How to Enhance Soil Organic Carbon – Uniting Traditional and Innovative Practices

In India, the Green Revolution lifted millions of people out of poverty, yet the large-scale use of chemical fertilizers left the country’s soils severely depleted. ProSoil shows how Indian farmers join traditional and innovative practices to not only restore their soils but also mitigate climate change.

A farmer with a vermi-compost plot. The locally produced vermi-compost uses various species of worms to decompose waste and is applied as organic fertilizer and soil enhancer. © GIZ/Klaus Wohlmann 2022

By Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

GIZ is a globally active provider of international cooperation for sustainable development. It has more than 50 years of experience in a wide range of fields.

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In India, agriculture’s Green Revolution ended hunger for millions of people. Yet in doing so, the large-scale use of chemical fertilizers to boost productivity has taken a severe toll on the sub-continent’s soil. Almost 40 percent of the Indian landmass – 147 million hectares –is affected by land degradation, with 3.7 million hectares suffering from severe depletion of soil organic matter and nutrients. Land degradation is mainly driven by poor soil management and agricultural practices, improper irrigation, as well as the overuse of agro-chemicals and fertilizers. Climate change further accelerates the loss of soil organic carbon (SOC). This organic carbon constitutes a critical soil component for nutrient retention and turnover, moisture retention, pollutant degradation and, most importantly, carbon sequestration.

 

India’s Government Advocates for Natural Farming Methods

Fortunately, the vital role of soil organic carbon is recognized by Indian farmers and policy makers and there is growing momentum around land management focused on soil health. India has ambitious plans to halt and reverse soil degradation in the agriculture sector in order to address associated challenges such as low farmer incomes, high agricultural input costs, and environmental degradation.

 

In his landmark speech on December 16th, 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented an alternative path to conventional agriculture called Natural Farming (NF). NF is a chemical-free traditional farming method. It is considered an agroecology-based diversified farming system which integrates crops, trees and livestock with functional biodiversity.

 

We need not only to re-learn the ancient knowledge of agriculture but also to sharpen it for modern times.

 

'In this direction, we have to do research afresh, mould ancient knowledge into the modern scientific frame’ says the Indian Prime Minister.

 

Implementing SOC-Rehabilitation on the Ground

Since 2015, the global programme ‘Soil Protection and Soil Rehabilitation for Food Security’ (ProSoil) has been supporting smallholder farmers, on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, in six African countries – Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Madagascar, Tunisia and India – in making desolate soils permanently fertile with sustainable land management. In India, the programme and its national partners promote the use of innovative soil inputs such as urban compost produced from organic municipal waste, and biochar. Together with further organic waste products such as cattle manure or compost, this plant-based coal is added as Terra Preta ( ‘black soil’) to the soil in order to increase its organic carbon, thus enhancing the ground’s carbon sequestration processes. At the same time, knowledge on indigenous and traditional regenerative farming practices like vermi-composting, farm-yard manure and green manuring is disseminated to farmers.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Workers with organic fertilizer. Certified city compost has the potential of broad application in agricul-ture in order to restore India’s depleted soil organic carbon. © GIZ/Ronny Sen 2022

Evidence from two ProSoil project states in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh shows that efforts to improve soil health through sustainable nutrient and soil carbon management have resulted in more stable crops during dry spells and better yields compared to conventional production systems. In India, many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim are already actively implementing large scale NF programmes. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare estimates that around 2.5 million farmers are already practicing NF. Initiated in 2020, the national programme on Natural Farming could become the largest carbon sequestration and soil health programme worldwide.

 

India and Germany also partner to promote holistic solutions for resilient agriculture and food systems such as agroecology. The upcoming Indo-German Lighthouse on ‘Agroecology and Natural Resource Management’ represents an opportunity to address issues that cause soil degradation from various angles – by promoting alternative paths of agricultural intensification that preserve diversity and existing traditional knowledge while unlocking the potential of modern technologies.

 

Article contributed by ProSoil. Learn more on smallholders participation in land based carbon sequestration projects in this blogpost by TMG Think Tank for Sustainability.

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How to Combat Hunger in Times of Climate Crisis?

An Interview with Martin Frick (WFP)

The climate crisis fuels world hunger. What needs to change in the global fight against hunger, and which role plays humanitarian aid in international development cooperation?

