Agroforestry Should Play a Bigger Role in Tackling Climate Change

Author: Cathy Watson | Published: December 13, 2017

Never has it been so pressing to address climate change. So let’s hurry to embrace a proven part of the solution. The radical (but not new) concept of agroforestry – be it integrating trees to create shade over coffee bushes, adding trees to Colombian cattle ranches, or managing and encouraging shea trees to flourish amid millet crops in the Sahel – must move to centre stage.

The Global Carbon Project estimates that 2017 will see a two percent rise in worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, reversing the downward trend of the previous few years.

Almost a quarter of these emissions come from agriculture and the conversion of forests and wetlands into farmland.

This year is also set to be one of the hottest three ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization. And, unlike 2016, 2017 has managed this even without a temperature-boosting El Niño weather system.

Flash floods in Southeast Asia, drought in East Africa, and melting glaciers in Latin America are just three examples of the extreme weather events linked to climate change that affect all corners of the world.

This is, truly, a global disaster, and one largely of our own making.

Solution at hand

But we also have the power to mitigate global warming, through reducing emissions of CO2 and increasing its absorption by expanding or protecting “carbon sinks” such as forests.

One especially effective but still yet to be fully recognised mitigation strategy is agroforestry – the purposeful regeneration, planting, and maintenance of trees and woody bushes on farms and rangeland.

Already, almost a billion hectares of agricultural land across the world contains trees that farming families deliberately manage side by side with their crops and livestock. Around 1.2 billion people depend on these agroforestry systems.

The soil, vegetation, and biomass on every hectare of such land can capture 3.3 tonnes of carbon per year – much more than that captured by land without trees.

Recent research indicates that tree cover on agricultural land across the planet absorbs some 0.75 gigatonnes of carbon a year. That’s a sizable chunk of the 9.75 gigatonnes of CO2 the world emits annually.


Video: ‘Salvation Is In Soil’ TEDxDirigo by Florence Reed

Climate change got you down? We understand. Why not lift yourself up with this brand new TEDx talk from our Founder and Director of Strategic Growth, Florence Reed?

Upon arriving in Panama as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Florence Reed was committed to creating necessary and large scale change in the world. What she learned was that the answers to some of the world’s largest problems are often at the feet of the people on the ground – in this case the world’s small scale farmers.

In this talk recorded live at TEDxDirigo in Portland, Maine, Florence shares her lessons learned and the opportunities that still lie ahead.

If you’re as inspired by this talk as we are, we encourage you to write a comment on Youtube and share the video with your networks. Thank you for helping our work reach as many people as possible.

New Healthy Soil Guide Gives Cooks a Better Recipe for Climate Change

This restaurant duo wants to spread the gospel that healthy soil on farms and ranches can play a major role in slowing global warming.

Author: Diana Donlon | Published: December 5, 2017

December 5 marks the United Nations’ World Soil Day, which recognizes the crucial role soil plays in human health, food production, and climate change mitigation. To mark the occasion, Diana Donlon, director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS)’s Soil Solutions program, spoke with Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, owners of The Perennial Restaurant in San Francisco. The team is launching a Healthy Soil Guide for chefs and home cooks about they can play in promoting healthy soils and climate solutions. CFS has also released a short film today called “Chefs for Soil,” which includes Myint and Leibowitz discussing their climate-friendly restaurant; that film is embedded below.

You’re a couple of city-dwelling restaurateurs with businesses in San Francisco and Manhattan—how did you find out about the connection between healthy soil and a stable climate?

Karen Leibowitz: We’d been working together in the restaurant business for a few years, starting with Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth, both in San Francisco, when we had a daughter and started to think more concretely about the future with a capital F. That’s when we realized what a big impact the food system has on climate. We committed to the idea of making a sustainable restaurant, and when a friend of ours suggested we visit a rancher in Marin County—John Wick [of the Marin Carbon Project], who pretty much blew our minds.

Anthony Myint: John talked a mile a minute and offered us a reason to feel hopeful for the first time in our lives about reversing climate change. He explained the importance of perennial plants, particularly grasses, to “drawing down” carbon dioxide and return it to the soil, and we got so excited. We were still on our way home from Wick’s ranch when we decided to name our latest restaurant The Perennial.


Nigeria Pledges to Restore Nearly 10 Million Acres of Degraded Land

Author: Mike Gaworecki | Published: December 7, 2017

The government of Nigeria has announced its plans to restore four million hectares, or nearly 10 million acres, of degraded lands within its borders.

The West African nation is now one of 26 countries across the continent that have committed to restoring more than 84 million hectares (over 200 million acres) of degraded lands as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), an effort that aims to bring 100 million hectares of land under restoration by 2030. These commitments also support the targets of the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative to restore 150 million hectares by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, but deforestation has become widespread amidst the country’s rapid pace of urban development and population growth.

“Nigeria is happy to be associated with the AFR100 initiative and Bonn Challenge. We are committed to restoring degraded forests to improve citizens’ livelihoods through food security, poverty alleviation, a sustainable environment and the achievement of the [UN] Sustainable Development Goals,” Bananda Aliyu, the director of the Drought and Desertification Amelioration Department at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment, said in a statement.

