To mitigate their amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, companies and individuals have access to international voluntary carbon offset markets, which are trading systems that financially compensate credit producer participants for offsetting the amount of carbon emitted. An innovative new initiative from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR) is working to establish carbon markets among smallholder farmers in India, with the goal of reducing GHG emissions, encouraging climate smart farming practices through financial incentives.
In India, agriculture is one of the biggest sources of GHG emissions – between 14 and 21 percent of all GHGs are attributable to agricultural activities, which derive from the use of farm machinery, rice cultivation, fertilizer use, and other activities. Emissions from agriculture are increasing drastically due to synthetic fertilizers and enteric fermentation from livestock.
Within CIMMYT’s farmer-centered approach, participants in voluntary carbon markets will improve their own financial viability in two ways – through adopting sustainable practices and through receipt of payments from carbon markets. The approach will also employ regenerative interventions such as direct dry seeding of rice, minimal tillage, crop diversification, use of biofertilizers, and perennial cropping all while contributing to an overall reduction in GHG emissions.
“Working with ICAR to engage smallholder farmers with high-quality carbon offsets allows the farmers to offset their unavoidable emissions,” said Vijesh Krishna, senior CIMMYT scientist. “This program promotes inclusiveness because this newly created income is distributed among participating farmers, thereby improving their income.”
These regenerative agriculture interventions will increase and retain soil’s carbon content, water permeability and retention, resulting in crops’ ability to withstand drought, flooding, and temperature stresses. Only a small percentage of farmers currently implement these methods in India.
CIMMYT and ICAR researchers estimate that widespread adoption of these practices, combined with upgraded technologies, has the potential to return the carbon levels in agricultural soils from an average of 0.5 percent back to 1.5 percent. At present, the agricultural soils of India are poor with respect to soil organic carbon.
Carbon markets for smallholders
About 2,000 small holder farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and parts of Maharashtra, all in India, are enrolled in the project through individual partnership agreements. Once farmers implement regenerative agricultural methods, they will be eligible to receive payments for carbon credits generated for 10 to 20 years, conditional upon continuing to use climate-smart practices.
“We believe these efforts can be expanded to other regions of India, and other countries,” said Sieg Snapp, CIMMYT’s Sustainable Agrifood Systems (SAS) program director. “Helping farmers and reducing GHG emissions at the same time is the way forward in dealing the crisis of climate change.”
Farms are geo-tagged and monitored using remote sensing for regenerative farming practices, and soil carbon content will be measured at the beginning and end of the crop cycle. Those that produce rice and wheat with a lower carbon footprint will be identified, so their produce gets purchase and price preferences from those who want to promote lower carbon agriculture.
Digital agronomy tools and satellite imagery analysis to measure and verify soil carbon offsets and on-farm GHG emission levels are essential for scaling small farmer-centered carbon projects. The veracity, transparency, and traceability of each carbon offset have direct implications for its credibility and actual market value. CIMMYT will contribute towards a Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) platform to expand climate action country-wide.
So far, CIMMYT and ICAR researchers estimate that the enrolled smallholder famers have sequestered between four and five tons of carbon dioxide. After independent third-party auditors verify the data, farmers will be paid based on the amount of GHG reduction, with the first carbon offset payments expected to be issued in 2023.
Cover photo: A green maize seedling emerges from the soil (Photo: Wasim Iftikar/CIMMYT)