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No Food Security Without Climate Protection

A Contribution by Michael Kühn (WHH)

Climate change already affects the daily lives of people in the Global South. What are the challenges they face and what do these imply for negotiations at the climate conference in Glasgow?

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Investing in Healthy Soils: Curse or Blessing?

A Contribution by WWF

How investing in healthy soils provides incentives for more sustainable agriculture even as it demonstrates the need for far reaching changes in the agrisector.

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Soil Restoration Starts with the People

A Contribution by TMG Think Tank for Sustainability

Highlighting how secure tenure rights are key to achieving land degradation neutrality and soil restoration targets..

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Building Better Resilience to Transboundary Threats

A Contribution by the TMG Think Tank for Sustainability

Fuelled by climate change, desert locust plagues become increasingly frequent. A plaidoyer for a paradigm shift on handling transboundary crises.

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A New Mindset to Reform Agriresearch

A Contribution by Lennart Woltering (CGIAR)

In context of the 15th CGIAR System Council Meeting, Lennart Woltering shares his assessment of the ongoing One CGIAR reform process.

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Drugs and the Environment

A Contribution by Jorrit Kamminga

This year's United Nations World Drug Report highlights for the first time the nexus between illicit drugs and the environment. In view of climate change, it is time to feed the debate with facts and make drug policy greener

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Building climate-resilient and equitable food systems: Why we need agroecology

Agroecological methods target diversity and resilience and can thus promote the protection of forests, water and soil. Julia Tomalka and Christoph Gornott, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), on the potential of agroecology to safeguard against climate change and build resilient agri-food system.

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How are transformation and crisis intervention related, Dr. Frick?

An Interview by Jan Rübel

Martin Frick has been director of the WFP office in Berlin for a year – since then one hunger crisis has followed another. What are the diplomat's answers? A conversation about opportunities in agriculture, the interplay of multiple crises, the importance of resilience and tighter budgets.

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Five Questions for Dirk Meyer

An Interview with Dirk Meyer (BMZ)

Development cooperation needs to place good governance and a sustainable agri-food systems transformation at its center: After the first 100 days in office have passed, Dirk Meyer from the German Development Ministry (BMZ) spells out the goals, guidelines and priorities of the Ministry’s new lead.

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Fair Trade and Climate Justice: Everything is Conntected

A Contribution of the 'Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains' (INA)

Fair Trade organisations and the Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains (INA) have launched the #ichwillfair campaign during COP26 to highlight the link between global supply chains and climate change.

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COP27: Agri-food systems in the focus of the climate discussion

Stephanie Heiland, Project Manager at Sector Project Agriculture and part of this year’s Observer Delegation of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) at COP27, shares her insights on the role of agriculture and food systems at the climate conference. Among other things, she reports from GIZ’s COP27 side event ‘Climate resilient agriculture and food systems in times of multiple crises and fragility’.

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G7 Sustainable Supply Chains Initiative: From Commitment to Action

Future generations need more sustainable and stable agri-food systems. But how can this comprehensive transformation succeed and what responsibility does the private sector bear? These questions were the focus of the G7 Sustainable Supply Chains Initiative (G7 SSCI) side event as part of the ‘Champion Youth Action’ day at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27).

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Climate, biodiversity and nutrition are inextricably linked

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development sees sustainable agri-food systems as an opportunity to protect the climate, preserve biodiversity and ensure food security in the future. Dirk Meyer, Head of Directorate-General 1 at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, looks ahead to the upcoming COP27.

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Why biodiversity is important for climate protection & food security - and vice versa

The world is facing major challenges that need to be solved. We need to feed an ever-growing population, bring climate change under control and stop the loss of biodiversity. Martina Fleckenstein, Director of Global Policy at WWF, on what is expected from the climate conference in terms of biodiversity and biodiversity conservation.

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What connects gender and the environment

Women can play a vital role in the change process both when it comes to climate protection and adapting to climate change. But the reality is often still not quite like this: women and girls are particularly badly affected by the climate crisis. Is the topic of gender getting enough attention at the upcoming climate conference? Questions for Bettina Jahn from UN Women Germany.

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Social justice and climate justice: Fair Vibe at the Youth Climate Conference

At LCOY Germany, the local youth climate conference, views on climate protection from all political spectrums are discussed. The Fairactivists, a programme of Fairtrade Germany, participated with a panel discussion on the link between social justice and climate justice.

