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Low carbon farming – A win-win prospect

The climate crisis is seen as an opportunity to revitalize the farming sector in a way that is sustainable and profitable. Low Carbon Farming has emerged as a long term sustainable option for farmers to pursue sustainable agriculture on a large scale.

Less carbon, More food

The farming sector offers opportunities for carbon sequestration and emission reductions. Emissions from farming contribute to 14% of Global Green House Gases (GHG). In India, farming contributes to 28% of the national GHG emissions. Low Carbon Farming practices offer the farmers opportunity to capitalize on the carbon market, as they shift to sustainable agricultural methods, involving lower input costs and resulting in reduction and sequestration (improved soil carbon content) of carbon emissions.

The process involves developing Voluntary/Verified Emission Reduction (VER) projects that support sustainable farming my encouraging farmers to adopt a basket of practices that reduce, minimize and remove the use of synthetic fertilizers (methane avoidance and N2O deduction) while at the same time improve soil carbon content (sequestration). This is done through reduced tillage, precision fertilization, anaerobic composting, using organic fertilizers, mulching, intercropping, multicropping and a horde of techniques specially designed for a particular region, populations and climatic zones.

Carbon sequestration activities include planting fuel, fodder and fruit trees, and protecting those that are already there on the farms. Multiple cropping also reduces the financial risk exposure for farmers against erratic and spatial rainfall.

The Fair Climate Network (FCN) and Low Carbon Farming (LCF) Coalition

FCN comprises 86 persons development workers, Climate Change activists, environmentalists, scientists and other professionals from India and other countries. They represent 28 grassroots NGOs who work with the rural poor and 20 support organizations, 6 Network members participate in their individual capacity. The purpose of FCN is to facilitate and capacitate grassroots bodies to develop pro-poor CDM/VER Projects in India and tap carbon resources for the sustainable development of the poorest of the poor.

FCN supports its members to develop energy CDM projects that generate CERs and claim carbon revenues for the sustainable development of the poor. The network is keenly involved in developing a framework for sustainable agriculture efforts. FCN provides the leadership and technical resources to develop LCF coalitions.

Taking the lead

The Accion Fraterna Ecology Center is the lead organization of the first coalition to take up the Low Carbon farming project under VER. It is being done jointly with 4 other NGOs, PWDS (Palmyrah Workers Development Society), BEST (Bharath Environment Seva Team), Tamil Nadu, SACRED (Suvisesha Ashram Centre for Rural Education and Development), Bangalore District and SEDS (Social Education and Development Society, Anantapur. As this is being written 2 more coalitions have been formed comprising 10 NGOs, covering a total of 24,000 acres owned by 13500 farmers. This figure is expected to increase exponentially after 5 years.

Source: Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC), Development through a low carbon pathway, 2011, INECC, c/o Laya, 501, Kurupam Castle, East Point Colony, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India – 530017; inecc.mumbai@gmail.com

NGOs have been involved in promoting sustainable agriculture for several years. In particular, the focus has been to improve the livelihood conditions of tribals, dalits and other marginalized communities.

Many practices have been introduced with positive results. They include, mixed cropping, homestead land development, kitchen gardens, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Orchard development, improved sowing and harvesting techniques and other interventions of this nature.

Organic farming has also been promoted by NGOs as being more profitable although yield in the initial years may be limited. Finally a lot of work has been done in promoting organic manure, mainly with regard to vermicomposts, mulching and bio-gas waste.

There is more or less a consensus among NGOs (promoting sustainable agriculture), the scientific community and the farmers themselves that extensive usage of chemical inputs on farms has adverse consequences on land fertility even though there may be a short term gain in crop productivity. Although farmers are aware of this, there is extensive pressure induced by various external forces to continue to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The incentives offered by middlemen traders, chemical fertilizer and pesticide agents backed often by skewed government policies, pursue unsustainable farming options rather than long term sustainability. This is at the cost of environment and farmers’ sustained interest. NGOs, while struggling to counter these forces, find it difficult to sustain projects over a sizeable scale as they are highly dependent on grant and aid that is increasingly diminishing.

It is in this context that Low Carbon Farming (LCF) as a concept has emerged. Low carbon farming essentially attributes the difference between High External Input Destructive Agriculture (HEIDA) and Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) with respect to reduced carbon emissions in a manner that can be quantified, measured and verified.

The result is that a carbon unit measured as a tonne over a period of one year can be sold for a price in the open market. Consequently, a project with a reasonable size can effectively cater to a large number of farmers, providing a steady incentive to practise LEISA.

It is in this context, efforts have been made to form LCF coalitions of NGOs working on sustainable agriculture. The objectives of the LCF coalition initiative are:

1. Value farmers undertaking sustainable agriculture practices demonstrating their contribution to mitigation

2. Increase resilience and reduce risks through low input costs required for multi-cropping practises especially in rain fed areas

3. Create additional incentives for carbon revenues from sale of credits over a long term period

A project, the first of its kind in India has been initiated by the Fair Carbon Network, lead and facilitated by Agriculture Development and Training Society (ADATS) based at Bagepalli near Bangalore.

The larger purpose is to incentivise sustainable agriculture in a context where commercialisation of agriculture is playing havoc with the texture of soil conditions so important for productive outputs and with the livelihood needs of farmers. The climate crisis is seen as an opportunity to revitalize the farming sector in a way that is sustainable and profitable.

The project which can best be termed as a pilot phase, is in its initial process of emission calibration from various crops across different Agro Economic Zones (AEZs). The results are not clear as yet but we are hopeful of positive demonstrated gains for farmers pursuing sustainable farming initiatives. LAYA along with 15 other NGOs formed across three coalitions is now participating in the process of developing a methodology to facilitate Low Carbon Farming in spite of the associated risks, what can be best described as another leap of faith in the interest of pursing a better future for the farmers. Each of the coalitions are diligently carrying out calibration of mainstream agriculture (HEIDA), through ‘Control plots’ compared with farmers involved in sustainable farming (LEISA). A team of experts, facilitated by the Environment Defence Fund, USA will calculate the extent of emission levels conserved by way of adopting sustainable farming practices. Only then will we realize the potential carbon revenues possible from this initiative.

Challenges

Carbon projects demand that NGOs work with diligence, patience and rigour. Data generation and management, project monitoring, technology deployment and community participation is paramount to carry out projects of this nature. This is not to mention the high costs and investment required before the project is actually registered or implemented! This is because Carbon projects are essentially the domain of the corporate sector that has minted millions of rupees in the past 10 – 12 years offsetting industries from the west. The consultants required to decode the science and technology behind these projects therefore don’t come cheap. Besides, since the methodologies of measurement are designed for industry and not the poor, the processes are time consuming and therefore expensive.

Low Carbon Farming, however, in theory has emerged as a long term sustainable option for both NGOs and farmers to pursue sustainable agriculture on a large scale. This when coupled with revenue from carbon projects related to drinking water, waste management/recycling, efficient cooking can make a significant difference to quality of life to communities across the country as well as for NGOs, to meet their social objectives. A win-win Prospect!

Siddharth D’Souza

501 Kurupam Castle, East Point Colony,
Visakhapatnam – 530017
E-mail: siddharth.dsouza@gmail.com