Carbon farming: a crucial part of the global climate solution
A new book explores how ‘carbon farming’ can sequester carbon and reduce emissions while providing food, creating jobs, protecting biodiversity and repairing degraded land.
Author Eric Toensmeier, a lecturer at Yale University, argues that agriculture, especially carbon farming, should be a key element among global climate solutions.
Carbon farming refers to a suite of agricultural practices and crops that sequester carbon in the soil and in above-ground biomass.
In an interview about his book on Civil Eats website, Toensmeier emphasizes the importance of what he calls “lower-sequestration strategies” such as no-till, organic annual cropping and managed grazing. These practices are widely applicable and easily adopted, and thus have excellent potential to mitigate climate change if practiced on a global scale. They don’t require farmers to make big changes to what they currently and don’t require people to change their diets.
But it is agroforestry and perennial crops that present the best opportunities for sequestration, says Toensmeier, however these practices have been almost entirely ignored by climate crusaders.
“The notion that agriculture can incorporate trees—let alone the notion that agriculture be based on trees—is still new for most of us.”
Tonsmeier is particularly encouraged by what is happening in India, where the government aims to increase the national forest cover from 25 to 33 per cent by adding productive trees to existing farms.
“The country has worked closely with the World Agroforestry Centre on developing this policy, and there’s hope that it will become an international model,” says Tonsmeier.
“They’ve said, we don’t have enough land to devote it to purely environmental causes, so we have to find a way to meet human needs that are also good for the environment.”
In his book, Tonsmeier provides examples of successful carbon farming across the globe, including multi-strata agroforestry systems which occur on 100 million hectares around the world and silvopasture on 450 million hectares.
The Las Cañadas, cooperative in Veracruz Mexico is highlighted as an example where farmers are integrating trees with annual crops and livestock; sequestering carbon while also growing food. The cooperative has also planted 50,000 native trees to reforest overgrazed land.
The book is described as a tool kit that can be used by farmers, communities and governments to successfully launch carbon farming projects using crops and practices that are most appropriate to their climate, locale and socio-economic needs.
While Tonsmeier was optimistic about the climate talks in Paris in 2015, which he says “felt like the coming of age of agriculture as a climate solution”, he says carbon farming is just one part of a global solution to climate change and there still needs to be an immense reduction in fossil fuels.