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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

This Effort Targets Methane Reductions on Smallholder Farms

smallholder farms - farmer plants rice in field in indonesia

A farmer plants rice in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Rice cultivation is responsible for 1.5 percent of all global greenhouse gases.

Smallholder farms produce a third of the world’s food. Naturally, they also produce about a third of agricultural greenhouse gases. But only a small fraction of climate finance is dedicated to these farms. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) aims to combat this dynamic with a new initiative directed at lowering methane emissions from smallholder farms.

Rapid methane reduction could be a huge key to preventing global rises in temperature. That’s because methane traps more heat than carbon dioxide while sticking around in the atmosphere for a shorter period — meaning reductions in methane could be felt much quicker.

Targeting top agricultural sources of methane

The program’s primary focuses are livestock and rice cultivation in developing countries. TriplePundit spoke with Jahan Chowdhury, senior technical specialist for IFAD’s initiative, to learn more.

While most people are probably aware that livestock produce an enormous amount of methane — up to 264 pounds per cow, per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — many do not know that growing rice also releases a substantial amount of the potent greenhouse gas. Although rice does not experience flatulence the way cattle do, the flooded fields it traditionally requires for cultivation encourage anaerobic activity that has the same effect. In fact, rice is responsible for 12 percent of global methane output or 1.5 percent of all greenhouse gases

A three-pronged approach to reducing methane on smallholder farms

IFAD's effort aims to tackle methane emissions on smallholder farms in three ways. “The first objective is to support 15 countries to integrate methane in their updated NDCs,” Chowdhury said, referring to the Paris Agreement’s Nationally Determined Contributions, which are essentially climate action plans, due to be updated in 2025. 

“One thing we have noticed is that even though we have the Global Methane Pledge and a lot of the countries that are interested, we haven't necessarily seen them reflected in the policy dimension of the government,” he said. ”We're also not seeing the linkage between [the] Paris Agreement and methane reduction, so our objective is to bring convergence.”

Secondly, the initiative will support those 15 countries in creating “bankable projects” that will help them achieve the objectives in their updated NDCs, Chowdhury said. Once projects begin to move forward, IFAD aims to share and encourage more extensive knowledge surrounding methane reduction among smallholder farmers and developing nations. 

“Methane discussion is fairly new. Not all developing countries are fully aware of the discourse, the theory, the advantage, the return on investment, for example,” Chowdhury said. The fund wants to use the knowledge it gains from each country to write publications that help more countries learn about and be inspired by the work it's doing, while also influencing the global policy agenda. 

Looking toward implementation

IFAD aims to begin implementation this September, with the project lasting two years. Its funding will come from the Global Methane Hub and the U.S. State Department — with $3 million coming from the former and $1 million coming from the latter, according to a press announcement from the fund. Specific partner countries are not chosen yet, but the fund is “looking into some large emerging economies like Argentina, like Brazil, for example,” Chowdhury said. 

He listed a number of other potential partners around the world such as Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Malawi and Cambodia. “It's kind of a mix of, I would say, of emerging economies but at the same time low-income countries,” Chowdhury said. “It's very important for us to discuss these ideas with the government and if there's a demand, then we prepare our projects accordingly.” Information about country selection and implementation of the initiative’s three objectives will be presented at the U.N. COP28 climate talks in Dubai in December.

While neither methane nor smallholder farms are a huge focus of climate efforts, the planet has reached a point in the crisis where we truly cannot afford to ignore any of the contributing aspects. “Food systems and the agricultural sector produce one-third of greenhouse gas emissions,” Chowdhury said. “So, we won’t be able to deliver on the Paris Agreement without looking at these sectors and addressing their challenges.” 

Image credit: CIFOR/Flickr

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop. 

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