Low Carbon Farming

Low Carbon Farming

What is LCF?

The Fair Climate Network is a pioneer in Low Carbon Farming. Simply put, this is the incentivising or rewarding of Sustainable Agriculture practices taken up by small, marginal and drought affected farmers with Carbon Revenues.

Initially saw LCF merely as a strategy to incentivise small and marginal farmers with Carbon Revenues, to abandon High External Input Destructive Agriculture (HEIDA) and adopt Sustainable Agriculture with Carbon Revenues. Later we recognised 3 other Economic Drivers that root for SA as Increased Yield, Decreased Input Costs and Improved Price for SA Produce.

On further reflection, we now understand Low Carbon Farming as synonymous to a low carbon growth trajectory in all fields of farm economics, fulfilling farm and family energy needs. In this manner, LCF contributes to the traditional understanding of Sustainable Agriculture as a healthy balance between crops, trees, animals and people.


The farm sector offers significant opportunities for carbon sequestration and emission reductions. Emissions from farming contribute 14% of global Greenhouse Gases. In India, farming contributes to 28% of the national GHG emissions. Low Carbon Farming practices offer farmers the opportunity to capitalize on the carbon market, as they shift to agricultural methods that are more sustainable, involve lower input costs and result in emission reduction and sequestration by sinks.

Several FCN Members are grassroots NGOs involved in Sustainable Agriculture (SA). They have developed technologies that go by various terms which resulted in shifts in cultivation practices. They showed these techniques as workable on demonstrations that range from small pockets in scattered villages to hundreds of hectares in contiguous tracts. Scaling up these SA practices was the challenge.

Quantifying N2O, CH4 and CO2 avoidance in practices currently being propagated under SA, introducing new practices to further bring down the carbon footprint, and claiming Emission Reductions to earn Carbon Revenue was the solution.

In December 2008, the FCN began to explore ways and means by which small and marginal farmers could be rewarded for their low emissions. CDM methodologies in agriculture sector were dominated by CH4 avoidance projects on large farms, and none for smallholder farming. In July 2009 we set up a long-term collaboration between Environment Defense Fund (EDF), New York, and the Fair Climate Network.

Subsistence Cultivation to Sustainable Agriculture

An issue with subsistence cultivation carried out more as a custom or tradition, is that it offers very little excitement to the participants. When small, marginal and drought affected farmers attempt to imitate mainstream capital intensive practices, they land themselves in a soup due to insufficient knowledge, capital, and low risk taking capacity. The younger generation of farmers' sons and daughters get increasingly alienated and look to other, often non-existent, economic opportunities which are way beyond their reach.

Through Low Carbon Farming, we could bring back an excitement in agriculture, using environmentally sound, state of the art technology that are not mainstream. This would absorb schooled and educated peasant youth in productive activities in an expanded rural economy. Skilled and motivated labour force will be engaged in profitable cultivation, with regular and reliable income. Field crops would be grown mainly for food security. Non-farm jobs and economic activities would be created through increased biomass.

Low Carbon Farming (LCF) Strategy

LCF supports sustainable farming by encouraging farmers to adopt practices that reduce/minimize/remove the use of synthetic fertilizers while, at the same time, improving soil carbon content. This is done through reduced tillage, anaerobic composting, using organic fertilizers, mulching, intercropping, multi-cropping, and a horde of techniques specially designed for particular regions, populations and climatic zones.

Planting fuel, fodder and fruit trees, and protecting those that are already there on the farms.

Planting multiple crops on the same field support biodiversity. Proper crop mixes, based on science and demonstrated results, promotes resilience by bringing about a balance in the farm ecology and reducing the risk of crop failures due to pest attack. Multiple cropping also reduces the risk exposure for farmers against erratic and spatial rainfall.

1st FCN-LCF Coalition

In March 2010, 5 grassroots NGOs got together to form the 1st FCN-LCF Coalition where they would provide leadership and blaze a trail by leveraging non-traditional carbon markets and show the way for small and marginal Farmers to reverse and restore the damage done to their lives, livelihoods and the environment in the pursuit of High External Input Destructive Agriculture (HEIDA). EDF would provide the cutting edge Science.

