Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panellist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

Can farmers capitalise on carbon sequestration?

Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panellist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panelist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

A lot of human activities including deforestation, converting grasslands into arable land, repeated soil tillage, and burning of fossil fuels have disrupted the carbon cycle, taking it out of balance. To this end, scientists and climate change activists have made a clarion call to farmers, as land managers, to play an active role in taking carbon back to the soil.

Soils act as a source and sink for carbon and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Conservation agriculture and agroforestry are some of the practices that simultaneously improve soil carbon, soil fertility and water conservation, hence their adoption at scale can help increase food production to meet the needs of the growing population.

In one of the COP24 side events co-hosted by SACAU, an important point was raised to the effect that for farmers to heed the call of ‘taking carbon back to the soil’, there needs to be a compelling value proposition apart from the rhetoric of benefiting from ‘increased yield and household food security’. Farmers need to capitalise on carbon sequestration.

When polluters buy carbon credits, the financial returns are enjoyed by a company, organisation or project that has prevented an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.

If farmers can store substantial amounts of carbon in the soils, why can’t they benefit from the carbon market? While it was pointed out that measuring the actual amount of carbon sequestered in soils and plants could be difficult and very costly, this is a matter that needs to be debated further, with the hope that more innovative approaches will be introduced.

Farmers’ level of awareness, knowledge and understanding of carbon sequestration also need to be improved for them to benefit from such an initiative.


Food loss/waste and climate change


The global agenda on climate change seems to have invested quite a lot of resources on areas such as energy generation, transport, forest conservation, and resilient agricultural production systems, among others. One area that continues to be overlooked despite its importance in the climate change discourse, is the reduction of food loss and waste.

This issue was discussed in one of the side events hosted by the European Union (EU) at the Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Poland in which SACAU participated as a panellist. Current estimates suggest that almost a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. In developing countries food wastage occurs at an early stage in the food chain due to poor production and post-harvest practices, while in industrialised countries, most of the wastage occurs at retail and consumption stages.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked with food loss and waste emanate from a variety of sources along the food chain. The first source relates to emissions from deforestations linked with producing food that is eventually lost or wasted. Secondly, there are on-farm emissions from fertiliser, energy, manure from livestock and digestive systems of cows for producing food that is ultimately lost or wasted. The production of energy to manufacture and process food and the energy used to transport, store and cook food that is ultimately lost or wasted are the third and fourth sources respectively.

Last, but not least, there are landfill emissions from wasted decaying food either on-farm due to poor post-harvest management or discarded by shops or consumers after processing. By reducing on-farm losses, managing food use and distribution better, the world could reduce emissions from the food and agriculture sector by up to 14%.