“Our government understands the environmental benefits of restoring degraded forest landscapes and hopes to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions, Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of Nigeria.”

Climate mitigation efforts around land use, land-use change, and forestry are included in 83 percent of the climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), submitted by each of the 189 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement.

Recent research has found that “natural climate solutions” — defined as “conservation, restoration, and/or improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands” — have huge potential to help meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius or less. The restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes was found to have the most climate mitigation potential of the 20 natural climate strategies examined for the study.

While there’s an abundance of research showing its environmental and climate benefits, restoration is increasingly coming to be seen as a good investment, as well. Close to $1.5 billion in financial commitments have been made to AFR100 initiatives, for instance. And more than $2 billion in private investment funds have been committed to restoration projects in the Caribbean and Latin America through Initiative 20×20, a country-led effort similar to AFR100 through which 16 nations have committed to restoring 53.2 million hectares of land.


Can McDonald’s Help Solve Climate Change?

Author: Joel Makower | Published: December 4, 2017

For more than four years, McDonald’s has been traversing a long and arduous path to produce “sustainable beef” in its sprawling global supply chain.

Now, it’s looking for solutions right under its feet.

The fast-food giant is embarking on a small but potentially significant project to measure and analyze the ability of cattle farming to sequester carbon in soil, using a style of grazing called adaptive multi-paddock — AMP, for short. If it works, it could transform the way McDonald’s ranchers raise cattle and produce beef — while avoiding the release millions or even billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

All this may sound too good to be true, and it’s early days, but I’ve been watching this unfold for several years, ever since I first heard about AMP from Peter Byck, the filmmaker-turned-carbon-crusader who produced the 2010 documentary “Carbon Nation.” (Confession: I have a cameo in the film.)

Byck’s movie showcased the myriad solutions that were helping address the climate crisis, in some cases by skeptics who were doing these things for reasons other than environmental. Several farmers played starring roles, showing the methods they were employing to enhance soil and raise productivity, in part through raising cattle. That led Byck to further investigate some of the methods.


Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook Summary

Published: November 21, 2017

This booklet presents a summary of the contents of the second edition of the Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook. The revised digital CSA Sourcebook contains updated versions of the original 18 modules and includes five new modules: Climate change, adaptation & mitigation; Integrated production systems; Supporting rural producers with knowledge; The role of gender; A guide to evidencebased implementation at the country level.


Switching to Organic Farming Could Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations

Author: Fiona Harvey | Published: November 14, 2017

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.


However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “[These] models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”


COP23: Key Outcomes Agreed at the UN Climate Talks in Bonn

Climate change was again placed at the centre of global diplomacy over the past two weeks as diplomats and ministers gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the latest annual round of United Nations climate talks.

Author: Jocelyn Timperley | Published: November 19, 2017

COP23, the second “conference of the parties” since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015, promised to be a somewhat technical affair as countries continued to negotiate the finer details of how the agreement will work from 2020 onwards.

However, it was also the first set of negotiations since the US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, announced its intention earlier this year to withdraw from the Paris deal. And it was the first COP to be hosted by a small-island developing state with Fiji taking up the presidency, even though it was being held in Bonn.

Carbon Brief covers all the summit’s key outcomes and talking points.

Two US delegations

After Trump’s decision in June that he wanted to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, all eyes were on the US official delegation to see how they would navigate the negotiations.

During the first week of the talks, a civil society group known as the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance called for the US delegation to be barred from attending the negotiations, due to its decision to leave the Paris deal.

Meanwhile, a seemingly pointed message was sent on day two of the COP, when Syria announced it would sign the Paris Agreement. This now leaves the US as the only country in the world stating it doesn’t intend to honour the landmark deal.

However, the delegation itself kept a relatively low profile – bar a now infamous “cleaner fossil fuels” side event which anti-Trump protesters disrupted for seven minutes, singing: “We proudly stand up until you keep it in the ground…”).


Farmers Can Boost Crop Yields and Contribute Over 1 Gigatonne of Emissions Reductions

 Published: November 14, 2017 

A study published today in Scientific Reports and conducted by an international group of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Science, The Nature Conservancy and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has revealed how crop farming can make a significant contribution to tackling the threat of climate change, important ramifications for the UN COP23 climate talks currently underway in Germany.

Scientists have previously established that crop production depletes soil carbon through intensive tillage and the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, with an estimated 50-70% loss of soil carbon stocks in cropland soils worldwide (Lal, 2004). Since croplands can sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if farmers use improved farming practices like increased manure, cover cropping, mulching, conservation tillage, fertility management, and other natural climate solutions such as agroforestry, the international group sought to establish where in the world these activities could deliver the greatest carbon sequestration benefit. The results will be presented tomorrow Wednesday 15 November at the UN climate talks.

Using a small increase in soil carbon, that experts say should be attainable in cropped soils almost everywhere, the scientists found that improved soil management in crop farming could contribute to annual carbon emissions reductions of between 0.9 and 1.85 billion tonnes per year, equivalent to the emissions of Canada and the Philippines combined, or removing between 215 and 400 million cars from the roads.