Carbon farming – challenges and opportunities


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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • What is Carbon farming?
  • What are the challenges to carbon farming?
  • What are the opportunities for carbon farming in India?

Why in News?

Carbon is found in all living organisms and many minerals. It is fundamental to life on earth and plays a crucial role in various processes, including photosynthesis, respiration, and the carbon cycle. 

Farming is the practice of cultivating land, raising crops, and/or livestock for food, fibre, fuel, or other resources. It encompasses a wide range of activities, from planting and harvesting crops to managing livestock and maintaining agricultural infrastructure.

Carbon farming combines these two concepts. It does so by implementing regenerative agricultural practices that restore ecosystem health while improving agricultural productivity and soil health, and mitigating climate change by enhancing carbon storage in agricultural landscapes and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is Carbon farming?

  • About
    • Carbon farming is a set of agricultural practices that aim to store carbon in the soil, plant material, wood, and leaves. 
    • The goal of carbon farming is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which can help mitigate climate change.
  • Implementation of carbon farming
    • A simple implementation of carbon farming is rotational grazing. 
    • Others include agroforestry, conservation agriculture, integrated nutrient management, agro-ecology, livestock management, and land restoration.
      • Agroforestry practices can further diversify farm income by sequestering carbon in trees and shrubs. 
      • Conservation agriculture techniques such as zero tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and crop residue management can help minimise soil disturbance and enhance organic content.
      • Integrated nutrient management practices promote soil fertility and reduce emissions by using organic fertilizers and compost. 
      • Agro-ecological approaches such as crop diversification and intercropping have benefits for ecosystem resilience. 
      • Livestock management strategies including rotational grazing, optimising feed quality, and managing animal waste can reduce methane emissions and increase the amount of carbon stored away in pasture lands.
  • Process
Process of carbon farming
  • Carbon farming schemes worldwide
    • In the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada voluntary carbon markets have emerged. 
    • Initiatives like the Chicago Climate Exchange and the Carbon Farming Initiative in Australia demonstrate efforts to incentivise carbon mitigation activities in agriculture.
    • The launch of the ‘4 per 1000’ initiative during the COP21 climate talks in 2015 in Paris highlights the particular role of sinks in mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions. 
      • The oceans and the atmosphere are filled with carbon, and they approach their saturation points.
      • Hence, we must manage the remaining carbon budget of 390 billion tonnes or so wisely.

What are the challenges to carbon farming?

  • Effectiveness and usefulness depend on multiple factors
    • The effectiveness of carbon farming varies depending on multiple factors — geographical location, soil type, crop selection, water availability, biodiversity, and farm size and scale.
    • Its usefulness also depends on land management practices, sufficient policy support, and community engagement.
  • Carbon farming can be challenging in hot and dry areas
    • In regions with adequate rainfall and fertile soil, the potential for carbon sequestration through practices like agroforestry and conservation agriculture may be particularly high.
    • On the other hand, carbon farming can be challenging in hot and dry areas where the availability of water is limited. 
    • Limited water availability can hinder the growth of plants, thus restricting the potential for sequestration through photosynthesis.
      • E.g., practices like cover cropping, which require additional vegetation between main crop cycles, may not be viable due to the added water demand.
  • Selecting which plants to grow
    • Selecting which plants to grow also becomes crucial because not all species trap and store carbon in the same amounts or in an equally effectively manner.
  • Financial resources
    • The adoption of carbon farming practices may require financial assistance for farmers to overcome the costs of implementing them. 
    • Small-scale farmers may lack the resources to invest in sustainable land management practices and environmental services.

What are the opportunities for carbon farming in India?

  • Financial benefits
    • Agro-ecological practices in India could yield significant economic benefits, with the potential to generate $63 billion in value from approximately 170 million hectares of arable land. 
    • This estimate includes an annual payment of around ₹5,000-6,000 per acre for farmers to provide climate services by adopting sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Extensive agricultural land
    • Regions with extensive agricultural land, such as the Indo-Gangetic plains and the Deccan Plateau, are well suited to adopt carbon farming.
    • Coastal areas are prone to salinisation and have limited access to resources, thus limited the adoption of traditional farming practices.
  • Carbon credit system
    • Carbon credit systems can incentivise farmers by providing additional income through environmental services. 
  • India’s journey towards achieving carbon neutrality while maintaining food security
    • Studies have shown agricultural soils can absorb 3-8 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent every year over 20-30 years. 
    • This capacity can bridge the gap between feasible emissions reductions and the indispensable stabilisation of the climate. 
    • So, carbon farming could also be a sustainable strategy to mitigate climate change and enhance food security in India.

Q.1. What is Carbon cycle?

The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon atoms move between the Earth's atmosphere and its organisms, and back again. The amount of carbon in this closed system remains constant, but its location is always changing.

Q.2. What is photosynthesis?

Photosynthesis is a biological process that converts light energy into chemical energy that organisms use to fuel their activities. It's a vital process for the Earth's atmosphere, producing and maintaining oxygen, and providing the energy for complex life.

Source: What is carbon farming? | Explained | Carbon Cycle Institute | BASF