In the heart of India’s agricultural landscape, a groundbreaking opportunity is emerging—one that not only holds the promise of rejuvenating the dwindling health of the soil but also enhancing the farmers’ livelihoods. As poor soil health and diminishing profits continue to plague Indian farmers, a beacon of hope shines in the form of carbon credits. This avenue could potentially address these pressing issues and revolutionize the landscape of Indian agriculture.
The Shift Towards a Domestic Carbon Market
The Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2022, recently passed in the Lok Sabha, is set to kindle the development of a domestic carbon market. While the bill’s primary focus is on the renewable energy sector, its implications ripple into the agricultural sphere, indirectly paving the way for benefits to reach India’s farmers.
With over half of India’s population engaged in agriculture, the sector’s reliance on natural resources like soil and water is profound. However, the climate crisis, manifested through land degradation, fluctuating market prices, and escalating input costs, poses a significant threat to agricultural production’s sustainability and farming communities’ well-being.
Fostering Soil Health: A Critical Imperative
The post-Green Revolution era witnessed the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, culminating in the degradation of soil health. This crisis is exacerbated by the fact that nearly 30% of India’s land area, particularly unirrigated agricultural land, is in a state of degradation. Soil, a reservoir of essential elements like carbon, phosphorous, and nitrogen, plays a pivotal role in agriculture.
Diminishing soil carbon levels weakens the soil’s capacity to retain water and renders it susceptible to erosion and runoff, further amplifying cycles of floods and droughts. Thus, carbon sequestration—a process that involves storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil—has become critical. Carbon sequestration holds a dual advantage by elevating soil carbon levels: mitigating climate change and fortifying agriculture.
Cultivating Soil Health Through Regenerative Practices
To reverse soil degradation, farmers must adopt regenerative agriculture practices. Techniques like cover cropping, residue mulching, and employing optimal dosage of fertilizers will contribute to increased biomass and reduced carbon loss from the soil. These practices rejuvenate soil health, resulting in higher yields. However, as these approaches demand time and resources and yield returns in the long term, farmers require incentives to embrace them fully. This is where carbon credits step in as a potent catalyst.
Unlocking the Potential of Carbon Credits
The intrinsic link between soil health improvement and soil carbon elevation necessitates constant monitoring and incentivization. Carbon credits serve to monetize soil carbon levels. These credits represent units of greenhouse gases sequestered from or prevented from entering the atmosphere. A single carbon credit certifies the removal of one metric tonne of CO2 from the air.
Leveraging advancements in remote sensing and AI, carbon levels are predicted through satellite data—a cornerstone in calculating carbon credits. Governments and companies procure carbon credits to meet their climate commitments, offering a market-based solution to reduce emissions.
Farmers Reaping the Benefits
Participation in the carbon market offers direct and indirect benefits to farmers. The direct gain comes in the form of monetary incentives for carbon sequestration. While one carbon credit is currently valued at around INR 780, corporations may offer higher rates, reaching up to INR 2000 per credit for substantial volumes. Regenerative practices can result in sequestering one to four carbon credits per acre.
Indirectly, improved soil health manifests through increased water-holding capacity, enhanced nutrient availability, and lowered soil density, leading to augmented yields. However, the journey of an individual farmer into the carbon market isn’t easy. Nonprofits and farmer-producer organizations (FPOs) play a pivotal role in guiding and supporting farmers to tap into the benefits of carbon credit programmes.
Navigating the Path to Carbon Credit Monetization
For farmers to embrace carbon credit programmes, a sequence of steps is essential:
Promote Regenerative Practices: Nonprofits and FPOs encourage regenerative agriculture practices within their groups, focusing on increasing soil organic matter and carbon.
Collaborate with Agri-Tech Partners: Many companies operating in voluntary carbon markets, offer platforms to list and trade carbon projects.
Third-Party Verification: Third-party agencies verify listed projects. Upon approval, the credits are sold, and incentives are distributed to FPOs and farmers.
As nations worldwide commit to combating climate change, the synergy between carbon credit markets and farmers is poised to evolve. While the journey may not be devoid of challenges, the multifaceted benefits of heightened soil carbon levels could potentially usher in a new era of regenerative agriculture, effectively contributing to climate resilience. In this union, farmers will emerge as the champions of sustainable farming, bolstering the very foundation of Indian agriculture.