Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and the sector, together with forestry and land-use change, accounts for roughly one-third of global GHG emissions. Agriculture provides enormous potential for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and therefore any emissions reduction strategy put forth must include climate-smart agriculture as a top priority.
Anthropogenic activities, including from energy generation, industry, transport, and agriculture contribute significantly to the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs)—which trap heat from the sun and warm up the earth. A much warmer world above the desired threshold means increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as severe heat waves, droughts, and floods. Certainly, this has adverse consequences for global food security by impairing agriculture’s capacity to meet the growing demands for food, feed, fiber, and fuel in a sustainable manner. Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and the sector, together with forestry and land-use change, accounts for roughly one-third of global GHG emissions. Agriculture provides enormous potential for climate change mitigation and adaption. Thus, any emissions reduction strategy put forth must include climate-smart agriculture as a top priority. Emerging countries have a critical role to play in global food security as well as in promoting climate-smart agriculture—given the size of their agricultural sectors and as major emitters of GHG emissions. Even though this important role begins with these countries, it must also extend beyond their borders. In addition, it is vital to ensure that climate-smart and food security goals do not jeopardise each other, but are instead promoted through an integrated approach.
AGRICULTURAL GHG EMISSIONS FOOTPRINT OF EMERGING COUNTRIES
The agricultural sectors of emerging countries play an important role in feeding the world’s population. Selected emerging countries—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa—represented 41, 61, and 39 per cent of global maize, rice, and wheat production in 2012, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. However, these countries also account for a large share of agricultural GHG emissions. Estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that these countries contributed to approximately 40 per cent of global agricultural GHG emissions in 2010. At the global level, agriculture contributed to a little over half of total non-carbon GHG emissions in the same year. These GHGs are mainly nitrous oxide from soil management practices, such as fertiliser and manure use, and methane from enteric fermentation (farm animal digestion), rice production, and other activities. Agricultural GHG emissions are projected to grow. Between 2005 and 2030, non-carbon dioxide emissions from agriculture are expected to increase by 20 per cent, based on estimates by the U.S. EPA. During the same period, direct agricultural GHG emissions from agricultural soil management are expected to rise the most followed by enteric fermentation.
Agriculture provides enormous potential for climate change mitigation and adaption. Thus, any emissions reduction strategy put forth must include climate-smart agriculture as a top priority.
The rapidly growing emerging countries identified earlier are among the top 5 per cent contributors of agricultural GHG emissions as data from the U.S. EPA shows. Even though GHG emissions from agriculture in these countries are much smaller relative to other sectors, emissions remain significant. Between 1990 and 2005, agricultural GHG emissions increased in these countries—with the exception of Russia and South Africa (see Figure 1). Besides Brazil, emissions are projected to grow in all countries from 2005 to 2030, albeit to varying extents.
Figure 1. Change in agricultural GHG emissions in selected emerging countries, 1990-2030 (%)
A recent study by researchers in Moscow State University and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) points out reasons for the decline of GHG emissions and increased absorption of carbon dioxide in Russia. Reduction of arable land, livestock and poultry production, and inorganic fertiliser application; increases in average crop yields; and accumulation of soil organic carbon on arable land converted to hayfields and pastures are some of the major reasons. Overall, while agricultural GHG emissions in Russia seem not substantial compared to energy emissions, the study suggests that agriculture remains important in mitigating GHG emissions. Unlike in Russia, similar research on China indicates that agricultural GHG emissions are much more substantial. In 2005, agricultural soil management, enteric fermentation, and rice cultivation contributed the largest shares to total agricultural GHG emissions in China (see Table 1).
Table 1. Agricultural emissions in selected emerging countries by source, 2005 (MtCO2e)
More specifically, nitrous oxide emissions, largely due nitrogen fertiliser application, accounted for close to 90 per cent of the country’s total nitrous oxide emissions, as stated by the World Resources Institute. Methane emissions from enteric fermentation and paddy rice production accounted for about 60 per cent of China’s total methane emissions. In contrast to other countries, GHG emissions from practices such as burning of agricultural residues and Savannas—which are mainly associated with deforestation—are substantial in Brazil and Indonesia. In recent years, however, reduced deforestation in Brazil has been identified as a major force driving down total GHG emissions in the country.
ROLE OF EMERGING COUNTRIES IN PROMOTING CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE
Climate-smart agriculture can be defined as comprising of three main pillars: i) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; ii) adapting and building resilience to climate change; and iii) reducing and/or removing GHG emission, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Research out of IFPRI demonstrates that climate-smart agriculture offers “triple wins” in terms of climate change adaptation, GHG mitigation, and agricultural productivity and profitability. The study examined the synergies and tradeoffs of various agricultural strategies with a focus on smallholder farmers in Kenya (pictured below). Results show that while practices, such as integrated soil fertility management and improved livestock feeding provide multiple benefits across agroecological zones, irrigation and soil and water conservation are more crucial for the arid zones. These findings suggest that investments in triple win strategies have the highest payoffs, but the design of such strategies must be location and context specific.
