Carbon-Sequestering Agriculture: A Promising Solution

>> Apr 08, 2013


Global agriculture is currently a major contributor of carbon emissions. However, there are crops and practices that can reverse that trend, actively sequestering carbon while producing food and other essential human needs.perennial solutions  The first component of this strategy is the use of perennial crops, like trees and other long-lived plants, that store “fixed” carbon in their woody parts and in their roots. But there's more: in no-till systems where the soil is not turned over, substantial quantities of carbon can be stored as organic matter in the soil.

The other part of the picture is regenerative farming practices  , from rotational grazing to agroforestry to tree crop polycultures. This suite of practices can actually improve soil while producing food – leaving behind more carbon-storing organic matter. 

perennial solutions These practices don't just provide food and fight climate change. Multifunctional perennial agriculture offers: ecological benefits like stabilizing slopes and improving rainwater infiltration; on-farm services like nitrogen fixation and living fences; and social benefits like income for rural people. More broadly, these crops and practices can contribute to broader social goals like climate justice and food sovereignty. When compared with massive geoengineering projects liking orbiting solar mirrors, this toolkit clearly does more to close the gap between rich and poor nations and individuals. It isalready practiced   on millions of hectares of agroforestry farms around the world.

Some of these practices and crops are well–researched and established, while othersperennial solutions are still under development. One of the least-investigated but most promising areas is the development of perennial staple crops  . This class of plants has tremendous potential as the anchor of a transformed food system, providing protein, carbohydrates and fats in long–lived, no–till systems. This group includes nuts, perennial beans and grains, woody pods, staple fruits, aerial tubers, starch–filled re-sprouting trunks, and trees with high–protein leaves, among other fascinating categories. 

In the tropics there are many perennial staple crops ready for prime time, like breadfruit, peach palm, and moringa. In cold climates we have more work to do, but the efforts of the Land Institute to develop perennial grains, and Badgersett Research Corporation to improve chestnuts and hazels and replacements for corn and soybeans, are making good progress.


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