The Carbon Farming Solution (2016), written by Eric Toensmeier offers both hope and tangible solutions to the climate crisis based on ecological and regenerative farming practices. Not only do they sequester carbon in the soil but they also present opportunities for economic development and social wellbeing. Ranging from practices as simple as using a cover crop, or rotational grazing to multi-species agroforestry and silvopasture, the book provides both the practical solutions, deeply scrutinized rates for sequestration, ample supporting research for implementation and a road map to implement it all. It is the most comprehensive book on the subject to date.
Unfortunately for the Northern reader, the majority of the focus is on tropical, subtropical and moderate climates that have the potential to sequester the most carbon due to a number of factors addressed. There is a nod to temperate climates, including Canada and there are especially important takeaways that can still be applied. At the very least, Townsmeier makes a compelling argument for wealthy nations funding such projects in the global south.
As well, switching production systems to those that benefit the environment beyond carbon sequestration have additional benefits: increased water holding capacity of the soil, more fertility, improved nutritional content in food, less reliance on synthetic inputs and improved biodiversity. Interestingly, there are a variety of options for conventional cash crop operations that do not require the immediate shift to organic or other agro-ecological systems. Incorporating cover crops, reduced tillage, applying mulch and compost, bacterial inoculations and improved irrigation, are simple, low cost applications that can improve soil organic matter and sequester carbon without massive changes. However, in order to meet the needed targets in reduction to keep global temperatures from warming beyond 2 degrees, more intensive systems that sequester moderate to high rates of CO2 are necessary.
Practices that have a low to moderate increase the amount of carbon sequestered in annual systems include Conservation Agriculture, Regenerative Organic Crop Production and Swidden Farming, also called Shifting Cultivation.
For livestock systems, compost applications, introducing trees for silvopasture and perennial forages can have a dramatic impact on global sequestration rates. This is because approximately 70 percent of the world’s 12 billion acres of agricultural land is dedicated to pasture. Improved pasture management has the potential to make the most impact, with the IPCC rating manure application on grazing land has having “high global mitigation potential.”(pg. 87.)
Townsmeier importantly offers a three point plan for scaling up carbon farming. This includes, 1.) Supporting farmers and farming organizations to make the transition, 2.) Effectively financing carbon farming efforts, 3.) Removing national and international policy barriers. Supporting farmers comes in many forms from financial to societal recognition. Embracing indigenous knowledge and valuing traditional knowledge is a key aspect of this. Thankfully, the author acknowledges that indigenous cultures have been practicing carbon farming for eons in their traditional farming, animal husbandry and land management schemes.
It is important to remember that the techniques offered in the book are new in the call for wide scale implementation and the entrepreneurial opportunity, however, credit must be given to the people that have over centuries developed food systems that work in partnership with the land. Townsmeier does an effective job of outlining how these techniques work, are important, can be implemented and why, while also acknowledging the vast array of knowledge that farmers, indigenous and non-alike, bring to the table.
This book is a valuable tool in the fight against climate change. As noted by the author, quoting Faith Bristol, the chief economist for the International Energy Association asserts that “The door to two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.” (pg.313) In order to mitigate the worst outcomes of climate change, wealthy nations need to invest in the tools and techniques outlined in this book. Farmers, land managers and the public alike, also need to invest in products that have been carbon farmed, discuss the idea, educate themselves and get it in front of local councils. Eric Townsmeier’s book is the perfect place to gather ideas and then work towards implementing them, before the door to two degrees closes.
You can find this book and many more in the COG Library here.
Books are shipped across Canada for free!