Forest “Carbon Farms” More Profitable Than Raising Cattle

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Cattle for carbon farms? (creative commons)

Multinational researchers this week divulged the results of a study of Colombia’s western Andes, one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, that confirmed that letting cattle land regrow as forest “carbon farms” could remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from earth’s atmosphere without damaging local economies.

Environmental scientists have focused on reforestation as a climate mitigation technique since the introduction of the UNFCCC’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) strategy over nine years ago. The Andes study casts an important and useful light on the economics of transformation of cattle land to carbon farm as it relates to current agricultural practices. It provides real-life measurements on the benefits to farmers of growing carbon instead of cows.

The researchers surveyed carbon stocks, biodiversity, and economic values in the western Andes. Currently, the main use of land in this part of Colombia is cattle farming, but its economic benefits are minimal. The study found that farmers could make the same money, or more, by allowing their land to serve as forest. With a functioning carbon offset economy, they would get paid to change the land use to carbon farming, receiving around $1.99 per ton of CO2 that the trees remove from the atmosphere. The study also found that letting forests regenerate would have a massive impact on threatened species and biodiversity.

Says senior scientist David Edwards of the University of Sheffield’s renowned Department of Animal and Plant Sciences:

“This would cost very little money. Providing people are willing to spend [it], this could be a critical mechanism for stopping climate change and protecting some of the world’s most endangered species.”

Lead researcher Dr. James Gilroy from the University of East Anglia, via Norwegian University of Life Sciences, states that the team has found that unlike carbon capture and sequestration, a massive, expensive, and protracted technique still in its infancy, reforestation of cattle lands could capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide at minimal cost. Gilroy characterizes it as a “a win-win situation.” The impressive scholarly team comes from from the Sheffield, Norwegian, Bangor University, University of Leeds, University College London, Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (Bogota), and James Cook University, Australia.

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