April 1, 2023

General Studies Paper 3


  • India has set 2070 as the target year for achieving the Net Zero transition. The Government has also declared the Long-Term Low-Carbon Development Strategy (LT-LEDS) for the long-term decarbonization of the economy. Agriculture sector is also a significant contributor to the Green House Gas emissions. Although, the Government has not included Agriculture in the long-term decarbonisation strategy document and has opposed various aspects of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), it has taken several steps for the decarbonization of the agriculture sector. Several agri start-ups are working in the field of carbon markets for agriculture. In the long term, Decarbonization of Agriculture sector can prove to be a vital level in achieving the Net Zero target.

Contribution of Agriculture Sector to Carbon Emission:

  • According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture and related land use emissions accounted for 17% of all Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors in 2018.
  • The Agriculture, Forestry, and other Land Use (AFOLU) sector, as defined by the United Nations (UN) International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), accounts for 24% of global GHG emissions, with agriculture representing the majority of them.
  • According to the Third Biennial Update Report submitted by the Government of India in early 2021 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the agriculture sector contributes 14% of the total GHG emissions (Energy 75.01%; Industrial Process and Product Use 8%; and waste 2.7%, (2016 data)). Within the sector, 61.3% of GHG emissions are linked to the livestock sector, followed by 19.1% from fertiliser applied to agricultural soils, 17.5% from rice cultivation and 2.2% due to field burning of agricultural residues.

Methods for Decarbonization of the Agriculture Sector:

Decarbonization of Agriculture can be undertaken through:

  • Agriculture Methods and Practices: Best practices, such as cover crops and regenerative farming, help to reduce synthetic nitrogen inputs. Precision farming, including the use of drones, can monitor soil and plant health, ensuring that the right amount of nitrogen fertilizer is applied at the right rate and right timeFertile soil enhances farm yields and incomes apart from being a carbon sink. Healthy soil holds more moisture and soil conservation methods reduce erosion.
  • Carbon Farming: It is a system of agricultural management that helps the land store more carbon and reduce the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) that it releases into the atmosphere. (also known as carbon sequestration).
  • Decarbonizing Livestock Farming: It includes: (a)Capturing the methane and producing bioenergy; (b) Breeding low CH4( methane) producing breeds; (c) Plant‑based alternatives and lab grown meat  have the potential to significantly reduce missions associated with the meat industry.
  • Alternate Cropping: This contributes to GHG mitigation and is an emerging area in climate-smart farming. For example, seaweed cultivation as additive to cattle feed reduces biogenic methane emissions, improves feed quality, and enhances milk production.
  • Freshwater: Agriculture consumes over 80% of freshwater in India, making conservation critical. Micro-irrigation with automation and adoption of low water-intensive species and farming practices are critical for reducing water consumption and carbon footprint. Areas under water intensive crops must be reduced through crops diversification, examples being oil seeds, pulses, horticulture, and forage crops.
  • Agro-forestry: Trees act as windbreaks, reduce soil erosion, enrich soil, and filter water. Studies suggest that 5% increase at 5 yearly intervals to the existing 16 million hectares area can help mitigate India’s projected emissions.
  • Bio-energy from Farm Waste: It offers immense potential for mitigating emissions as well as growth in non-farm economic activity. Manure-based community biogas plants can support clean cooking and distributed power. IEA’s India Energy Outlook 2021 estimates the potential being of 30 million tonnes Bio-CNG. BECCS (Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) involves capturing CO2 from bioenergy plants and permanent storage. This will lead to carbon removal as well as negative emissions.
  • Checking Food Wastage: About 30% of food produced each year is lost or wasted. Properly storing and more effectively distributing food in developing countries while educating retailers and consumers in developed countries could avoid 8% of global GHG emissions attributed to waste.
  • Carbon Markets in Agriculture: Carbon markets tailored to farming and agricultural activities are emerging with increasing interest from farmers, private sector and governments. However, their size and scale is much smaller compared to carbon markets for industries.
  • Other Measures: Greater consumer demand for sustainable alternatives; public-sector incentives for effective land management and R&D investment; expansion of carbon sinks can help in decarbonization. Gene editing holds promise to turn commodity crops into nitrogen-fixing plants, and indoor vertical farms are gaining in popularity for their ability to go soilless while ensuring food safety and meeting demand for local food.

