The crucial role of agriculture carbon emissions in South Africa
South Africa and the sub-continent are predicted to face significant challenges due to the negative impacts of climate change. Agriculture, as the primary sector responsible for feeding the nation, is particularly affected by these adverse conditions. At the same time, agriculture also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that it is both a victim and a cause. Agriculture is unique because its mitigation contribution can be twofold, limiting agricultural carbon emissions and increasing carbon storage and sequestration.
Act now or risk losing the EU market
An additional pressure on South African farmers to become more carbon-conscious is that the EU is in the process of implementing a tariff on the carbon emissions of imported produce. Around 38% of South African exports go to the EU, but South Africa currently has some of the highest carbon emissions per $1 million of [agricultural] exports in the world, at 1100 tonnes per $1 million. With impending tariffs on emissions, decarbonisation has become more important than ever.
Understanding carbon trading and offsetting
There are a number of ways that industries can offset their carbon footprints:
- Changing their operations to become less carbon-dependant
- Incorporating practices that sequester carbon (for example, Backsberg wine estate near Paarl became the first South African wine producer, and one of only a handful in the world, to achieve carbon-neutral status by planting 900 trees to successfully offset its carbon emissions.)
- Buying credits by investing in projects that sequester or reduce emissions
Carbon trading and offsetting have emerged as mechanisms to encourage sustainable development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Apart from regulated carbon markets, there is a growing market for voluntary offsets that allows industries and businesses to offset their carbon footprint by investing in projects that sequester or reduce emissions. This voluntary market presents an opportunity for agribusinesses to participate and earn income through carbon sequestration and storage programs.
Lessons from the US: carbon credits for farmers
In the United States, farmers have embraced the opportunity to trade carbon credits. The National Farmers Union launched the Carbon Credit Program, enabling farmers and landowners to earn income by sequestering carbon in their soil through regenerative practices like no-till crop production and long-term grass-seeding. These carbon credits are traded on platforms like the Chicago Climate Exchange, similar to other agricultural commodities.
The potential for carbon sequestration in South African Agriculture
Grain SA estimates that South Africa’s grain lands, covering 6.2 million hectares, have the potential to remove eight million tons of carbon annually. Regenerative agriculture practices, including reduced emissions from fuel and fertilisers, as well as practices that increase soil organic carbon, have the potential to save 1.3 tons of carbon per hectare annually. Additionally, avoiding tilling practices could result in the absorption of 0.75 tons of carbon per hectare per year, equating to 4.6 million tons of carbon removed from the atmosphere annually. Incentivising farmers using carbon credit programmes may pave the way to make this a reality.
How carbon credit programmes work
In 2021, Carbon Neutral Group South Africa launched the AgriCarbon program, allowing farmers to earn carbon credits for implementing regenerative practices. How it works is that farmers provide the organisation with data on farming practices, including tillage, cropping details, cover crops, fertilisers, and soil testing records. The data is analysed and evaluated by independent auditors, and if deemed eligible, carbon credits are generated and sold to international clients. The funds generated are then channelled back to the participating farmers, providing an additional income stream.
Generating carbon credits incentivises farmers to reduce the environmental impact of their farming practices, with the added benefit of ensuring that their operations remain sustainable for much longer. By farming regeneratively, farmers limit the damage to their soils and replenish the soil organic carbon levels on their land.
Farmers interested in earning carbon credits should approach reputable organisations with expertise in carbon credits and sustainability solutions. Generating carbon credits requires specialised knowledge and data analysis. It is important to carefully select partners and organisations that can guide farmers through the process and maximise their economic and environmental benefits.
Companies offering carbon incentives in South Africa
AgriCarbon is South Africa’s first internationally recognised carbon programme paying farmers for the carbon credits they generate from their sustainable land management practices, such as rotational grazing, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and other practices that improve soil quality. Through the AgriCarbon Programme, increased soil organic carbon and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from these practices can also generate carbon credits of the highest quality. These credits are then purchased by companies in South Africa and abroad looking to offset their carbon footprints.
eAgronom helps farmers generate additional revenue streams, improve soil quality, and access better financing through a flexible program for farmers that makes participating in the Carbon Program as hassle-free as possible.
With Cultivating Carbon, 70% of carbon revenues generated will flow through to participating farmers. In return for its 30% share, Cultivating Carbon will bear the cost of carbon development, monitoring, evaluation and verification through an international carbon standard and provide access to direct technical assistance for farmers.
regenagri is a regenerative agriculture initiative that supports farms and organisations transitioning to holistic farming, increasing soil health, encouraging biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering CO2. regenagri also provides farmers with routes to additional funds through carbon credit markets and environmental subsidies.
Boomitra uses satellite and AI technology to enable monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon removal credits across the globe. Boomitra equips farmers to increase their soil carbon and yields while securing additional income through carbon credits.
A sustainable path forward for South African agriculture
The agricultural sector plays a vital role in addressing climate change, and it is important to strike a balance between environmental responsibility and farmers’ profitability to ensure a sustainable and secure food system for the future. Agriculture carbon projects present an opportunity for South African farmers to contribute to carbon neutrality while earning additional income. By implementing regenerative agricultural practices, farmers can sequester carbon, improve soil health, and improve their bottom line.
About the Author: Alex Platt
Alex is Business Development Manager at RegenZ. He's inspired by the potential of regenerative farming and takes a special interest in the technology and products that are moving agriculture in a more sustainable direction.