Climate Change Mitigation: Reducing emissions from agriculture

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UNESCO, Nairobi, Kenya

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that agriculture is responsible for about 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But by drawing upon several traditional farming principles in a modern-day context, agriculture currently has the potential to reduce up to 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

 

Agro-ecology

Agro-ecology is the application of the ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agro- ecosystems. Farmers who practice agro-ecology draw upon their understanding of both the complex dynamics of their local ecologies and the diverse means of cultivating the landscape for human benefit. Though agro-ecological farms by their very nature vary based on surrounding environments, the concept broadly entails the reintegration of livestock crops, pollinators, trees, and water in ways that work resiliently with the landscape; crop rotation and the planting of multiple crops at once (intercropping) rather than one single crop (monoculture); a reliance on biological pest controls rather than chemicals; and the management of soil fertility. Not only does agro-ecology have the potential to revitalize farmland that has been devastated by the impacts of warmer temperatures and more industrial agriculture, agro- ecology actively fights climate change by capturing carbon from the atmosphere through the maintenance of healthy soil matter and the replanting of trees on deforested lands, and by rejecting carbon-intensive fertilizers and other toxic chemicals.

 

Soil fertility management

Indeed, soil fertility management in and of itself represents a key tool to shrink climate change’s agricultural footprint. Today, too many farmers import fossil fuel-intensive fertilizers and pesticides that ultimately wreak havoc on soil fertility. By planting various indigenous crop varieties and cover crops, switching to organic fertilizers, and reducing soil tillage, farmers can take steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of their land while contributing to the sequestration of carbon dioxide. In some regions, such as the African Sahel, where drought devastated cropland for over three decades, some farmers are even reversing desertification by reintroducing organic matter back into the ground, which in turn retains water and attracts termites that help the soil retain moisture.

 

Urban farming

Although the vast majority of agriculture occurs in rural areas, residents of the world’s cities have the ability to fight climate change while simultaneously promoting nutritional lifestyles and economic growth through urban farming, or the practice of developing micro-farms on small plots of land. In our increasingly globalized world, the domestic and international transportation of food is a major source of global greenhouse gas emissions. By allowing city-dwellers to grow their own food in the backyard, on their rooftop, or across the street, urban agriculture greatly reduces the need to deforest land for agricultural purposes and cuts out the fossil-fuel intensive process of getting food from the farm to the plate. And with 75 per cent of Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans located in city centres by 2020, urban residents can too be a powerful driver in the mitigation of climate change.