Planting and managing improved grasses in tropical savannas can increase soil carbon by 15 percent

According to a new study by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the University of Stuttgart, and the World Bank has found.

Scientists tested Urochloa humidicola, or Koronivia grass, on an 8,000-hectare cattle ranch in Vichada, Colombia, and found soil carbon stocks 15% higher than the control grassland, which itself had carbon stocks 40% higher than the default value provided by the IPCC.

Koronivia grass captures carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and enhances its storage in deeper soil layers through its root systems.

The results, published in Frontiers in Climate, also found that using improved grasses in natural savanna reduced nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from grazing livestock by a factor of 10, offsetting emissions related to beef production. N2O is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

“This study shows, for the first time, how improved forages can help achieve a negative carbon footprint for animal production,”

said Jacobo Arango, co-author of the paper and an environmental biologist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

Dr Arango, who was also a lead author of the latest IPCC mitigation report, added:

“At this point, reducing emissions is not enough; we need to actively sequester carbon from the atmosphere. In our study, Koronivia grass achieved both, providing a means to protect the environment as well as the food and livelihoods generated by livestock.

Cattle are responsible for approximately 9.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This includes nitrous oxide emissions, which are about 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

While carbon sequestration and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are essential to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, few workable solutions have been proven so far. Reducing nitrous oxide emissions in particular has been highlighted as a priority by President Biden ahead of UN COP27 climate talks in Egypt this month.

Koronivia grass comes from the germplasm of the Future Seeds gene bank, which contains the largest collection of tropical forages in the world and is managed by the CGIAR’s Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The facility, based near Cali, Colombia, helps preserve essential plant biodiversity while supporting cutting-edge agricultural research.

In addition to reducing emissions and increasing soil carbon storage, grass can also grow on marginal land, meaning farmers can make more productive use of degraded soils without resorting to land conversion. virgin lands.

“This research represents a great gift from Colombia to the world. It is a way of taking concrete action in favor of mitigating global warming and promoting food security and the well-being of thousands of farmers. mentioned Gabriel Jaramillo, of Hacienda San José, where the study was conducted.

“At Hacienda San Jose, we approach sustainability with a holistic view. This allows us to work taking into account human and animal welfare, harmony with the environment, the preservation of virgin forests and wetlands, and the implementation of best practices such as the prohibition of preventive antibiotics and the annual burning of savannahs. Working with the community and educating them is also crucial to improving their standard of living.

The research was funded by the World Bank Group, the CGIAR Livestock and Climate Initiative and the Bezos Earth Fund.

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