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Five climate-friendly methods in agriculture

A Listicle for climate protection and adaptation

These five management practices can increase agricultural production and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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CompensACTION aims to reward farmers for climate performance

A Contribution of the Initiative

The CompensACTION Initiative for food security and a healthy planet, launched by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in 2022, is gaining momentum. It aims to financially compensate smallholder farmers for their contribution to preserving ecosystems. Initial successes have been achieved in Ethiopia, Lesotho and Brazil.

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“It created hope. It created a life”

An interview with Ally-Raza Qureshi, WFP

Iraq suffered many years of war, sanctions and economic crises. However, Ally-Raza Qureshi from the World Food Programme in Iraq sees progress. But now the effects of climate change are becoming apparent in the country. What is to be done?

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Farmers reap big from Climate Smart Farming

An Article by Angeline Ochieng & Victor Raballa

Journalists Angeline Ochieng and Victor Raballa visited Ms Bilha Munyole, a Kenyan farmer in Kimilili, Bungoma County, on her maize plantation. About the important role of mechanisation in climate-smart agriculture and in building resilience to the impacts of climate change.

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Sowing change

A Contribution by Brot für die Welt

Roughly 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide. Change is needed - for people and for the environment. Brot für die Welt reports on the starting points offered by everyone's ecological footprint and handprint.

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"Climate change is unifying people from the region"

A Contribution by Jan Rübel

In the West Bank, political tensions and increasingly poor weather conditions are making farming more difficult. What needs to be done? Questions for Abbas Milhem, Executive Director of the Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU).

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Earth’s well, all’s well!

A Contribution by Fairtrade Germany

With the annual topic "Earth’s well, all’s well!", Fairtrade Germany is focusing on the concept of agroecology at all levels - and is thus taking the next step towards achieving greater global sustainability. At the Green Week trade fair, Fairtrade Germany will show how this can be achieved taking the cocoa supply chain as an example.

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“Healthy ground brings good and many fruits”

Interview with Ben Sekamatte and Boaz Ogola

Africa's cotton production plays a key role in the fight against poverty. The "Cotton Made in Africa" initiative promotes sustainable cultivation - one element of which is the use of organic pesticides. Entomologist Ben Sekamatte and cotton company manager Boaz Ogola talked with Jan Rübel about soil and yields.

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"Agriculture can become a job engine"

Interview with Reiner Klingholz

How can agriculture modernise Africa? And does the road to the cities really lead out of poverty? Dr. Reiner Klingholz from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development in conversation with Jan Rübel .

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© GIZ

One Health – What we are learning from the Corona crisis

A contribution by Dr. May Hokan and Dr. Arnulf Köhncke (WWF)

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the connection between human and animal health has gained new attention. Politicians and scientists are joining forces to propagate the solution: One Health. But what is behind the concept? And can it also guarantee food security for all people worldwide?

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(c) Thomas Lohnes / Brot für die Welt

The hype about urban gardening: farmers or hobby gardeners?

A contribution by Stig Tanzmann

Urban gardening is becoming increasingly popular in northern metropoles. People who consider themselves part of a green movement are establishing productive gardens in the city, for example on rooftops or in vacant lots. In severely impoverished regions of the global South, urban agriculture is a component of the food strategy.

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Food System Transformation Starts and Ends with Diversity

A Contribution by Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs (IPES-Food)

While having failed to solve the hunger problem, industrial agriculture appears to be causing additional ones both in environmental and health terms. Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs call for a transformation.

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Engaging the Community to Solve the Bushmeat Crisis

A Contribution by the Forestry Research Institute Nigeria

The 'Domestication of Small Monogastric and Ruminant Animals' (DSMR) project led by a Nigerian research institute works with local communities to solve the bushmeat crisis.

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Working with nature for diversity in farming, climate protection and empowerment

Ein Beitrag von Friederike Bauer

Germany joins the international Agroecology Coalition, reinforcing its commitment to fair, sustainable agriculture and ensuring the future viability of rural areas. By adopting a holistic approach, agroecology is helping to address the greatest challenges of our time: protecting the climate, combating hunger and preserving biodiversity.

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Blooming landscapes? Only with biodiversity!

A Contribution by Arne Loth

What do chocolate, carrots and tequila have in common? What sounds like the ingredients for an experimental cocktail are foods that would not exist without certain animal species. They are examples of how nature works for us every day, often behind the scenes.

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