Chairman and CEO, Transformation, LLC.
Since the 1950s, large-farm abandonment has been occurring in many economically developed nations as well as some economically developing countries. Currently, there are an estimated 950 million to 1.1 billion acres of deserted farmland worldwide, according to Drawdown. This large-scale abandonment partially reflects rural flight and partially reveals consequences of larger trends, including globalization in the food supply chain and climate change events.
Not only does deserted farmland exacerbate food insecurity, but it is also a source of emissions, as unused soil erodes and releases carbon dioxide. With goals of feeding a growing population and combating the climate crisis, carbon offsetting holds tremendous potential to incentivize degraded farmland restoration.
Carbon offsetting is a process of emissions trading in a carbon market, occurring on individual, state, corporate, national and international levels. A party emitting high amounts of carbon dioxide can purchase carbon credits from another party that has successfully reduced emissions. These environmental compliance markets put a price on carbon emissions in order to encourage widespread carbon net neutrality.
The rise of carbon credits, paired with the need to restore abandoned farmland, presents companies with a new-age opportunity to address food security, ecosystem health and greenhouse gas emissions while lowering their carbon footprints.
Ways To Restore Carbon Sinks
The value in restoring abandoned farmland is not limited to returning degraded land to cultivation or farming. When managed sustainably, these lands can function as carbon sinks. A carbon sink is an area or ecosystem, such as the ocean or land, that absorbs more carbon than it releases into the atmosphere. Poor land management practices degrade soil health and decrease the ability to store carbon in the soil.
Different approaches to restoring abandoned farmland to carbon sinks include restoring native vegetation, establishing tree plantations, introducing livestock or implementing regenerative farming. While all have climate change mitigation potential, implementing regenerative farming practices can have added value in providing food for a growing population.
How To Accelerate Land Recovery
Abandoned farmland restoration can take decades or even centuries to recover the original biodiversity and productivity. However, the following proactive approaches can advance the progress over less time:
• Increasing plant diversity: Create active restoration by increasing diversity, which increases carbon sequestration and water retention.
• Applying biochar to soil: Biochar is charcoal produced by the controlled burning of biomass and is a soil amendment for both carbon sequestration and soil health benefits.
• Co-restoration with renewable energy: You can increase solar energy across diverse environments, including land, food, water and building systems.
These strategies collectively support speedy land restoration and introduce renewable energy systems in a way that forges multiple paths to economic and environmental sustainability.
Improving Company Sustainability Strategies
Economic and financial challenges are the largest barrier to the wide-scale adoption of strategies accelerating abandoned farmland restoration. However, there are opportunities for investors to increase capital flow to restoration initiatives. With climate change threatening all areas of society, sustainable business is the future of global economics.
Project Drawdown estimates that 189 to 296 million hectares could become sustainable agriculture operations by 2050. By engaging a more formidable investor base, carbon offsetting can advance the cause of widespread abandoned farmland restoration. This market strategy allows companies and individuals to offset their carbon footprints, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by their actions.
How Businesses Can Get Started
Before getting involved in carbon credit offsetting and abandoned farmland restoration, businesses need to review potential projects. To build confidence that an abandoned farmland restoration project produces high-quality carbon offsets, companies should directly reach out to project developers, funders, regulatory entities or other stakeholders to gather essential information.
Ask the following questions to ensure the project will support a climate-smart future:
1. Does this project lead to additional greenhouse gas emission reductions not already in play?
2. Will this project continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or is there a risk of reversal?
3. Could this project be accurately monitored and verified to ensure that the carbon offsets are not counted twice?
4. Are there standards that ensure the project does not create another environmental or social problem?
Companies looking to have a positive impact through abandoned farmland restoration need to make sure the projects are permanent, transparent, create additional carbon offsetting and hold a holistic view. For example, an abandoned farmland restoration project should not violate the rights of the local or indigenous communities who live there. With due diligence and business responsibility, carbon offsets can encourage projects that support sustainability.
The Global Need For Change
The world’s population is projected to reach 11 billion people by the end of the century, and global urbanization trends indicate that farmland abandonment will continue. Restoring abandoned farmland is a multifaceted project that can help ensure food security, mitigate climate change and strengthen local and global economies. Carbon offsetting programs offer the potential to encourage the adoption of strategies that accelerate land recovery in the name of sustainability and profitability.