Agriculture and Climate Change
We often hear these wild claims that Regenerative Agriculture can turn back Climate Change. Of course no one thing can turn back Climate Change, it has to be a coordinated approach across all aspects of life. Unless we cut back our fossil fuel use any positive effects of Regenerative Agriculture will continuously be undone. What is true however is that without Regenerative Agriculture we can not solve our our existential environmental issues one of which is Climate Change.
As we stand agriculture has historically caused 476 billion tons of carbon to be displaced into the atmosphere, that is almost double the amount caused by all of man's other activities, including burning fossil fuels. If we take a right here, right now view fossil fuels are winning annual emissions comfortably. Contrary to what the anti-meat movement would have you believe cows burping is not the major contributor to this figure but it is rather the catastrophic loss of soil organic mater due to ploughing, chemical application, poor grazing practices and the resulting erosion and soil loss. "Globally, 75 billion tonnes of soil are lost from arable land each year and an estimated $400 billion in agricultural production is lost." (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN). The South African figure is 13tons per hectare per year!
"when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases." - Michael Pollan
History shows us that civilisations that destroyed their soils soon collapse. As we stand we are fast on the way to repeating this, all in the name of fuelling a global food industry that distributes largely poor value food. Moreover Industrial Agriculture has no solution for for this soil, water and carbon problem it has taken to new heights. Patentable, profit making chemicals aren't going to solve this problem.
"Soil is lost not because we farm, it's lost because of how we farm." - Professor David Montgomery
However, unlike other major greenhouse gas producers, agriculture has the capacity to not only to reduce its carbon emissions but to draw carbon down from the atmosphere and return it back to the soil sink - where it should have been all along. This might sound like magic but if we move from Industrial to Regenerative Agriculture it is as real as the erosion and degradation we are currently experiencing. The Soil-Plant Ecosystem is driven by photosynthesis and during photosynthesis carbon in the form of CO2 is taken out of the air and converted in to sugars in the plant. Some of these sugars are then exuded via the root hairs as payment for the exchange of minerals, water and secondary metabolites with the soil microbiology. Fortunately our understanding of soil micro biology has advanced tremendously in recent years meaning that Regenerative farmers can produce yields that compete with Industrial farmers while reducing agriculture's pollution footprint, including carbon emissions.
The Liquid Carbon Pathway
Carbon is drawn from the atmosphere and converted into liquid sugars in the process of photosynthesis, up to 40% of which are 'fed' to soil microbiology where they form humus, stable carbon that remains in the soil for decades.
Aside from drawdown Regenerative Agriculture offers another solution to climate change and desertification, it can help fix the small water cycle. Together with a healthy small water cycle and healthy soils (Soil Carbon Sponge) the photosynthetic potential of the soil is maximised. Photosynthesis not only creates our energy and drives ecosystem cycles, it also cools the planet via transpiration - nature's air-conditioner. In the Amazon, more water goes into the atmosphere everyday via transpiration than goes down the Amazon River. This water is transpired from leaves and the process is energy hungry cooling the surrounding atmosphere.
"Soils have to be integral to any strategy of mitigating global warming and improving the environment." - Professor Rattan Lal
"When farmers restore fertility to the land, this helps feed the world, cool the planet, reduce pollution, and return profitability to family farms." - Professor David Montgomery
Video: Carbon Drawdown
Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture
Agriculture is not only a cause of climate issues it is also a victim. Climate variability - more frequent dry spells and heavy rain events - already impacts agricultural production negatively. The image below showing how climate change is predicted to impact on agricultural yields does not paint a pretty picture for Africa. We need to start emitting less and drawing down more carbon and in the process make our soils more resilient to climate variability. Good soil health does this by making soils more able to infiltrate water and to store much greater volumes of water.
Video: 4 per 1000 Initiative - boost carbon storage in agricultural soils by 0.4% each year
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