The Green Corridor: Eating Into Our Future – Agricultural Emissions – What is Happening? What More Can be Done?

The Green Corridor:

Eating Into Our Future

Agricultural Emissions – What is Happening? What More Can be Done?

by Timothy Foote, Founder of Susymbio

As the global population hits 8 billion people and growing, the age old question continues to be asked – how long can the Earth support humanity? We all need food to survive and for most that takes talking about the emissions associated with food production “off the table”. Doing that would be a mistake though. Some in the agriculture industry are making changes to be more sustainable and what they are doing helps show a way forward for our future. Additionally, we logistics professionals can also make an impact.

Looking at the agriculture sector on the whole, combined with forestry and land clearing, this sector emits nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gasses. There are many studies that can raise this amount or slightly lower it depending on what is put into the sector and what is not, but we can see that it is significant. It is even larger than the emissions from our own transportation sector.

I am fortunate that I myself work with agriculture sector companies through my work with South Pole (a leading sustainability company). As the logistics expert on the team, I work on different projects with South Pole as and when needed. South Pole helps major MNCs ascertain greenhouse gas emissions as well as provides them with solutions to help reduce or mitigate them.

There are two areas of concern when it comes to the agriculture sector. One is what is happening on the farm, and another area is how our need for food and timber changes wilderness into pasture or farmland. The driver of both is our demand for particular foods. 8 billion people are now pressing for something to eat and agriculture is working to deliver that, but at a cost to our planet’s future.

Let’s start with the farm; this is where our current food is produced and the agricultural yields here impacts how much land is grabbed from our wild spaces.

Down on the Farm

I spoke to a contact of South Pole, who works a lot with the agriculture side of things. She provided me with some main emission sources in that sector as well as what some companies are concentrating their reductions work on.

Main sources are:
Enteric fermentation of ruminant livestock during digestion. It is belched out or passed out via the large intestive.
Manure management (in dairies and piggeries)
Rice cultivation
Fertiliser use

Below is a breakdown of these from the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations 2018)

What’s a Farmer to do?

When you look at the top emissions countries for crops and livestock it is unsurprisingly countries that produce most of the world’s food. They are the most populated countries as well. Progress therefore on these emissions reduction actions are vital.

Four common initiatives to reduce greenhouse gasses happening now are:

  1. soil carbon sequestration schemes
  2. tree planting
  3. animal effluent management (e.g. covering a waste pond from a dairy or piggery and flaring captured methane or turning it into biogas)
  4. controlled burning of Savannas in the early dry season to prevent greater emissions from late season wildfires (Savanna Burning method)

More solutions are coming out which is encouraging, but there is really a whole lot more to be done on the farm which scientists are working on. Furthermore, until the yields and logistics behind agriculture can keep up with consumer demands, the second largest category of this sector’s emissions continues to grow unabated.

Saving our Forests

Emissions from tearing down forests (our carbon bank and CO2 hungry plant life) is amazingly high (43% of the sector’s total emissions in 2018).

The driver behind deforestation is largely due to farm and pasture lands growth. When this is done, all of the stored carbon in the forests are released. These emissions are classified by FAO as “agricultural land use” emissions. In 2018 Indonesia was the top emitter of agricultural land use emissions in the world because of the destruction (by draining or fire) of peat lands associated with oil palm cultivation.

With global populations continuing to grow and the yields on existing farms not keeping pace, emissions from robbing our planet’s lush forests is a major concern for all of us. Who can do what with land is largely the responsibility of governments who are the overall managers. Industry and civil society have a large impact on whether land is protected from deforestation or not because policy and enforcement are driven by these blocks. That said, there are tangible initiatives that can be done which can make small impacts on the overall agriculture sector emission numbers.

How to Reduce Emissions Outside the Farm

Most of us may be off the farm, but we are not out of the system for the sheer fact that we all consume food. So what emission reduction initiatives can be done when you are a sustainable logistics leader?

  1. Support efforts to reduce food waste. Logisticians already do this, but in many parts of the world it is not uncommon to have over 20% of food spoiled before it ever reaches the table. Our industry has to support transport innovation and business development for our rural communities here in Southeast Asia (especially small holder communities). This will further reduce waste prior to market and further increase rural incomes.
  2. For your company sponsored food events, have a plan for left overs and try to select low emission food offerings. All food is not equal (look at the top farm emissions source above), through reducing employee consumption of high emission foods, you can set an example for your company’s culture.
  3. Get your workforce educated on the need for healthy biodiversity (Sustainability Goal #15) in your area. Most people today are separated from nature from the time they are born. We live only in people adapted environs, so there is no understanding of just how dependent we are on nature. At DHL I created a “ranger program” to do that, where my team provided community members an understanding about local plants, animals and their importance through nature walks. Programs like these indirectly influence that greater discussion regarding wilderness protection.

 

These are just three initiatives. Please let me know how your company is “greening” up our connection with food. I’m always looking for more solutions, so please continue to engage with our LogiSYM community when you can make time. Together we can stop eating away our future. As you can see, it will take innovative work and some food choice management.About the Author:

Tim Foote runs Susymbio, a boutique consulting firm advising on e-commerce logistics solutions and sustainability program management services. Tim has held various positions with MNCs, gaining a wide knowledge and expertise in logistics operations. He crafted delivery solutions for e-commerce clients and managed supply chains for several chemical and freight forwarding companies. At DHL eCommerce’s first Asia Pacific Head of Go Green, he put in place carbon footprint management, sustainability training, illegal wildlife smuggling monitoring training, and employee engagement. Tim volunteers his free-time with the Singapore Wildcat Action Group, a not-for profit organisation that raises awareness and funds for wildlife conservation.

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