Selected category: India

Biogas cookstoves can help nearby forests grow, new study finds

By Meghna Agarwala, Post-doctoral Research Scientist of Columbia University, and Richie Ahuja, EDF Regional Director of Asia

Degraded forest in Karnataka, India

Clean-burning cookstoves powered by biogas help surrounding forests grow and regenerate, according to a new study by Columbia University scientists.

The study in India finds that forest biomass and regeneration increased significantly after 10 years of introducing biogas stoves; because the stoves run off the gas produced by decomposing cow manure, they eliminate the need for cutting down trees and lopping them for firewood.

This new finding suggests that biogas stoves, in addition to their role in improving indoor air quality, impacting household nutrition, and reducing carbon emissions, may help India reach its climate goals around improving forest cover and increasing carbon sequestration.

Cookstoves in India

About 41% households in India are dependent on fuelwood as their source of cooking, according to the 2011 Census of India survey. However, burning fuelwood for cooking increases indoor air pollution, exacerbates health issues, contributes to climate change, and destroys wildlife habitat.

Since the 1980s, aid organizations and governments have been installing biogas stoves in some regions in India to reduce the impacts from indoor air pollution and reduce carbon emissions, but these have largely failed due to poor post-installation support.

Results from study

Published in Global Ecology and Conservation, the new study compared forest biomass and regeneration in the areas around villages using biogas or wood for fuel in the Indian state of Karnataka.

The study shows that people dependent on fuelwood for cooking reduce their fuelwood use when provided with a viable alternative, the biogas stove. Switching to biogas allowed the surrounding forests to recover.

The findings have great significance for India, which committed in its national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement to increasing its forest cover to enhance carbon sequestration. India is also working on delivering clean cooking systems for people through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) and biogas programs around the country.

Forest regrowth is, of course, contingent on many other factors besides how much fuelwood is taken from forests. For example, in some locations, forest may not regrow despite biogas stove use, as the ecosystem may have already been damaged so much that it needs active restoration. Also, since biogas technology is dependent on ownership of cattle, this scheme does not work for people who are too poor to own cattle, or in areas where there isn’t enough rainfall for people to own cattle.

This study can help policymakers understand how clean cooking programs can support India’s – and other governments’ – targets of improving forest cover and carbon sequestration.

If conditions are right, and if done at scale and implemented in a way that promotes long-term change, shifting households from burning fuelwood to cleaner technologies can help forests grow and can help countries such as India achieve their climate goals.

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New studies point to a pathway to find India’s most effective climate-smart farming practices

india measurements

EDF-Fair Climate Network science team training a new village volunteer to collect air samples from a groundnut farm. EDF and FCN have collaborated with international research groups to develop new greenhouse gas emission measurement techniques and train local groups to measure emissions during crop production. Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Rakesh Tiwari

Agriculture around the world is already experiencing the effects of the changing climate, including more intense droughts, heat waves, floods, and a growing influx of pests and diseases. This contributes to unstable livelihoods for the world’s 2 billion rural poor who depend on small-scale farms and live on the margins of the poverty line.

With these challenges, the world is increasingly shifting toward climate-smart agriculture, which the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines as an umbrella of agricultural practices that lead to a “triple win” because they:

  1. sustainably increase agricultural productivity and income;
  2. adapt and build agricultural resilience to climate change; and
  3. reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions.

The FAO’s definition offers initial guidance for climate-smart agriculture. However, for the global scientific community, national policy makers, and those who care about global food security, there remains a need for more solid evidence around how the triple win can be achieved across geographies, crop types, and different farm scales, especially small-scale farms spread across much of the developing world.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has released two new peer-reviewed journal articles that contribute important evidence to support a triple-win approach to feeding the 9 billion people who will be living on this planet in 2050. In the first article, we present a rigorous pathway to measure climate impacts of farming practices, especially in the tropical and developing parts of the world. In the second article, we demonstrate that carefully chosen climate-smart farming practices can improve resource use efficiency, enhance food security, increase farmer savings, and provide better ecosystem services while decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

With our partners, we conducted the research in India, where there is a huge opportunity to implement climate-smart agriculture. India has 100 million small-scale (under 2 acres of land) farming families, which means it’s in the best interest of India and its farmers to learn to adapt in a way that maintains (and preferably improves) crop yields and secures their profitability while also reducing agricultural GHG emissions.

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'Feeding 9 billion' requires facing up to climate change

This post was co-authored by Kritee, Senior Scientist, International Climate; Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia; and Tal Lee Anderman, Tom Graff Fellow – India Low-Carbon Rural Development

National Geographic's May cover story, “Feeding 9 billion,” offers valuable insights into how to feed a growing global population while reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts. But it omits some key connections with a critical issue: climate change.