Given that climate change threatens global food security, inaction is not an option. Emerging countries need to play a leading role in leveraging climate-smart agriculture for reduced GHG emissions. In the right direction, a number of emerging countries are already making significant investments in agricultural adaptation and mitigation, but the task ahead remains a major one. The discussions that follow highlight some of the agricultural adaptation and mitigation options that could be pursued in selected emerging countries. As a large producer of staple grains and the world’s largest producer and user of inorganic fertilisers, China, for example, presents significant potential for mitigating GHG emissions in agriculture. Active management of agricultural systems is crucial as research conducted by both the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and IFPRI highlights. The study notes that improved agronomic practices related to rice management can remove 30 to 40 per cent of methane emissions from the Chinese rice field. Intermittent irrigation—draining of wetland rice once or several times during the year—can also effectively decrease methane emissions.
Research out of IFPRI demonstrates that climate-smart agriculture offers “triple wins” in terms of climate change adaptation, GHG mitigation, and agricultural productivity and profitability.
Good animal waste management practices, such as anaerobic digestion, composting, and proper temperature of storage tanks, also have the potential to significantly reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions in China. To cut down cropland nitrous oxide emissions, precise application of nitrogen fertilisers and use of slow-release fertilisers and nitrification inhibitors as well as cropland carbon management for carbon sequestration offer vast opportunities. To achieve the synergies of agricultural adaptation and mitigation in China priority should be given to adaptation measures such as cropland management; farming system design; water management; and bioenergy production practices that do not increase carbon-dioxide emissions. A similar partnership study recommends strategies such as improved land management practices, degraded crop and pasture land rehabilitation, agroforestry, and improvement to the nutrition and genetics of ruminant livestock for mitigating agricultural GHG emissions in India. To achieve the synergistic effects of adaptation and mitigation, adaptation measures such as reduction in water-use inefficiency; increased use of water harvesting techniques, promotion of eco-friendly technologies; development of new drought- and heat-resistant varieties; shifting cropping patterns; and provision of agricultural insurance should be considered.
Emerging countries have to lead the way by fostering innovative andintegrated approaches which create pathways to triple win outcomes—climate change adaptation, GHG mitigation, and enhanced agricultural productivity and profitability.
In view of projected increases in Russia’s agricultural production, it is crucial to harness the technical and economic potential that agriculture offers for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Moscow State University and IFPRI study suggests that GHG emissions could be reduced through measures such as fertiliser use optimisation on arable lands and grasslands; restoration of drained organic soils and degraded lands; use of agronomic practices that improve productivity and support more intensive carbon absorption; and improvements to energy efficiency within the agricultural sector. Adaptation measures such as increased adoption of late-ripening and high-yielding crop varieties are recommended as important in warmer and more humid regions of the country. In drier areas, the expansion of irrigation agriculture, water saving technologies, and winter crop production will be essential. For Indonesia, research by the National Development Planning Agency and IFPRI emphasise that the main agricultural GHG mitigation strategy should include measures to reduce deforestation, including field burning, and properly manage peat lands which contain large stocks of carbon. Adaptation measures such as development of drought and heat resistant crop varieties; development of adaptive agricultural technologies, including soil management technologies; and improvements to crop residue management should be adopted. In addition to other policies, it is also recommended that adaptation and mitigation measures are built into national sustainable development plans.
Without a doubt, investments in agricultural science and technology need to be prioritised to promote global food security in a changing climate. As rightly expressed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, climate-smart agriculture provides huge potential for reducing hunger, increasing food production, and improving climate resilience. Realising this potential, however, requires “heightened attention in scientific research and global policy processes, strategies, and interventions, from local to global levels.” Emerging countries have to lead the way by fostering innovative and integrated approaches which create pathways to triple win outcomes—climate change adaptation, GHG mitigation, and enhanced agricultural productivity and profitability.
This article was originally published on Climate Action 2013-2014 (www.climateactionprogramme.org)
Shenggen Fan has been director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) since 2009. Dr. Fan joined IFPRI in 1995 as a research fellow, conducting extensive research on pro-poor development strategies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He led IFPRI’s program on public investment before becoming the director of the Institute’s Development Strategy and Governance Division in 2005. He is the Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Food Security.
Tolulope Olofinbiyi is a program manager in the Director General’s Office. She currently manages activities for the Director General’s research and outreach. She has an extensive background working in the agribusiness sector in Nigeria. While at Texas A&M and Fletcher, she also worked with Development Alternatives Inc. in Bethesda., MD.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organisations.