Climate Smart Agriculture

Climate-smart practices in agriculture: The way forward

This is a blog on effective climate-smart agricultural practices that promote sustainability in agriculture by mitigating and adapting to climate change. These regenerative agricultural practices also enhance production and farmer incomes.

Climate-smart practices in agriculture refer to approaches and techniques that are aimed at promoting sustainable agricultural practices while mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for about 10-12% of global emissions. However, there are various mitigation practices categorized under regenerative agricultural practices that farmers can adopt to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural activities and thereby reduce global warming.

Few effective approaches to achieve the target of net zero emissions:

Regenerative Agriculture

  • Conservation Agriculture: This includes a package of practices involving the minimization of soil disturbance through the adoption of minimum tillage or zero tillage, maintaining year-round soil cover through cover crops and crop residue management, practicing crop rotations to reduce soil erosion, increasing soil organic matter, and thereby improving soil health.
  • Agroforestry: This is a practice that combines the cultivation of trees with crops and/or livestock. It helps to improve soil fertility, conserve water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Precision Agriculture: This involves using technology such as sensors, drones, and mapping tools to collect data on soil, crops, and weather conditions. This information can be used to optimize the use of inputs such as fertilizer, water, and pesticides, reducing waste and increasing efficiency. The placement of fertilizers also has a great impact on the soil processes involved in gaseous emissions. One such technique is fertilizer deep placement (FDP) which may prove as a savior in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from soil.
  • Crop Diversification: Planting a variety of crops that are suited to local conditions can help to build resilience to climate change. Crop diversification can also help to reduce the impact of pests and diseases, and improve the nutritional value of food produced.
  • Efficient water management: Adopting practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, mulching, alternate wetting and drying (AWD), and/or direct seeding (DSR) in paddy can help to conserve water resources, improve water use efficiency, and reduce water loss through evaporation.
  • Use of renewable energy: Farmers can adopt renewable energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines to power farm operations, reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture. The use of renewables significantly reduces the dependency on fossil fuels for farm operations.
  • Integrated livestock management: Adopting practices such as rotational grazing, improved animal nutrition through the inclusion of high-value forage crops, and efficient manure management can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Improved feed quality for livestock may reduce the methane emissions coming through enteric fermentation to a larger extent.
  • Composting/alternative organics: This practice involves converting organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Composting helps to improve soil structure, increase water retention capacity, and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. The major concern in using conventional organic fertilizers like compost and vermicompost as a part of nutrient management strategies might be an increase in soil heavy metal concentration as well as an increase in methane emissions from paddy soil. However, the comparatively newfangled concept of using biochar as part of nutrient management strategies in different crops has been reported to reduce greenhouse emissions from the soil by affecting soil nutrient dynamics and improving One of the major apprehensions in using such organic materials is the immobilization of nutrient elements which can reduce the crop yield. However, the biochar produced from slow pyrolysis of more nutritious agricultural residues and animal wastes can have beneficial effects on soil carbon sequestration and crop yield in the long run.

By adopting these practices, farmers can improve the resilience of their farms to climate change while also contributing to efforts to mitigate its impact. Dr. Reddy’s Foundation has been successful in implementing some of these interventions at scale. For example, DSR (Direct Seeding of Rice) has been adopted by farmers in 31,514 acres of paddy cultivating areas of AP, Telangana, Bihar, UP, and MP in the year 2022, and similarly zero-tillage practice in maize and wheat was adopted across 80,770 acres at our project locations in these states. Additionally, the AWD practice of cultivating paddy is reaching up to 10, 000 acres in Telangana, AP, Bihar, UP, and MP. These practices are expected to help in the long-term soil carbon building, reduction in chemical fertilizer use, improve water and nutrient use efficiency, and reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture. These carbon offsets through regenerative agricultural practices can be used to generate carbon credits which can be used in voluntary carbon markets. Trade in carbon credits will give farmers additional income. However, currently, carbon credits being used to incentivize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are still subject to market risks and therefore need to be regularized before realizing full and fair value.

Zero tillage in maize

Pic: Zero tillage intervention in one of the project locations of Dr. Reddy’s Foundation in Andhra Pradesh.

Regenerative agricultural practices at a large scale are the way forward to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. As we see climate change intensifying, it is an absolute necessity to take climate-smart agricultural practices beyond the horizon of ecosystem services to a new dimension of rapid scaling and improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers through direct benefit transfers in the form of carbon credits. This will encourage the farmers to go for the new interventions aiming at higher soil carbon and this will ultimately improve the soil health and leverage the ecosystem services to them.

Kumar Abbhishek | Technical Associate – Climate Action

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