Corn withered by drought in America. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

Drought in the U.S. causes withering of corn. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization recently documented in great detail, climate change is likely to fundamentally alter the structure of food systems around the globe. With about 43% of the world’s population employed in agriculture, it’s vital that farmers have the knowledge and tools they need both to adapt to climate change and to help mitigate it.

Author Jonathan Foley, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, lays out several steps for “Feeding 9 billion.” Though he starts by acknowledging that agriculture emits “more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined,” he doesn’t explicitly mention how his plan relates to a changing climate.

The first of his steps – halting conversion of additional forests and grasslands to agriculture – is crucial to stopping climate change, given the vast quantities of greenhouse gases released in these conversions. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation noted, protecting forests and increasing carbon content of the soils can decrease global emissions by as much as 13 gigatons CO2eq/year by 2030 – more than a quarter of current annual global emissions.

Foley also highlights the need to reduce meat consumption, because only a very limited portion of calories consumed by animals yield edible food for humans, and to reduce food waste. According to the IPCC, these consumer-level steps have the potential to decease agricultural emissions by 60% below the current trajectory. While Foley didn’t acknowledge these mitigation potentials, we agree that these are important steps to feeding the world’s population and protecting our environment.

But it’s his steps calling for improving productivity – both by growing more food on existing farms, and by using fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently – where the interactions with climate are more complex and need special attention.

Climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture

Foley rightly points out that to feed the world’s future population, more food needs to grow on existing farms. However, he doesn’t note that some of the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and heat waves in many parts of the world – are already reducing crop yields, and these effects and their consequences are expected to worsen.

The IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Report on adaptation concludes that:

  • Climate change is already negatively affecting yields of crops and abundance of fish, and shifting the regions where crops grow and fish live
  • Future changes in climate will increase competitiveness of weeds, making it difficult and more expensive to control them
  • By 2050, changes in temperature and precipitation alone will raise global food prices by as much as 84% above food prices projected without these two climatic factors
  • Major grains like wheat, corn, and rice could see as much as a 40% decrease in yield from a 20C increase in local temperatures. That’s because of the changing rainfall frequency and intensity, unpredictability and irregularity of growing seasons, and higher ozone levels that often accompany high CO­2 levels

To deal with these consequences and ensure food security and livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is essential. Indeed, adopting carefully chosen adaptation and resilience measures could improve crop yields as much as 15-20%. The IPCC recommendations include:

  • Altering planting/harvesting dates to match the shifting growing seasons
  • Using seed varieties that might be more tolerant of changing climatic patterns
  • Better managing water and fertilizer use
A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

Achieving high yields requires enabling farmers all over the world to adapt, build and restore the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of continued climate change. Given that many farmers in developed countries have already reached what are currently maximum possible yields, it’s particularly urgent to work with farmers in the developing world.

A vast majority of these farmers in developing countries own small-scale farms (less than two acres in size) and have limited resources, and as a result are on the frontline of experiencing the unfolding impacts of climate change. These farmers are already growing the majority of the world’s food – more than 90% of the world’s rice, over 65% of its wheat and 55% of its corn. Notably, as opposed to our recommendations for farmers in the developed countries, some of them might need to increase their fertilizer use to achieve better yields as opposed to decreasing it. Feeding a world of 9 billion thus requires facing the disproportionate effect that climate change has on the 2 billion people who depend on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Barriers to climate adaptation & mitigation in agriculture

The latest IPCC report also noted that the “nature” of the agriculture sector means:

“there are many barriers to implementation of available mitigation options, including accessibility to … financing, … institutional, ecological, technological development, diffusion and transfer barriers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Many farmers, especially small scale land-owners in developing parts of the world, lack access to reliable scientific information and technology. In some cases, relevant information has not even been generated.

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

For example, small-scale rice farmers in Asia lack access to information enabling them to determine what amounts of water, organic and synthetic fertilizer will optimize yields while also minimizing release of the greenhouse gases methane (which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released), and nitrous oxide (which is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). EDF is working with the Fair Climate Network in India and with Can Tho University and other partners in Vietnam to help generate that information and facilitate its use by farmers.

More generally, agricultural institutions at all levels – international, regional, national and local – need to work closely with farmers to learn and promote evidence-based, locally appropriate agricultural adaptation and mitigation technologies and practices. Farmer access to finance can further help improve the adoption rate of these technologies. Larger investments in farming infrastructure and science from government and private sector also need to be channeled to promote food security through low-carbon farming.

Our food system cannot achieve high yields without building and restoring the resilience of agricultural ecosystems, and the system won’t be sustainable if agriculture doesn’t do its part to mitigate climate change.

To feed 9 billion people, we must overcome barriers to reducing climate change’s effects on agriculture, and agriculture’s effect on climate.

