Australian National University

Land-based Carbon Drawdown to Regenerate Healthy Food, Ecosystems and Livelihoods

Lead Organization

Australian National University

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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Project Summary

Climate change is threatening livelihoods and food production. Methods exist to enhance yield on prime agricultural lands and protect biodiversity in pristine wilderness, but little attention has been given to ever-widening degraded, marginalized lands. Our work aims to help farmers rebuild their natural capital while contributing to the global climate solution. Existing demonstration sites will be synchronized and optimized for carbon drawdown and to predict and prioritize locations for social adaptation. Farms will be aggregated in regional deployment centers, then organized into continental coordination teams to plan the restoration of 1Billion hectares worldwide. Regeneration enhances the livelihoods of farmers to feed communities and provides protection against droughts, fires and floods. This work directly connects marginalized people to low-cost technological solutions and urban demand centers. By regenerating marginal farmlands, this work enhances food security and human livelihoods while drawing down ~10 gigatonnes of CO2/year into soils to reverse global warming.

Problem Statement

The scale and urgency of the looming and irreversible cascade of crisis in climate change, food security, and biodiversity extinction is generally underrecognized by the public, business, and government leaders. Natural systems and an aging rural agrarian population are directly affected by past overexploitation and now extreme weather. In contrast, sprawling urban centers are indirectly affected by air, water and food insecurity. This urban/rural and generational divide underlies the missed opportunity to jointly address the climate, food, and biodiversity habitat. Human civilization has been extracting fuel and fertility to grow, but there is an efficient, low-cost, renewable and regenerative solution that has been under-recognized until recently. It requires integrated, science-based efforts, coordinated at scale to restore ecosystems and draw down carbon with agriculture. Flipping the conventional paradigm of agriculture may seem difficult to accomplish, and it seems easier to take smaller, isolated steps toward “sustainability.” However, the new climate means that business as usual cannot persist. Converting degraded and eroding landscapes into productive and resilient agro-ecosystems regenerates livelihoods while storing carbon into soil. Land-based, natural climate solutions are the most technologically advanced, can be integrated at lowest cost, are the fastest to deploy and benefit agriculture, ecosystems and human livelihoods (~3B). Land-based solutions must roll out at a global scale to provide resilience and security to the most turbulent times civilization will confront. Investment in cross-training to customize and personalized regenerative landscape design principles will allow land managers and investors to implement comprehensive, yet flexible, triple-win, enduring solutions.

Solution Overview

We will deploy customized agriculture software toolkits. Each farm will have their own path to draw down carbon and produce food and habitat. Our biophysical models will capture local variation and preferred best practices to determine pathways to regenerate landscapes and livelihoods that are socially and economically acceptable.Our design principles to regenerate landscapes:ENHANCE NATURAL CYCLES— shift from linear “input to output” thinking, to working with daily and seasonal solar, water, and nutrient cycles to increase bioenergy capture and soil carbon storage.BIOPHYSICAL MODEL-BASED— shift from monoculture, conventional agriculture practices to precision agriculture designed around longterm systems planning, with appropriate and wise use of technology. Integrative design of crops and tree planting with adaptive seeds will be linked by monitoring and management of water, nutrients, pruning, grazing, fire, and cultivation.LINK LAND TO PEOPLE— disaggregate commodity chain connecting rural supply to urban demand via satellite imaging, validated value branding, and memberships in community supported agriculture.We will integrate existing software and technical tools on farm demonstration sites. Then we will deploy these tools across networks, engaging user communities with specific management approaches to regenerate farm systems. Finally, an intra/intercontinental program will scale the best pathways to global adoption. We propose to build plans for regeneration of 1B hectares, with deployment beginning at 10 rural locations on 100 farms, achieving increased canopy and ground cover with soils storing carbon. Integrated techno-social design, uses high spatial and temporal resolution to pinpoint solutions that reinforce each other and connect marginalized communities.

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Project Funders

  • Australian Research Council 2014 - 2021
  • Australian Natinoal University 2019 - 2020
  • Australia Dept of Agriculture 2020 - 2024

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