The triple dividend of carbon farming, and how innovation can help it grow

A man waters plants at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that produces organic vegetables and fruits, in the village of Bilin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 19, 2020. Picture taken December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman - RC2NTK9DP8WD

Image: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Barbara Baarsma
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  • Carbon farming is a new way of land management which could be a powerful weapon in the battle against climate change.
  • More innovations are needed around the globe to help scale this approach.
  • A new UpLink challenge is a global call for solutions that harness the potential of carbon markets to unlock finance and technologies which support conservation, restoration and land management.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, we all know that. Nevertheless, there are sometimes significant by-products of what we do and how we operate.

For example, let us look at the role of farmers in combating climate change. When farmers adopt more sustainable farming practices, the soil becomes healthier, and healthier soil can store more CO2, keeping it out of our atmosphere.

Carbon farming is a new way of land management which sequesters more carbon in the soil. It is based on regenerative practices, like reducing tillage, crop rotations and planting cover crops. The influx in the soil can be converted into validated removal units and ultimately into certified soil sequestered carbon credits that a farmer can sell to corporates. However, the removal credits and the resulting extra income for the farmer are not the only benefits. There are by-products – or free lunches, if you will.

I like to refer to this as the 'triple dividend' of carbon farming. First of all, a healthier soil is more productive, resulting in higher crop yields for the farmer and a better provision of food for consumers. Secondly, there are lots of co-benefits like biodiversity, water management, higher nutritional quality and more resilience against extreme weather. Thirdly, regenerative farming has proven to reduce agriculture's carbon footprint.

Farmers hold the key to unlock carbon sequestration and emission reduction by changing land management practices.
Farmers hold the key to unlock carbon sequestration and emission reduction by changing land management practices.

The third dividend is what makes carbon farming exceptionally powerful: it not only removes greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere, but also reduces the release of emissions into the atmosphere. Agriculture represents more than a quarter of global GHG emissions. It is therefore important, first and foremost, to reduce these emissions. At the same time, removing these GHG from our atmosphere is every bit as important. As long as there are high levels of GHG in the atmosphere, the earth will continue to warm, no matter how much we reduce emissions. So, we need to work both on both the reduction and removal of emissions.

We must work equally hard to both reduce as well as remove carbon emissions from our atmosphere.
We must work equally hard to both reduce as well as remove carbon emissions from our atmosphere.

Carbon farming is not just a solution in the battle against climate change. It is also a way of ensuring that our food system becomes more robust. This is of great importance because within the next two decades, the global demand for food is estimated to double. This means agriculture will have to become twice as productive while halving its environmental impact at the same time. The income generated from carbon farming can help finance this transition. The ultimate goal is to make food production more sustainable and to increase security of food supply. That is precisely the free lunch, the triple dividend, of carbon farming.

This triple dividend may sound like an unattainable dream, but it is not. Farmers are already working on this solution. But for this approach to really take off, a lot of innovation is still needed. That’s precisely why - through the launch of the Carbon Market Challenge on UpLink - we are issuing a call for solutions to make this a reality.

For many carbon solutions, protocols and standards are still being developed. However, when it comes to soil health and carbon farming solutions, there is still room to manoeuvre. One open question is, how can we compensate farmers for delivering co-benefits, like improved water quality? Furthermore, for the soil-based credits market to develop, our knowledge of effective methods of soil health and carbon farming is absolutely vital. We must think about how technical knowledge and experience can be shared amongst farmers.

What can you do to empower farmers in their transition to sustainability and to scale the market for soil sequestered credits? Do not hesitate to take on the Carbon Market Challenge and submit your solution today.

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