Also posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, Forestry| 5 Responses

Passengers on India’s largest airline can now invest in low-carbon rural development

Airline travelers in India who fly the country’s largest airline now have an opportunity to support low-carbon rural development programs across the country.

Indian_farmer_Ahuja

A new partnership will allow passengers on India's largest airline to invest in offsets that promote low-carbon rural development programs, including low-carbon farming. Credit: Richie Ahuja

The landmark partnership was unveiled this weekend between the Fair Climate Network (FCN), a consortium of Indian groups that is committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities, promoting climate resilience and reducing climate pollution, and IndiGo, the country’s largest and fastest growing airline.

The company will use the funds collected through this voluntary program to purchase some of the offsets generated by more than 300,000 Indian families from 36 climate mitigation projects. The projects, being developed and implemented by FCN, help families in rural India gain access to clean, reliable energy and improve farm income while cutting carbon emissions.

These climate adaptation and mitigation activities include innovative and sustainable low-carbon farming techniques and cooking with clean methane power instead of highly polluting traditional wood stoves. The families produce the methane fuel by using biogas digesters to process livestock manure.

Why this is a big deal for India – and Indians

It bears repeating that this is an Indian company buying carbon offsets created in India. We’ve seen other projects in India create offsets that have been purchased by, for example, European organizations. But this project is truly an effort of and for the people of the world’s largest democracy.

193_006_Fakruddin

300,000 Indian families participate in programs under the Fair Climate Network, a consortium of Indian groups committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities. Credit: Tal Lee Anderman

In offering this program, Indigo is providing its customers an opportunity to support its commitment to shared prosperity and “inclusive” growth – growth that benefits not only rural families that are members of the Fair Climate Network, but also IndiGo’s passengers and all Indians, who will benefit from a healthier environment.

Ram Esteves, the Convener of FCN said addressing rural development is a "high priority," adding:

We need programs that support economic development and deliver social, health and environmental co-benefits, including climate adaptation and mitigation. IndiGo has reposed faith and trust in this understanding of inclusive development where a stable and healthy economy is good for business. This partnership is a strong step in this direction.

IndiGo’s President and Executive Director Aditya Ghosh called the move a “momentous opportunity” for the company, saying:

We strive to make a difference each day and find solutions that help manage our carbon footprint. We are delighted to partner with FCN on this initiative which not only helps us and our passengers achieve just that, but goes far beyond by creating a sustainable positive impact and improving many individuals’ livelihoods.

The company is showing leadership by making this commitment to inclusive growth and offsets, along with other green technology investments, an integral component of its future growth. This partnership can serve as a model for Indian business leaders looking to make a difference in their communities.

Learn more at:

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EDF releases new blog for all our expert voices

EDF’s Climate Talks blog keeps you updated on major international climate issues. We provide thoughtful analysis on international climate negotiations and important climate policy developments around the world, so you can stay informed. However, we know you may have a broad interest in environmental issues.

That’s why we wanted to share with you Environmental Defense Fund’s new flagship blog, EDF Voices. EDF Voices collects stories, ideas and arguments from all of our EDF expert voices in one place. Our thought leaders use this space to weigh in on all sorts of environmental issues, from stories on how farmers in India are adapting to climate change to ideas on how to save the Amazon and its indigenous peoples.

We hope you like what you read on our new EDF Voices blog and become a subscriber.

Also posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, News, Other| Leave a comment

Fast-growing India confronts pollution, but optimism not clouded

Foul-smelling air, soot pouring out of smoke stacks, and a blinding fog of pollution.

Thick pollution clouds a street in Delhi (photo courtesy of Flickr user Daveybot)

That’s how EDF columnist Dominique Browning found Delhi when she visited and witnessed for herself the environmental challenges India, ranked the seventh most environmentally hazardous country in the world, is facing.

But with such vivid exposure to pollution in the country, she turned to EDF’s India Program Director, Richie Ahuja, for context.

Richie was born in Agra, home to the Taj Majal, whose pollution-yellowed white marble prompted the Indian Supreme Court in the late 1990s to order 200 nearby factories to stop using coal fuel.

When I told Ahuja that India's pollution was overwhelming, he surprised me by his optimism. "I'm actually feeling very heartened these days," he said. "People used to say, ‘Oh, the pollution, you get used to it.' But now, there are many rumblings in the press, and in city streets, about how serious a problem it is. Even in tiny, isolated villages, people, especially women, are beginning to understand how pollution is connected to their children's health."

Read more from Browning about her visit to India, EDF’s work to address global warming there, and how her trip made tangible the benefits of the U.S. Clean Air Act at home in her post Fast-growing India Confronts Pollution.

You can also read more about EDF's work with partners to help rural households switch from traditional, polluting wood-fired stoves, to cleaner, methane-burning cook stoves in Jennifer Haverkamp's post Picturing low-carbon development: Methane cook stoves in rural India.

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