Can the legume market grow through Carbon Farming?

Carbon farming is gaining momentum within EU as a strategy to achieve the EU’s legally binding commitment to become climate neutral by 2050. The need to capture, store and recycle carbon, prompt the EU Commission to adopt a Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles which defines a set of actions aiming to increase removal of carbon from the atmosphere[1].



Sustainable land management will be pivotal to increase the carbon captured and stored in plants and soils. Carbon farming is a green business model that rewards land managers who adopt management practices that increase carbon sequestration in living biomass, dead organic matter, and soils, favouring biodiversity and overall natural capital.


Land managers will generate carbon farming credits that can be a new source of income parallel to their traditional products, such as food and biomass. The buyers of such credits could be, for example food processing companies that need to reduce their carbon footprint. Besides the financial benefit, there are also co-benefits for the land manager, such as enhanced land fertility and resilience towards climate change.


Different land management practices can be applied to enrich soil organic carbon and their selection greatly depends on site conditions, such as topography, soil type, and past and current land use practices. Examples of such practices include the use of catch crops or cover crops to protect the soil (to reduce soil erosion) and increase organic carbon, and targeted conversion of cropland to permanent grassland.


Considering that we need to increase biodiversity and protect the soil, legumes can be an interesting alternative to tackle both challenges and pave the way for carbon farming implementation.

The cultivation of legumes in intensive agri-food production systems was shown to promote habitat heterogeneity and the conservation of species considered essential for nature conservation, such as arthropods, birds, and small mammals[2]. Moreover, legumes provide floral resources that aid in the maintenance of pollinators which benefit food production and plant breeding.


Legumes improve soil fertility by association with microorganisms, like rhizobia, which can fix atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to the legumes and other crops[3]. This process is known as biological nitrogen fixation and results in a continuous N supply to the land without the use of artificial fertilizers. Grasslands which include grass and legume mixture show high productivity compared to monocultures, due to the N transfer from legumes to grasses and the more efficient use of soil resources caused by the different root structure[4].


Besides the aforehand benefits, legumes can be themselves a source of income as animal feed and/or human food. Pulses, which are the edible seeds of legume plants, have been associated with multiple health benefits and thus, consumers are increasingly integrating them in their daily diets, which in turn is promoting the growth of the global pulses market [5].


Food4Sustainability is currently collaborating with the Associação Vegetariana Portuguesa (AVP)[6] within the project Proteína Verde. This project aims at the gradual increase of plant-based proteins in the consumers diets as a strategy to reduce the Portuguese ecological footprint and mitigate the impact of climate change.


To finish, yes, we believe the legume market can grow through the Carbon Farming, since its cultivation meets the requirements for increased biodiversity and soil protection, and can be an alternative source of income for the land managers through the carbon farming credits and their commercialization as food or feed products.


References:

[1] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. Sustainable Carbon Cycles. (15.12.2021) https://ec.europa.eu/clima/document/download/26c00a03-41b0-4d35-b670-fca56d0e5fd2_en

[2] Ferreira H, et al (2021) Legumes as a Cornerstone of the Transition Toward More Sustainable Agri-Food Systems and Diets in Europe. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 5:694121. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.694121

[3] Kebede E. (2021) Contribution, Utilization, and Improvement of Legumes-Driven Biological Nitrogen Fixation in Agricultural Systems. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 5:767998. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.767998

[4] Barneze, et al (2020) Legumes increase grassland productivity with no effect on nitrous oxide emissions. Plant Soil 446, 163–177. Doi:10.1007/s11104-019-04338-w

[5] OECD/FAO (2021), OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/19428846-en

[6]Associação Vegetarianismo Portuguesa (AVP), www.avp.org.pt/


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