Image source: lancasterfarming
The increased amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from human activity is the primary driver of climate change. In a rapidly changing world, the priority for the agricultural sector is to feed more people. At the same time, the sector is transforming itself by adapting to climate change, or even mitigating it, through a variety of different measures: the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the storage of carbon in soil, and energy production. Certain agricultural management practices release soil-stored carbon into the atmosphere. Agricultural management systems emit one-third of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are generated within the farm gate, by crop and livestock production activities; from land-use change dynamics, linked, for instance, to deforestation and peatland degradation to make room for agriculture; and in pre- and post-production processes, such as food manufacturing, retail, household consumption, and food disposal. This analysis focuses on results relative to the period 2000 — 2020. In 2020, global agrifood system emissions were 16 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2eq), an increase of 9 percent since 2000. Tillage stimulates biological processes in the soil by introducing more oxygen and increasing the exposed surface area of carbon-storing compounds in the soil. This speeds up the breakdown and emission of that carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions are also greatly influenced by destructive land use techniques like deforestation, the careless application of fertilizers, and the improper management of livestock.
On the other hand, there are practices that help to build up carbon reserves in the soil. Perennial crops that establish deep root systems deposit carbon in various layers of the soil. Cover crops grown between cash crops and crop residues returned to the soil can both lead to carbon additions in the soil, for example. Given the vast reservoirs of carbon in the soil, and its ability to store carbon over time, there is a lot of excitement about the potential for certain land management practices like no-till and cover crops to generate carbon offsets.
From 2015 to 2021, Nigeria accounted for 2% of global agricultural emissions, about 66.6 metric tonnes during the period. Other greenhouse gases produced during the period were methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Methane accounted for 20.3 metric tonnes, accounted for about 2% of global agricultural emissions for this period, while Nitrous oxide accounted for 0.63 metric tonnes and accounted for 1.6% of global agricultural emissions. An analysis of the emissions trend for the seven years (2015 to 2021) reveals that, in recent years (2019 — 2021), carbon emissions from the agricultural sector in Nigeria have decreased compared to previous years. These emissions are, however, from cropland fires alone. Cropland fires are emissions caused by burning local agricultural waste. The carbon sink related to vegetation regrowth is excluded from the emissions, making the emissions gross (as opposed to net).The environmental and human costs of cropland fires far outweigh the near-term economic benefits for farmers.
Responsible for more than a third of all black carbon emissions, open burning is the single largest source of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that contributes to air pollution, climate change, and increased melting in the cryosphere (regions of snow and ice). Cropland fire also represents one of the largest causes of air pollution-related illnesses and deaths after cookstoves. Over time, the repeated practice of open burning becomes costly to farmers. Successive fires destroy the organic matter that makes soil fertile, causing crop yields to decrease over time and increasing the need for costly fertilizers. Smoke and spreading flames also pose a risk to neighbouring communities, buildings, and fields.
Crop stubble burning in Nigeria is responsible for regional-scale air pollution events and damage to sensitive wild ecosystems. Black carbon from burning has also been cited by the International Panel on Climate Change as a source of rain disturbance and patterns over West Africa (IPCC AR5, 2013).
To scale up and accelerate short-lived climate pollutant reductions, Nigeria prepared a National Action Plan in which emission abatement strategies in the agriculture sector are a key focus. This includes reducing the open burning of agricultural waste. Agriculture residues can be a valuable resource worth saving. Crop stubble can be used as an energy source when converted into pellets, and straw can be used in livestock feed or bedding.
Yet, cropland fires are not a sustainable way to persistently reduce carbon emissions in Nigeria. Instead, the country must look to carbon farming.
Carbon farming refers to agricultural practices and land management techniques that aim to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in the soil and plants. These practices include activities like reforestation, afforestation, conservation tillage, cover cropping, and rotational grazing. The agricultural sector’s carbon sink possibilities will increase with the use of proper land use techniques, like agroforestry. Climate-smart technologies can also be used for climate change mitigation. These steps in emissions mitigation form part of the Nigerian government’s 2050 long-term low emissions vision.
Although carbon farming is beneficial for climate mitigation in the agriculture sector, large amounts of resources and time are needed to conduct carbon farming activities like reforestation and conservation tillage. Farmers, communities and other agriculture players need incentives and resources to carry these out. Carbon credits are a potential solution to this problem.
Carbon credits are tradable units representing a reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2. Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) estimated that Nigeria itself could generate as many as 30 million carbon credits every year by 2030. Using a price of $20 per credit, the country’s voluntary Carbon Market will be worth over half a billion dollars per year.
According to ACMI’s estimates: At this level of production, the industry could potentially support over 3 million Nigerian jobs. And since Nigeria has only a portion of Africa’s total potential, the impact for the continent as a whole could be far greater. Part of this vision is the nation’s goal to pioneer climate solutions that will benefit the continent and the world. And one key solution is the generation and sale of carbon credits. This financial instrument offers Africa great potential to be explored. Nigeria’s carbon credit potential will come mostly from the forestry/agricultural sectors and household devices. Projects in both sectors deliver significant climate benefits.
For instance, carbon credits from clean cookstoves and solar lamps help expand access to clean energy and improve health outcomes. Likewise, forestry carbon credits will help conserve the nation’s rich biodiversity and support sustainable livelihoods.
BENEFITS OF CARBON FARMING
The benefit of carbon farming on carbon credits lies in its potential to generate carbon offsets, which can be sold or traded on the carbon market. Although carbon farming is beneficial for climate mitigation in the agriculture sector, large amounts of resources and time are needed to conduct carbon farming activities like reforestation and conservation tillage. Farmers, communities, and other agriculture players need incentives and resources to carry these out. Carbon credits are a potential solution to this problem.”
Here are some key benefits:
Carbon sequestration: Carbon farming practices enhance the uptake of atmospheric CO2 by plants and promote its storage in soil organic matter. This sequestration process helps mitigate climate change by reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon farming contributes to global efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It helps offset emissions from other sectors such as energy, transportation, and industry, effectively balancing the carbon budget and moving towards a net-zero or even carbon-negative future.
Offset generation: Carbon farming projects can generate carbon offsets by quantifying the amount of CO2 sequestered or emissions reduced. These offsets can be converted into carbon credits, which have financial value when traded on carbon markets.
Source of income: By participating in carbon farming and selling carbon credits, farmers can diversify their income streams. This provides an economic incentive for implementing sustainable land management practices and adopting regenerative agricultural techniques.
Ecosystem co-benefits: Carbon farming practices often have co-benefits for biodiversity conservation, soil health, water quality, and ecosystem resilience. By adopting these practices, farmers can improve soil fertility, reduce erosion, enhance water infiltration, and create habitats for wildlife.
Sustainable agriculture: Carbon farming promotes sustainable agricultural practices that prioritize long-term soil health, crop productivity, and ecosystem sustainability. It encourages farmers to adopt regenerative practices that enhance soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Climate finance opportunities: Carbon credits generated from carbon farming can attract climate finance investments, including private sector funding, government incentives, and international climate funds. These financial resources can support the scaling up of carbon farming initiatives and incentivize widespread adoption.
Overall, carbon farming provides an opportunity for farmers to actively participate in climate change mitigation efforts, generate additional income, and contribute to the sustainable development of agricultural systems. By connecting carbon farming practices to carbon credits, it enables the quantification and monetization of carbon sequestration and emission reductions, driving the transition towards a low-carbon economy.
Desmond Bardeson, is Assistant Manager, Energy Access at Clean Technology Hub.