Regeneration and reward: empowering and incentivising farmers for climate-positive agriculture
By Shanni Srivastava, Regional Head of East Africa, Middle East & IOI at UPL
A glance at recent news coverage – from the extremes of flooding in Pakistan to droughts across North America – leaves little question that climate change is not only here, but that its effects are worsening. Until we make profound and lasting changes to how we treat our planet, until we adapt our existing practices, and until we utilise new and existing utilise tools at our disposal to support this mission, it is difficult to see a reversal of this trend.
In the energy sector, global leaders around the world are making bold and important commitments to help decarbonise the world through shifting from fossil fuels to clean, green, renewable sources. But whilst these measures can help slow and lessen overall greenhouse gas emissions, they cannot reduce those emissions which we’ve already put into the atmosphere. And yet across the world, one overlooked and underutilised sector is evidencing that it can in fact do this: agriculture.
Whilst agriculture is often characterised by its environmental challenges – including greenhouse gas contributions, land and water use – at UPL we committed to showcasing to the world the climate-positive opportunities inherent in farming activity all over the world. Put simply, agriculture is the only natural process that offers a practical way for us to put carbon back into the soil. Techniques such as no-till farming, cover crops, carbon-fixing bacteria, crop rotations, bio-fertilizers and smart irrigation practices can help increase organic carbon stocks in soil, not only locking away that carbon indefinitely, but also making the soil more fertile, healthier which in turn helps crops and those who grow them thrive.
But we cannot expect farmers to invest the time and resources into these performing these practices, nor take on the burden of climate change alone. Africa’s farmers confront risk and uncertainty every day. From flattening yields, to interchangeable commodity prices, and increasingly erratic trade relationships. Working off of tight financial margins, on plots frequently smaller the two hectares, and under harsh and often unpredictable climatic conditions, Africa’s growers must undertake practices that will help boost their productivity and benefit their livelihoods. And they must be supported to implement these practices.
Across other industries, we see grants and subsidies being offered for those who choose environmentally sustainable practices or choices: in short, good practices bring rewards. And this must be mimicked in the agricultural sector. We must support, equip, and empower the farmers who we have relied upon for decades to feed our population, and come to increasingly depend upon as guardians of our planets prosperous future. We cannot expect those farmers, particularly those who face other competing priorities and pressures, to farm sustainably without the right rewards.
Guided by this belief, alongside our partners at the FIFA Foundation, we launched the Gigaton Carbon Goal. We wanted to go beyond our commitment to going Net Zero by 2040, aspiring not just to reduce our own emissions, but work with likeminded farming communities to help them capture carbon emissions already in our atmosphere. We thought what better way to do this, than set out an ambitious goal – and an industry first – to help farmers sequester 1 gigaton, or 1 billion metric tonnes, of carbon dioxide between now and 2040, and reward them for adopting sustainable agricultural practices?
As part of this initiative, we will work with reliable and recognised carbon certification bodies that enable agro-ecosystems to create and validate emission and carbon capture protocols that will generate carbon credits that will directly benefit farmers. The Gigaton Carbon Goal pilot phase is already underway and has reached farmers across South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, India, USA and some European countries with the tools they need to perform sustainable agricultural practices.
Africa’s potential to help tackle the climate crisis through carbon farming in immense – but remains largely untapped. According to a report commissioned by the IUCN and the UNFCCC High Level Champions and steered by a working group of African partners ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, in Africa practices such as soil management and agroforestry can help the continent further social, environmental and economic goals through boosting crop yields, enhancing human nutrition and livelihoods, whilst supporting soil and ecosystem health. Indeed, through a 50% adoption of regenerative agriculture across Africa, the report forecasts that farmers could see: an income increase of up to US$150 per year; 30% reduction in soil erosion; up to 60% increase in water infiltration rates; and 24% increase in nitrogen content; and 20% increase in carbon content.
At UPL we are unapologetically optimistic about the possibilities for climate-positive, and undeniably confident that, with access to the right solutions, technologies, and incentive schemes, farmers of all sizes can be the champions of our Net Zero future. In South Africa, our carbon journey is beginning and we have had introductory meetings with our key distributors, looked at downstream food and beverage companies in South Africa to partner with as our programme develops, and we are planning to launch our pilot project in the upcoming summer season. And in Kenya, the maize ProNutiva program, our unique and bespoke approach which combines traditional crop protection products and biosolutions, is helping deliver the best outcomes in terms of crop health, food safety and food security. The core objective of this program is supporting farmers who face issues around soil infertility, acidity, and building soil health which can be turned into a huge carbon sink. The trials this year has demonstrated amazing results despite the erratic delayed rain that has been experienced in Kenya for the third season this year. The program is designed to create long-term sustainability by incentivising and rewarding farmers through the provision of carbon credits. The platform is ready, tested & ready to be rolled in October 2022.
With an over 35-year history working with farmers across Africa, an even longer history of developing agricultural solution sets designed with the smallest farmer in mind, combined with our unrivalled presence across the continent, we are uniquely placed to help farmers embrace this new climate-positive farming future. We are committed to mobilising our resources and experience to identify and invest in tools, techniques and technologies that can help farmers Reimagine Sustainability, giving them empowering them to become the new heroes of our net zero future.
We are so pleased to see the emphasis AGRF has placed on the importance of rewarding farmers through this year’s conference theme ‘Grow, Nourish, Reward – Bold Actions for Resilient Food Systems.’ We look forward to seeing everyone at this year’s Summit and invite others to join our journey to support agricultural practices that secure food supply, strengthen livelihoods and sequesters carbon. We must urgently join forces to scale these proven practices, guided by the needs and interests of farmers, and ensure that they are directly and rightly rewarded.