The way ahead for low-emission agriculture

Direct emission of greenhouse gases reduces substantially by switching to organic fertilisers 

By Suraj Mondal
Published: Monday 14 June 2021

Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Chemical fertilisers, pesticides and animal waste from agriculture account for 60 per cent of global anthropogenic emissions of methane (CH4) and 70 per cent nitrous oxide (N2O).

These rates are bound to rise as a result of an increase in food demand by a growing global population.

It is, however, possible to practice climate-smart and balanced farming with organic manures, bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides, along with required chemical fertilisers as the source of agriculture inputs, according to Development Support Centre, a resource organisation that provides knowledge in the field of participatory natural resource management and sustainable livelihoods.

This farming practice avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and targets optimum yield using organic and animal compost and bio-pesticides, considering the low cost and minimum emission.

Manik Mahipat Patil, a small farmer from Asane village in Maharashtra, used organic fertilisers that helped curb emissions. There was no direct emission of nitrous oxide or methane like from the synthetic fertilisers. The use of organic manure in the soil also increased the amount of carbon stored. 

Before the intervention, Patil was using chemical fertilisers at much higher rates than recommended by experts: 150 kilogram of urea per acre (recommended 90 kg per acre), 200 kg super phosphate per acre (recommended 125 kg), 32-40 kg muriate of potash per acre (recommended 35 kg).

These doses ensured direct and indirect emissions of GHGs. Now, for the same crop size, he applies 25 kg of urea, 67 kg of super phosphate and 33 kg muriate of potash per acre of land. He substituted large quantities of chemical fertilisers with seven tonnes of dairy farm manure, 300 kg poultry farm manure, overnight sheep grazing, organic fertiliser (amputpani) with cow urine, dung and jaggery, kitchen decomposition along with organic pesticide (brahmastram) and got desired yield and input cost reduced to 32 per cent of the earlier cost per acre.  

Good soil nutrition enabled water to be consumed more efficiently than conventional chemical farming. For growing one acre of onion, the volume of water consumed decreased to 12 rotation of irrigation from 18-19.

Effective GHG mitigation by the agricultural sector requires an improved understanding of factors behind differences in the agriculture carbon footprints of different farms and systems. A chemical-intensive small farm can have a much higher carbon pollution density than bigger farms. Small and marginal farmers, thus, should be made aware of the balanced, modern organic agricultural practices to minimise carbon footprint from global biomass production.

Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect that of Down To Earth.

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