Further Notes on Climate “Smart” Agriculture: Carbon Sequestration and its Discontents

Climate “smart” enthusiasts claim that damaging effects of climate change can be reversed by agricultural practices that promote sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soil. What is the evidence?

In my February 7, 2017 palaver Climate “Smart” or Climate Semantics? I gave an unflattering review of climate smart agriculture (CSA), now in heavy rotation by  international donors USAID, FAO, The World Bank and research centers like CGIAR. Since then, it has been covered by Crops, Soils, Agronomy News magazine, a monthly review published jointly by the Crop Science, Soil Science, and Agronomy Societies of America. Nothing I have read there changed my mind about CSA.

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Climate “Smart” or Climate Semantics?

Unloading combined corn grain during harvest. Farmers have rationalized fossil fuel powered, climate-adverse inputs including synthetic fertilizers based on measured productivity and returns. What are the parallel benefits of climate “smart” agriculture, and how do we measure them?

There’s a new kid on the block tugging at the global development purse strings. It’s called climate “smart” agriculture, heir apparent to sustainable agriculture, the latter aging passé with trend-conscious consultants who design projects for international donors like USAID, The World Bank, United Nations entities, and their contractors. Even global centers like the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have been smitten. I have heard the term “climate smart” used indistinctly, in different settings, over the past year or so but did not pay attention to it. My bad. Now, it seems, the climate smart paradigm is in heavy rotation by purveyors of international development. But what exactly is climate “smart” agriculture (CSA)? What does CSA really mean to a smallholder remotely located in, say, Burkina Faso or Bangladesh? Or to operators here at home in North Carolina? Is CSA a path forward for global agriculture or is it just another semantic pivot at re-stocking R & D coffers?

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Good Migrations


MC Escher ‘Day and Night’

Agrosphere Journal has moved to WordPress. I have endeavored to preserve the same look and content structure, i.e. “theme” of the former Blogger site, which have continued serving the purpose for which they were created. As you may have noticed, I am not a prolific blogger in terms of the number of blogs posted annually. My blogs are infrequent, relatively long, borderline hyper-technical missives on various topics that interest me professionally and unprofessionally. If you have landed here, count yourself among the “elite” few determined to part the digital bilges for greener fodder. Take what you will from each blog, and don’t shy away from commenting in the public block or via email.

All of this is in advance of migrating The Open Furrow, Agrosphere Journal’s sister website which I created and have maintained since 2009, to another server and eventually, to the WordPress platform. The migration has been compelled by several factors, the primarily one being the push for consolidating duplicate IT efforts within various academic units at NC State University. The Department of Soil Science merged with the Department of Crop Science as of July 1, 2016 so the open-furrow.soil.ncsu.edu domain will be deprecated effective February 1, 2017. It also aligns with the desire to wean myself away from reliance on Dreamweaver as a web authoring and management tool. Much I as love Dreamweaver, Adobe’s cloud-only subscription model has effectively placed off limits all future desktop versions for the software. Couple that with incessant Windows 10 updates, it is only a matter of time before something breaks CS 5.5, so I view migration to an open-source platform like WordPress as proactive.

At this point I have not decided the future home of The Open Furrow website. There are basically two options: (1) migrate to an NCSU-OIT hosted site; or (2) migrate to an off-campus host. Neither option is free. The Open Furrow has generated a modest stream of traffic, given its rather special interest purview. While feedback from visitors has been positive, The Open Furrow does not pay rent. Sadly, everything boils down to money; there is no shelter apart from this reality. So it remains my decision whether, and how much, to invest personally in keeping The Open Furrow going. I am still turning this over in my mind.

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Wither Bioenergy?

biogass plant, Ghana West Africa
Model biogas plant in Ghana West Africa. Burning wood is still the traditional energy source for heating and cooking purposes in low-income countries. Bioenergy has promised to improve rural livelihoods but impacts in North America have been uneven. Image source: R. Walters

Let it not be said that we don’t live in interesting times, a point that could not have been foreseen even a year ago: oil sinking under US $30 a barrel; dislocated energy markets; silenced fracking rigs; and a global commodities glut showing no sign of recession any time in the near future. Harking back a decade, things were very different. In 2005, the US Congress passed The Energy Policy Act (EPA 2005), which laid the groundwork for domestic biofuels by mandating the blending of renewable fuel with gasoline, up to 7.5 billion US gallons by 2012. Two years later, renewable fuel targets were extended to 36 billion gallons by 2022 under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007). Ever since, foes have lobbied, unsuccessfully up to this point, to repeal the ethanol mandate. Meanwhile, the bioenergy sector has languished through the Great Recession despite oil peaking above $145 per barrel in 2008 and $100 multiple times from 2011-2013. On the other side, corn growers are rejoicing the ethanol mandate because it locks in demand for a product they have to sell. Continue reading

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Roots

Dr. Joe Manu Aduani, breeder CSIR Crops Research Institute Ghana, demonstrates Ampong cassava, an improved mosaic tolerant variety yielding up to 60 t/ha in the humid forest zone. Photo source: YouTube.

Back in April, a recruiter with ACDI/VOCA in Washington, D.C., pitched an upcoming assignment in Ghana aimed at improving cassava root production. The project would be funded through USAID’s Farmer to Farmer program, which provides short-term (two to four week) voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing and transitional countries to promote sustainable improvements in food security and rural industry. Funding for the program was authorized by the U.S. Congress in the 1985 Farm Bill, and continues to operate to this day under that vehicle. Continue reading

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