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Hold Carbon,Cool Earth 

Aerobic regenerative methods yield better results

- Professor Dr. K.E.Usha & Sujata Devadas, June 18 2021 

Typically natural

Our ancestors stressed the importance of not removing anything from sacred groves

Sacred Grove.jpg

Were they aware of the science behind it ? Were they not ?

That, in fact, is the typical natural way of capturing and retaining or ‘sequestering’ carbon in the soil. Forest soil packed with trees holds carbon in its soil best.

Just over one-fifth (21.67%) area of India has forest cover, holding on to 7124 million tons of carbon, as estimated by the Forest Survey of India in 2019: trees photosynthesising with carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing carbon that way; a forest area that recycles all organic matter that falls on it, storing carbon inside that biomass too.

Cultivating Support

Release that carbon. It combines with oxygen naturally, to make the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air, preventing heat from leaving the Earth’s surface. Rising temperature, a hotter climate, this globe heats up.

Ironically, farmers can add to this problem or diminish it. By 2011, agricultural scientist and food technologist Chandrashekhar Bhadsavale appreciated the considerable difference from his own cultivation experience. He promptly shared his accomplishment with other farmers after confirming its success.

“The whole drudgery of ploughing, tilling, digging, hoeing and puddling - the established traditional paddy cultivation practiced on acres of low lying land logged with water taught me,” he says, “how this method emits greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide, (more toxic) methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and produces a meagre yield.”  Bhadsavale turned that whole paddy cultivation method on its head.

Turning it over

“I did the complete opposite, seeding paddy directly instead of transplanting seedlings on raised land after raising the crop area up further. I tilled that land once in 2001, 20 years ago, not since then.”

To his delight, he found that rice can be grown aerobically with oxygen - not fertiliser - in the root zone area. Without ploughing and tilling or using machinery like tractors, without flooding the rice fields, this cultivated area attracted earthworms and aerobic microbes that thrive in the soil with air rather than fertiliser around the roots. This increases plants’ access to nutrients due to the presence of nitrogen fixing symbiotic bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. The plants grew more and produced more grains. Grown first in Saguna, Neral village, Karjat Taluka,  Raigad District, Maharashtra, Bhadsavale called his new method, the Saguna Rice Technique (SRT).

By 2011 and 2012, Bhadsavale’s crop yield showed marked improvement. He was not looking for ‘the carbon advantage’. It was the gnawing thought of global warming that pushed him to find a robust cultivation method to live. Poor labour availability in his village and district meant his technique must turn away from hiring labour.

Air in the soil, the root zone area, sequesters carbon well and prevents its’ emission to form CO2. Bhadsavale tested the soil sample, “it revealed that organic carbon in the soil increased by 0.5 percent, equivalent to fixing 9 tons of CO2 per year per acre.”

Persuasion Enough

10 Thakar tribal cultivators from Raigad district and 10 cultivators in Maval Taluka, Pune, Maharashtra gained when Bhadsavale shared SRT with them in 2013. “It’s a joy to work with Thakar cultivators. Solely relying on food they grow on their own small acreage, these farmers tried my technique rather than starve by resignedly accepting meagre harvests from conventional cultivation,” Bhadsavale explains, “They know nothing about carbon, but less drudgery, less dependence on a tractor, freedom from the back-breaking job of transplanting rice and freedom from heavy reliance on rain or water for irrigation dropped production cost by 50 to 60%. No other persuasion is required.”

C Bhadsavale + farming family.jpeg

Chandrashekhar Bhadsavale indicates the wheat crop grown on the same field after paddy cultivation by this farmer who chose the SRT method and did not burn the rice crop residue

Parsuram Agiwale of tribal origin is his most important brainstorming assistant. “With absolute certainty, his crop yield increased. Parsuram used to cultivate 4 to 5 food crop on 2 acres of land earlier and could meet his family’s food requirement for only half the year earning Rs.8000 by selling the surplus. Now this role model farmer sections off that same land after harvesting the rice crop to grow 25 different food items - pulses, watermelon, okra, eggplants, groundnut, bitter gourd and leafy vegetables - meeting his family’s full annual requirement plus Rs.3 lakhs surplus through crop rotation by SRT cultivation,” says this technique’s innovator, “in other places, this type of cultivation has grown  cotton, soya bean, wheat, ragi, maize and more crops.”

Accepted

Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations published the SRT method of growing rice crop under the ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’ category in April this year. This zero tillage, no ploughing regenerative aerobic conservation-oriented farming method has cultivated wheat, ragi and maize for 60 years, but Bhadsavale is the first to demonstrate its applicability to rice.

Farmers quickly adopted it for one more major reason. Preparing land for traditional cultivation takes 20 to 30 days. For SRT, it takes less than 5 days, saving that much time between cultivating two crops. Bhadsavale does not tell farmers which rice seeds to use for direct seeding. They make their own choice.

For every half acre cultivated with SRT, the 20 farmers were given Rs.3000 by Saguna Rural Foundation last year. Though the Foundation wishes to continue this incentive for 2 more years, the COVID pandemic prevented soil sample collection and its analysis this year. Lockdowns also prevented SRT guides from going to these fields to check the work done or to assist these farmers in following this method.

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SRT farmer Mayur Lothe of Gondia, Vidarbha stands amidst his summer paddy cultivation

Preventing Step By Step Collapse

Untouched sacred groves and forests sequester carbon best, balancing its release. Aerobic cultivation that ties carbon into the soil makes a difference by reducing agriculture’s current 18.4% contribution to GHG emissions.

Bloomberg Green published that CO2 greenhouse gas emission has risen to its highest level in 4 million years. Worst hit as Earth heats up are polar bears whose natural habitat is melting away, corals and marine species that live and thrive on coral reefs.

The main greenhouse gas emission culprits are energy use, fossil fuels, ocean and terrestrial exchangeCutting and removing trees releases CO2 they used alongside for photosynthesis. Agriculture heats climate further if farmers burn crop residue after reaping the harvest, freeing up the carbon inside it. If that remaining botanical matter is ploughed back into the soil, carbon remains there unless disturbed by man.

Micro-organisms’ thriving in aerobic cultivation help sequester carbon in the soil by adding organic matter or ‘humus’ generated when they decompose plant and animal residue.

Soil's potential to battle a hot climate is boosted up further by the strong fibrous root system of soil binding crops. These improve it’s structure, texture and its water holding capacity.

A whole carbon capture and sequestration or CCS scheme to prevent the collapse of Earth’s present ecology gains ground as farmers are given incentives to adopt aerobic regenerative cultivation like SRT. It needs less water, less machinery, less work and gives a higher crop yield to feed billions.

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WHAT OUR READERS SAY

Dr. Indira Gouthaman

sequestering’ carbon in the soil - Forest soil packed with trees holds carbon in its soil best - did not know this point. Thanks for the article.