4-per-mille 4 more resilient farm systems

Soil carbon sequestration has been brought to the center of attention in the recent climate change discussion. One of the most respected and discussed related campaigns is the 4-per-mille initiative. The basic idea – an annual increase of just 4 per 1000 (i.e. 0.4%) in soil carbon stocks for 30 years would be sufficient to compensate for all ongoing fossil fuel emissions.

Via scientific publications the 4-per-mille initiative described soil carbon sequestration rates of sustainable farm management. This includes composting, use of cover crops, use of crop residues, agroforestry and many more.

Actual benefits of 4-per-mille, more than a handful

“Let’s get realistic” is one of the critical responses on these assumptions. Suggesting new names for the initiative and showing more conservative rates has also been published.

However, it may be doubted, whether this critique is useful in the context of the ongoing environmental degradation and emission scenarios. Because, given the alarming reports of IPCC and others it seems important that it should be done what can be done, even if the 4-per-mille aims are not fully feasible.

The IPCC report also demonstrates that issues such as GHG emissions, sustainable farming and food security are not separated from each other but strongly connected.

More sustainable land and farm management will lead to more food security and to less GHG emissions. This especially applies if the several sustainable farm measures are combined, i.e. the more of the best practices the higher the synergistic effects and the lower the emissions.

For example, the use of well-made compost and cover crops does lead to soil carbon sequestration, and also to:

  • less soil erosion
  • more soil moisture
  • more crop varieties
  • less drought impacts

Resulting in a more resilient farm system, i.e. more food security. Plus, the land’s value will increase because the increase of soil organic matter provides better yields.

Interesting side note in the debate of increasing scale: the strong specialization of farmers can be a barrier to the 4-per-mille aims. Mixed systems (e.g. cropland and agroforestry or grassland) are the solution and would result in parallel best practices and thus sequestration benefits.

Start implementing

An adequate implementation strategy is facilitating sustainable land management by hands-on trainings and workshops in the field but also via setting strategic goals and supportive IT solutions. Smallholder farmers and larger companies benefit from these activities as reports about the work of Soil & More Impacts show. By using the True Cost Accounting (TCA) tool Soil & More Impacts also accounts for the greenhouse gas emission removals, nutrient increases, erosion reductions and potential monetary savings.

In a nutshell, the benefits of the 4-per-mille aims are more than just carbon sequestration. They are also about soil health and sustainable food and farm systems. This means that more action against climate change can happen through investing in soils, sustainable food systems and supply chains as Danone’s CEO, Emmanuel Faber said at the UN Climate Action Summit a few days ago.

The conclusion – we cannot wait to invest into our soil! On societal level, on strategic level and to the direct benefit of farmers. For them as practitioners, easy-to-install tools to improve overall resilience and land value are available.

Stop arguing for the perfect solution and start to implement the already existing best practices.