Indian Agriculture Needs a Carbon Market to Reduce Emissions

A field where paddy stubble was burnt. Ludhiana 2016. Photo by Vivian Fernandes.

In an article in the Indian Express, agricultural economist Ashok Gulati and ICRIER researcher Purvi Thangaraj make a case for carbon trading of agricultural emissions. The link to the article is posted below. Here are  verbatim excerpts. 

Agricultural emissions in India are primarily from the livestock sector (54.6 percent) in the form of methane emissions due to enteric fermentation and the use of nitrogenous fertilisers in agricultural soils (19 percent) which emit nitrous oxides; rice cultivation (17.5 percent) in anaerobic conditions accounts for a major portion of agricultural emissions followed by livestock management (6.9 percent) and burning of crop residues (2.1 percent).

A carbon policy for agriculture must aim not only to reduce its emissions but also through carbon credits which should be globally tradable. With the world’s largest livestock population (537 million), India needs better feeding practices with smaller numbers of cattle by raising their productivity.

Rice cultivation on around 44 million hectares is the other culprit for methane emissions, especially in the irrigated tracts of northwest India. While direct seeded rice and alternative wet and dry practices can reduce the carbon footprint in rice fields, the real solution is in switching areas from maize or other less water-guzzling crops. In this context, opening up corn for ethanol can help not only reduce our huge dependence on crude oil imports but also reduce the carbon footprint.

If we can devise a system for rewarding farmers for this switch by making corn more profitable than paddy, it can be a win-win situation. And if we develop global carbon markets, India needs to clearly spell out in its policy how it would adjust carbon credits when it sells to polluting industries abroad so that emission reductions are not double counted in India and the country buying carbon credits.

Agricultural soils are the largest single source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in the national inventory. Nitrous oxide emissions from use of nitrogen-fertiliser increased by approximately 358 per cent during 1980-81 to 2014-15, growing at a statistically significant rate of 5,100 tonnes per year. An alternative for better and   to promote fertigation and subsidise soluble fertilisers.

Almost 70 percent of the granular fertilisers that are thrown over plants are polluting the environment and leaching into the groundwater,while polluting the same. Ultimately, the government should incentivise and give subsidies on drips for fertigation, switching away from rice to corn or less water-intensive crops, and promoting soluble fertilisers at the same rate of subsidy as granular urea.

To read the full article click on

(Top photo of a field in Ludhiana (2016) with burnt paddy stubble  by Vivian Fernandes).

Related posts

Swati Nayak: A Bridge Between Breeders and Smallholder Rice Farmers in Eastern India, Bangladesh and Africa

Vivian Fernandes interviewed Swati Nayak for upon her winning the 2023 Norman Borlaug Award for…
Read more

M S Swaminathan Was a Catalyst for Rural Prosperity and the Alleviation of Mass Hunger

This article, by Vivian Fernandes, was published in on the day  the architect of the Green…
Read more

Millet Scientist Explains How Millets are Anatomically Superior

Proso millet was the earliest domesticated millet. It dates to the Neolithic Age, about 7,000 years…
Read more