#16 Conservation Agriculture

This article explores conservation agriculture as a climate change solution. It is based on Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative which mapped the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.

Honduras - with basins in foreground without in background_0.jpg

This is part 5 of my series which each week is looking at the most effective initiatives that made it into the top 20 of Project Drawdown.

It is an old saying that you are what you eat. But on a planetary scale it very much seems that we are what we eat. Stunningly 8 out of the top 20 initiatives to reverse global warming come from the food sector alone. This is clearly an area where massive amounts of carbon can be prevented from being emitted.

Incredibly, in conservation agriculture, ploughs are not used at all. The authors write that:

Though intended to prepare a field to be productive, tilling can actually make it nutrient poor and less life giving

The authors explain that:

Conservation agriculture adheres to three core principles: minimise soil disturbance, maintain soil cover, and manage crop rotation.

Let’s look at the numbers that allowed conservation agriculture to make it into the Project Drawdown top 20. Conservation agriculture could reduce CO2 emissions by 17.35 gigatons, for a net cost of $37.5 billion but produce $2.12 trillion in net savings.

In order to make the no till strategy work, most faemers who practice conservation agriculture plant cover crops. This is all done to maintain the health of the soil. In order to make this work, farmers seed directly into the soil.

I was amazed to learn that conservation agriculture is already practised on 10% of the world’s cropland.

Of the benefits, the authors write the following:

Water retention makes fields more drought resistant or reduces the need for irrigation. Nutrient retention leads to increased fertility and can lower fertilizer inputs.”

Of the carbon benefits, the authors had the following to say:

Conservation agriculture sequesters a relatively small amount of carbon – an average of half a ton per acre. But given the prevalence of annual cropping around the world, those tons could add up and shift a dominant segment of agricultural production from net greenhouse gas emitter to net carbon sink.”

This is no pie in the sky idea, the authors proclaim it as “a well-proven solution.

What you need to know

This article explored conservation agriculture as a climate change solution.

With 8 out of the top 20 climate change solutions in Project Drawdown coming from the food sector, this should be an area of focus for business and political leaders worldwide.

What shocked me though were the numbers and how compelling they were. Conservation agriculture presents the opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions by 17 gigatons, at a net cost of only $37 billion. That may sound like a lot of money to some, but in a global context this is a tiny sum of money for such an impactful solution.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of  conservation agriculture as a climate change solution?

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I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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