Decarbonising Indian agriculture Editorial FinancialExpress

Decarbonising Indian agriculture Editorial FinancialExpress

Emissions from agriculture and livestock are high:

  • As per India’s third Biennial Update Report , in 2016, agriculture and livestock emitted 407,821 Gg of CO2e. This amounts to around 14% of total emissions. 
    • GHG emissions are typically discussed in terms of mass of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).
    • Gg of CO2e measures emissions in Giga grams (Gg) of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
  • Out of the total agriculture and livestock emissions of India in 2016, 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%), and field burning of agricultural residues (2.2%).

Decarbonising Indian agriculture will help meet climate goals:

  • Considering the huge contribution of agriculture and livestock to emissions, decarbonizing this sector will help India meet its climate goals.
  • Further, transition to sustainable and climate-smart agriculture and land use can create many jobs and enhance incomes apart from mitigating GHG emissions and environment pollution.

Pathways for decarbonisation:

  • Deep decarbonising pathways would include:
    • Reducing biogenic methane from cattle and rice cultivation
    • Inculcating resource efficiency by reducing consumption of water, chemical fertilisers, and energy
    • Reducing waste in the food supply chain
    • Building climate resilience through deploying automation and technology 

Decarbonisation of agriculture must be done carefully to be sustainable:

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

Factors critical for both decarbonisation and sustainability:

  • Maintaining healthy soil:
    • Fertile soil enhances farm yields and incomes apart from being a carbon sink.
    • Healthy soil holds more moisture and soil conservation methods reduce erosion.
    • Soil can be enriched with compost/bio-char from co-products of biogas/biofuels plants. This will also help mitigate environment pollution, and displace chemical fertilisers.
  • Water conservation:
    • Agriculture consumes over 80% of freshwater in India, making conservation critical.
    • Micro-irrigation with automation and adoption of low water-intensive varieties and farming practices is essential.
    • Areas under water intensive crops must be reduced through crop diversification.
  • Alternate cropping:
    • Alternate cropping 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.
  • Agro-forestry:
    • Trees act as windbreaks, reduce soil erosion, enrich soil, and filter water.
    • Studies suggest that 5% increase at 5 yearly intervals to the existing tree and forest cover can help mitigate India’s projected emissions.
  • Bio-energy from farm waste:
    • Generating bio-energy from farm waste offers immense potential for mitigating emissions as well as growth in non-farm economic activity.
    • Manure-based community biogas plants can support clean cooking and distributed power.
    • India also has huge potential in Bio-CNG production. 

Way ahead:

  • Sustainable agriculture pathways will require significant capital.
    • A large portion of this could come from appropriate re-allotment of existing subsidies.
    • Climate finance and long-term capital will be needed for areas having longer gestation period, viz biogenic methane mitigation, agro-forestry, etc.
  • Further, India’s many sustainability initiatives in agriculture need coordinated and action-oriented implementation and appropriate institutional architecture for convergence from the Centre to states to districts or agro-zones.


GS Paper III: Environment