Steps have been taken by the Government for Decarbonization of the Agriculture sector:

  • The Government has launched multiple programmes like the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture(NMSA) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), and National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) which are related to low carbon transition.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) scheme of the Government aims to improve irrigation access and raise farmers’ income through solar-powered irrigation. Setting up of solar power plants on farmlands, wherever possible, and solarising existing grid-connected pumps, could earn additional income to farmers, besides making them net energy producers. Reducing energy usage from fossil fuel sources and moving towards renewables, will reduce carbon footprints in the agriculture sector and enhance livelihoods of smallholders.
  • The Soil Health Card Scheme aims to rationalize the use of fertilizers. Soil-testing of over 100 million samples and suitable advice to the farmers have promoted less-carbon-intensive agriculture by rebalancing the use of crop nutrients, such as nitrogenous fertilisers.
  • In terms of Land Use, the key elements for decarbonization are halting deforestation, rejuvenating degraded forests, and accelerating afforestation. The Government has launched National Mission for Green India and aims to to create 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon sinks by 2030. The total forests carbon stock has been estimated to be 7204 million tonnes.
  • The National Policy for Biofuels/ SATAT scheme set a medium-term target of 15 million tonnes of bio-CNG.

Challenges in Decarbonizing Agriculture:

  • Poor and Marginal Farmers: A vast majority of farmers in India are poor and marginal. They lack the ability to invest in decarbonization measures.
  • Competing Choices: Decarbonisation will require a balance between competing choices such as farmers’ livelihoods as well as food security and drawing down on carbon-heavy agricultural practices. Shift to low-carbon agriculture practices may impact food security in the short term.
  • Size of Livestock: India has the world’s largest cattle population at 535.78 million livestock, according to the 20th Livestock Census, 2019. Contribution of livestock sector in total agriculture emissions exceeds 60%. Reducing emissions from such a grand scale is a challenging task.
  • Uncertain Techniques: Low carbon options are full of uncertainties, high transaction costs with no clear modalities for payments in the near future. In addition, a technology such as organic farming can be counterproductive if practiced falsely e.g., a field flooded continuously after application of organic matter in organic rice production can emit huge amounts of GHGs.
  • Awareness and Incentives: Lack of proper incentives for scaling up low carbon technologies, Inadequate knowledge amongst policy makers and farmers, financial complications for marginal and small farmers pose significant challenges in adoption and scaling-up of low carbon agriculture.
  • Challenges to Carbon Markets: Climate mitigation projects in the agriculture sector, particularly those focused on storing carbon in soils, are increasingly being tied to carbon markets. But the impact of these initiatives is highly questionable: (a) Agricultural offsetting schemes can be damaging e.g., some markets incentivize specific practices and can transform agricultural land into tree plantations (mono-plantations). Such plantations (based on single plant) may end up doing greater damage; (b) Many of these offsetting initiatives also have very uncertain benefits for the climate, because their impacts are both extremely difficult to quantify, and highly vulnerable to changes over timeg., carbon stored in soil may get released due to extreme weather or a change in land management practices. In addition, some projects generate carbon credits while allowing for an overall increase in emissions, because they only measure the carbon intensity of an activity, rather than absolute emissions; (c) Such offsetting schemes tend to lock in agricultural models that are detrimental to climate goals. They have high implementation costs and distract from more sustainable, cheaper, and proven options, such as incentivizing agroecological practices. Also, nearly all projects aim to reduce emissions at the farm-level, even though half of agricultural emissions take place outside of the farm and are largely driven by agri-businesses, e.g. through the manufacturing of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This puts the blame on individual farmers instead of focusing on corporate and agribusiness-led emissions.

Steps should be taken for decarbonization of Agriculture Sector:

  • First, Government policies must reorient to reduce agriculture’s power subsidy bills and divert the money towards sustainable farm sector investments like solar power that could address challenges arising from rising use of wasteful energy in agriculture.
  • Second, Climate finance need to be enhanced for agriculture sector to address issues having longer gestation period, viz biogenic methane mitigation, agro-forestry etc.
  • Third, There is need to generate high integrity, real-time data on status of forests. Suitable studies are needed on a dynamic basis. There is a need to undertake conservation, restoration, and regeneration under an integrated forest management framework.
  • Fourth, the Government should develop a strategy totransition towards agroecology and enable the private sector to contribute to the transition without opening the door for greenwashing through offsetting mechanisms.
  • Fifth, At the global level, countries should exclude the land sector from international carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, and should instead focus on contributing to climate finance transfers and ensuring existing tools are used as levers for the agroecological transition, e.g., through the Green Climate Fund.
  • Sixth, Carbon sequestration currently offsets about 20% of global agriculture emissions. Increasing carbon sinks while working to mitigate agriculture emissions could lead to a significant reduction in global carbon footprint.


  • Globally, many countries have set ambitious targets to achieve net zero by 2050. India has also set a target of 2070. The Governments are moving aggressively for decarbonizing sectors like energy and transportation. However Net Zero may not be possible without the decarbonzation of the agriculture sector. The onus is more on developed countries. Yet, the Government of India should also take possible steps for decarbonization of agriculture, without compromising food security and livelihoods and incomes of farmers. This will accelerate India’s transition to Net Zero.
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