EED, Germany, funded a one year Pilot Project where we would:

  • Obtain conceptual and practical skills and capabilities to measure and verify the extent and quality of SA adoption.
  • Irrefutably identify Discrete Plots where SA Practices would be undertaken.
  • Develop proven and implementable SA Package of Practices (PoP's) and establish processes to implement/monitor and quantify them through Plot Diaries.
  • Develop a Methodology to prove Emission Reductions when switching from HEIDA to SA.
  • Explore a market for these Emission Reductions and use Carbon Revenues to incentivise small and marginal farmers.
  • Initiate changes in the organisational culture of Participant NGOs to facilitate their acceptance of a business mode of working, recognising participation, transparency, lack of hierarchy and getting rid of bureaucracy as essential prerequisites to succeed in New Age Business.

One year proved to be too short. This Pilot Project was extended by yet another, with financial assistance hobnobbed from EDF and own efforts of the 5 Participant NGOs.

The biggest achievement of this 1st FCN-LCF Pilot Project was that they were able to initiate the development of an LCF Methodology, bring smallholder farming to centre stage in Climate Change discussions, and extend LCF to 10 more grassroots NGOs.

Developing an LCF Methodology

3 months into the implementation of this 1st FCN-LCF Pilot Project, it became clear from a review of existing tools and methodologies that there were none directly applicable to Low Carbon Farming. An LCF Specialist was appointed to explore the development of a brand new LCF Methodology.

We decided to measure emissions and establish baselines. At each sub Agro Ecological Zone (AEZ), Main Crop(s) grown by small and marginal farmers were identified. Mainstream (HEIDA) and SA Reference Plots were established for each Main Crop(s), and GHG Labs set up. CH4 and N2O emissions for each Main Crop(s) in each AEZ started being measured at weekly intervals.

After recording emissions for each Main Crop(s) for 3 cropping seasons, an exercise that will take 5-6 years, there will be concrete data to calculate Emission Reductions for various Main Crop(s) grown by small and marginal farmers in 12-14 AEZ's spread across India.

Extending to 10 more Grassroots NGOs

In July 2011, the 2nd FCN-LCF Coalition was formed by 4 more grassroots NGOs. This was quickly followed by 6 more grassroots NGOs who formed the 3rd FCN-LCF Coalition in September 2011. A 4th FCN-LCF Coalition is currently underway.

Pan India LCF Coalition

Participant NGOs took a leap of faith when they got together to form the 1st FCN-LCF Coalition. It was a dogged determination that has got the concept where it is today. There is no denying that the pilot nature of the effort, not having answers, groping and experimenting has taken a heavy toll. Nothing has worked like clockwork. Doubts and uncertainties, real and imagined, contributed to a slackening of performance.

At the end of the day, it is an undeniable fact that LCF has established itself as a global strategy to address the problems of small and poor peasants on the one hand, and as a serious solution to maintaining climate integrity on the other. In this light, collateral damage has been surprisingly low and contained. Ground breaking efforts like these will appear to have many beginnings. It will sometimes appear that one is restarting all over again.

Very soon, all 3 FCN-LCF Coalition will have to use their newly acquired skills and capabilities to actually implement SA Practices on thousands of Discrete Plots/acres that have been delineated.

The 1st FCN-LCF and 2nd FCN-LCF Coalitions have just formed a single Pan India LCF Coalition. The 3rd FCN-LCF Coalition will join them in mid 2013.

LCF Technologies

To reduce agricultural CH4 and N2O emissions:

  • Use reduced or no-tillage farming
  • Alter crop mixes and rotations
  • Change the timing, amounts, and frequency of the use of fertilizers and other inputs that use energy
  • Change the mix of irrigated versus dry land
  • Increase irrigation efficiency
  • Change the management of livestock manure
  • Change the types of livestock and their diets to reduce the release of methane from their digestive tracts
  • Change approaches to managing water and straw in rice production

To reduce agricultural CO2 emissions:

  • Reduce tillage and other machinery-based production activities
  • Change crop mixes and rotations
  • Change the mix of irrigated versus dry land
  • Increase irrigation efficiency

To store, or sequester, CO2 in soil or biomass through agricultural activities:

  • Reduce tillage
  • Change crop mixes and rotations
  • Change the timing, amounts, and frequency of the use of fertilizers and other inputs that use energy
  • Convert cropland to grassland
  • Improve the quantity and quality of forage on grazing land, and move herds more often