Climate-Smart Agriculture- The way forward to a sustainable future

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There is a growing awareness among people about the environmental challenges that development has unleashed on nature.

  1. Land and air are polluted
  2. Ocean health is rapidly declining
  3. Natural resources (soils, water, and biodiversity) are stressed to dangerous levels

Negative impacts are experienced, such as:

  1. Climate change with surging temperatures
  2. Weather variability
  3. Changing agro-ecosystem boundaries
  4. Frequent extreme weather events

We have only one earth, and it is high time we put our efforts together to save the planet.

According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), the growing global population is increasing the demand for food, and to ensure food security, the world needs to produce nearly 70% additional food by 2050. To further compound this issue, traditional agriculture is a significant contributor to the climate problem, as it accounts for 19%–29% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Leading climate scientists have devised methods to be adopted to cultivate and manage our land (whether for food production, forestry, or other land uses) to reduce GHG emissions during cultivation. This integrated approach termed as Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) helps manage cropland, livestock, fisheries, and forests to resolve the interlinked threats of food security and slowdown accelerating climate change.

CSA brings back some pre-industrialization processes such as organized crop rotation and intercropping, and trending ideas like organic fertilization. It can play a significant role in reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Climate-Smart Agriculture targets to achieve the following:

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Roadblocks to the adoption of Climate-Smart Agriculture

CSA as a concept has been in focus at the global and national levels. However, we need to identify some tangible actions to see results. The stumbling blocks to the adoption of Climate-Smart Agriculture are a lack of awareness among farmers and higher implementation costs for CSA practices.

The rampant use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers is a cause for concern, as it is a hazard to both human health and the environment. To mitigate this, knowledge must be imparted on using environmentally safe pesticides and precision farming practices and encouraging farmers to practice sustainable agriculture.

Farmers are pillars of society that provide us with food – and, therefore, life. We cannot achieve a transition towards sustainability without a farmer-centric solution. So, it is essential to devise our solutions with an understanding of the challenges encountered by farmers in engaging in sustainable agriculture practices.

The Carbon Farming Coalition

Considering the complexity and the interconnectedness of food and agriculture systems to improve sustainability performance, an ambitious multi-stakeholder action is vital. Stepping up to the challenge, a Carbon Farming Coalition was formed. Members of the coalition include corporations (BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Cropin, EIT Food, Hero, Planet, RAGT, Swiss Re, Syngenta, World Economic Forum, Yara, Zurich Insurance Group), NGOs (ECAF), and academics (University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School), among others. The coalition is working on comprehending the primary farm-level barriers impacting the transition and developing a farmer-centric, practical, and scalable approach to help the transformation toward Climate-Smart Agriculture.

Integrating crop intelligence data and Agtech to benefit farmers and investors

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Integration of crop intelligence data and Agtech principles can benefit farmers and investors working on sustainability across all three domains.

Agtech to assess water-induced damage

Stakeholders – such as a consortium of insurers in East Africa led by APA Insurance – are seeking an index-based micro-insurance mechanism built on artificial intelligence (AI). They intend to use this to evaluate the damage caused by floods and drought, as against the collection of ground data manually to compensate farmers for their loss.

PlotRisk, an integral part of Cropin Intelligence is a good choice for insurance companies looking to reduce survey-related overheads. PlotRisk uses satellite images to deliver regional (village/district/state) and plot-level assessments, which saves effort and entails much lower costs. This helps to confirm farmers’ claims while ensuring swift verification that is unbiased and transparent.

Agtech to promote zero carbon farming

In the second domain of agroforestry, stakeholders want carbon mapping to initiate pilots on carbon farming. Agroforestry demands the planting of more trees. But this will, in turn, reduce the land available for cultivation and impacts food security. So, one must choose an intelligent location to drive tree planting. Farmers can be encouraged to plant trees to mark the boundaries of their farmland, which can be related to their carbon credit scores as it enables carbon sequestration.

Carbon certification: A bridge to adopt Climate-Smart Agriculture

The domain of GHG emission and sequestration features carbon certificates, which will essentially reward farmers financially. It will assess the use of agrochemicals, pesticides, methane emissions from rice paddies, crop burning, and implementation of other CSA practices to award points using AI algorithms.

For example, in place of burning crop residues, a carbon certificate will award points if crop residues are turned underground with plowing (carbon sequestration). Similarly, the seeds are submerged for two months every year in rice farming, generating methane. The system will give credits to encourage submerging the seeds for a shorter duration, thereby reducing the impact on climate by rice crops. This has the added advantage of water-saving.

The Cropin advantage

Farmers are typically rewarded by investors or insurance companies, who will put money into the system and seek quantification of credit. The solution offered by Cropin can quantify the methane gas and carbon dioxide released and distinguish fire from bush fire and stubble burning. This will be achieved through data intelligence, satellite imagery, AI/ML, remote sensing, etc. Cropin is a treasure trove of data, and the scientific and technical community can leverage this data and connect with farmers and provide insights that help them implement CSA.

The farmer-centric approach to carbon credits

  1. Farmers must register themselves in the scheme
  2. They provide Cropin with simple local data like the boundaries of their fields
  3. They upload geotagged pictures month-on-month after each phase of the crop cycle

Cropin will process these geotagged photos with its satellite images, and then relevant scores are awarded using AI. This will eventually be displayed on the Cropin platform and endorsed by government authorities, World Bank, and UN FAO to compensate the farmers. Cropin will provide effective measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emissions and emission reductions to farmers and investors. Using this, investors can award certificates and carbon credits to farmers.

Agtech, with its approaches to precision farming, drought- and pest-resistant seeds, and digital farming solutions, has the potential to make Climate-Smart Agriculture more popular, feasible, and scalable.

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