smart agricultural techniques to obtain offsets credits. Such initiatives allow private firms, industries or even development agencies to voluntarily contribute towards a net-zero carbon emissions future.

 In India, carbon farming is in its nascent phase, there is a need to create awareness, develop a transparent quantification methodology for estimating carbon credits generated and have regulations to monitor the overall functioning of such projects. Demand for credible and high quality carbon credits from the voluntary carbon markets can drive massive shifts to sustainable CSA practices across India. Not-for-profits already implementing agriculture projects can collaboratively develop carbon-farming projects with industry, government and research partners that will support smallholder farmers grow sustainably while protecting the environment by adopting CSA practices.

Sudeshna Maya Sen | Manager – Climate Action

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