Is Agriculture As Green As We Think It Is?

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Images of smoke belching from the chimneys of factories, oil refineries or cars inching their way in a downtown street are typical images that come to one’s mind when one thinks of greenhouse emissions. On the other hand vast stretches of emerald fields and meadows nearby with flocks of sheep and cattle grazing idly conjure an image of perfect harmony with nature. This makes us believe that agriculture and animal husbandry are perfectly eco friendly occupations that do not threaten the atmosphere in any way.

The perfect picture post card scenario it seems is far from true according to scientists and agriculture experts and recent studies present a grim picture.

Let us take a quick look at the facts

– Agriculture accounts for 10% of all greenhouse emissions globally

– Paddy fields in particular release 10 million tonnes of methane which is 20% of all human produced methane emission

– Livestock comprising sheep and cattle are responsible for half of the global agricultural emissions with these animals releasing methane directly into the atmosphere.

– A vast amount of nitrous oxide is released due to the decaying of manure.

A fast growing world population demanding a higher and higher output of both grains and meat forced more and more wetlands/peat lands to be brought under agriculture. These lands store an estimated 300 billion to 700 billion tonnes of carbon and their degradation results in massive volumes of carbon dioxide emissions averaging 2 to 3 billion tonnes a year which is the equivalent of 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

This truly is a catch 22 situation, while bringing more lands under cultivation and increasing the number of animals being reared for meat threatens the eco system, producing less crops and meat threatens to starve the world’s growing population. While we can reduce industrial emission to an extent by driving around lesser, sharing cars to work using public transport and implementing pollution control measures in factories, how can we stop increasing agricultural activity in proportion to need. This is a question that needs to be addressed by agricultural experts and scientists.


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