Decarbonising Indian agriculture

  • IASbaba
  • April 11, 2022
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 
  • GS-3: Indian Agriculture & challenges associated with it.

Decarbonising Indian agriculture

Context: In 2016, agriculture and livestock emitted 407,821 Gg of CO2e, around 14% of total emissions. Out of this, 61.3% is linked to livestock. 

Apart from livestock, the major constituents of agriculture GHG emissions are 

  • rice cultivation (17.5%)
  • fertiliser application (19.1%)
  • field burning of agricultural residues (2.2%). 

Why decarbonisation of Agriculture is a tricky issue in India?

  • India, with 1.75 million sq km arable land and a 300 million cattle population has 160 million rural households with agriculture being the main source of livelihood. 
  • Hence, decarbonisation has to be carefully calibrated to avoid an adverse impact to over 120 million marginal farmers who are still in the ‘survival phase’ of their socio-economic development

What pathways can be used for decarbonising agriculture?

Deep decarbonising pathways would include 

  • reducing biogenic methane from cattle and rice cultivation
  • inculcating resource efficiency by reducing consumption of irrigation water, chemical fertilisers, and energy as well as farm waste processing
  • reducing waste in the food supply chain
  • building climate resilience through deploying automation and technology. 

The following factors are critical for both decarbonisation and sustainability:

  • Fertile soil enhances farm yields and incomes apart from being a carbon sink. 
  • Healthy soil holds more moisture and soil conservation methods reduce erosion. 
  • The co-products of biogas/biofuels plants are compost/bio-char, which enrich soil, mitigate environment pollution, and displace chemical fertilisers
  • Agriculture consumes over 80% of freshwater in India, making conservation critical. 
  • Micro-irrigation with automation and adoption of low water-intensive species and farming practices is essential. 
  • Areas under water intensive crops must be reduced through crops diversification, examples being oil seeds, pulses, horticulture, and forage crops.
Alternate cropping:
  • This contributes to GHG mitigation and is an emerging area in climate-smart farming. 
  • For example, seaweed cultivation as additive to cattle feed reduces biogenic methane emissions, improves feed quality, and enhances milk production
  • Trees act as windbreaks, reduce soil erosion, enrich soil, and filter water. 
  • Studies suggest that 5% increase at 5 yearly intervals to the existing 16 mha area can help mitigate India’s projected emissions.
Bio-energy from farm waste
  • Manure-based community biogas plants can support clean cooking and distributed power. 
  • India’s National Policy for Biofuels/ SATAT scheme set a medium-term target of 15 million tonnes of bio-CNG. 
  • BECCS (Bio Energy with Carbon Capture & Storage) involves capturing CO2 from bioenergy plants and permanent storage. This will lead to carbon removal as well as negative emissions.

Way Ahead

  • Sustainable agriculture pathways will require significant capital, but a large portion could come from repurposing existing subsidies. 
  • Climate finance and patient capital will be needed for areas having longer gestation period, viz biogenic methane mitigation, agro-forestry, etc.
  • Coordinated and action-oriented implementation and appropriate institutional architecture from the Centre to states to districts or agro-zones is needed.

Connecting the dots:

  • National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC),
  • National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA)

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