• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Adopting Soil Organic Carbon For Climate Resilient Agriculture: Opportunities For Indian Farmers

Soil degradation is a serious issue in India, with erosion affecting around 45% of the country's land area, followed by salinization and waterlogging

Photo Credit :


The Green Revolution in India undoubtedly increased the total agricultural output. However, many intensively cultivated regions where organic manures were partially or entirely excluded are experiencing a decline in productivity. In many cases, the intensification of land use and increased reliance on agrochemicals resulted in stagnant crop yields and dead soil. Soil degradation is a serious issue in India, with erosion affecting around 45% of the country's land area, followed by salinization and waterlogging. Improper agricultural practices are responsible for the vast majority of India's soil degradation. The problem is most severe in arid and semi-arid regions due to overgrazing, deforestation, and unsustainable land use practices. Necessitating a shift to a sustainable farming system that improves soil organic carbon (SOC) is a critical pathway to rejuvenate the soil. Soil carbon sequestration has the potential to be one of our most powerful tools against soil degradation, increasing the amount of carbon stored in soil.

The Importance of Soil Carbon Sequestration

The IPCC estimates that about 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to agriculture, forestry, and other land-use practices. Soil carbon sequestration has the dual benefit of reducing emissions and enhancing soil health, both of which are essential to the survival of biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

According to another report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), if the topsoil of just 1% of the world's cropland were enriched with carbon, it could sequester roughly 1 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This is where the practice of soil carbon sequestration comes in as a way to promote sustainable agricultural practices while also mitigating the effects of climate change. Healthy soils can boost crop yields, reduce dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, thus saving farmers money, and reduce N2O emissions, another GHG from the use of synthetic fertilizers.

The IPCC estimates that global soil carbon sequestration will reduce emissions by 5.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030, making agriculture a net-negative emissions sector. Agriculture produced 5.0–5.8 GtCO2-equivalents per year, including methane, according to the IPCC's 2000–2010 sectoral GHG emissions report. This creates immense potential for India, considering the current vast agriculture field with low soil organic carbon and increasing attention on the role of soil organic carbon in global carbon cycles as a potentially large mitigation tool. 

With the emerging demand for high integrity carbon credits, projects on improving SOC have the potential to emerge as frontrunners in terms of attracting participation from global stakeholders, including investors. Due to the nature of the soil carbon sequestration program in terms of time horizon and farmer community participation, the  carbon market can mobilize financing to a greater extent.

The nature-based offset, soil carbon credit, has already gained access to the US and Australian markets, and there is increasing interest in India on similar projects. Farmers can improve their earnings from carbon offsets by participating in a soil carbon credit system and reducing the cost of adopting sustainable agriculture practices. Soil carbon sequestration adoption in India can bring many opportunities to improve soil health, increase crop yields, and  prevent runoff. Farmer awareness, infrastructure support, and government policy hinder soil carbon sequestration. They also lack financing and technical assistance, making sustainable agriculture difficult.

How is India approaching soil carbon sequestration?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India has about 156 million hectares of agricultural land. This land can be used to implement sustainable agricultural practices that promote soil carbon sequestration. The Indian government has recognized the potential of soil carbon sequestration and has taken several initiatives to promote it. The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, launched in 2010, aims to promote sustainable agriculture practices that enhance soil health and productivity.   Today, India has given a major push to natural farming. India traditionally has many indigenous forms of natural farming; the most popular one is practiced in Andhra Pradesh. The practice has also spread, in other forms, to other states. The Government of India is promoting Natural Farming through Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati’ (BPKP) introduced during the year 2020-21 as a sub scheme of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) for the promotion of traditional indigenous practices, including Natural Farming. This will bring about critical transformation in the agricultural sector in terms of reduced dependency on fertilizer, increased usage of  localized inputs, and helping to ease smallholder farmers' credit burden.

Practices That Promote Soil Carbon Sequestration

Natural farming and other sustainable agricultural practices, including increasing soil organic carbon stocks through conservation tillage and agroforestry; decreasing soil erosion through no-till farming and agroforestry; enhancing soil health with cover crops and crop rotation; decreasing soil pollution by decreasing chemical use; and promoting sustainable land use practices that prioritize biodiversity, ecosystem services, and social equity practices, are used by stakeholders and communities to regenerate the soil. 

We, at CoreCarbonX, have been implementing these sustainable agriculture practices in collaboration with farmer groups in India, covering over 5,000 hectares of land, achieving significant CO2 sequestration per hectare, and also making communities climate resilient. The project has also been effective in reducing water consumption on farmland by 20%–30%. These projects now have a scalable impact and will be further enhanced by bringing carbon revenue to the farmers.

Soil carbon credits can provide additional incentives to farmers

As the world's climate changes, the relationship between agriculture and voluntary carbon markets has become more crucial. Farmers can make more money off of carbon by participating in a soil carbon credit system. Reduced, avoided, or removed emissions of 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide or an equivalent greenhouse gas is equal to 1 soil carbon credit.

Soil carbon credits need to go through a rigorous vetting process to guarantee that the practices used to generate them are good for the environment. In addition, issues of additionality and permanence must be taken care of. A developer of the project coordinates the participation of farmers and handles all data collection and reporting. After that, the project is submitted to a registry that has developed guidelines for soil carbon projects.

Once the results of a project have been validated, the registry will issue carbon credits that can be traded on a carbon market. Then, corporations that are GHG emitters can buy these credits and use them to reduce their own residual carbon emissions.

As India approaches the domestic carbon market, we are hopeful that nature-based projects in the future may also be considered by the government as part of the carbon credit framework that will not only benefit farmers and corporations but also enable the climate change needed to meet the nation’s target to become a net zero emitter by 2070.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
World Environment Day 2023 agriculture

Niroj Mohanty

Managing Director and CEO, Core CarbonX Sols

More From The Author >>