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New study: Envisioning sustainable carbon sequestration in Swedish farmland

cows staying under a tree. Photo.
Image by Svensk kolinlagring from the farm Måttgårds regenerativa, in Halland, Sweden.

The agricultural sector and industrial food system is a major contributor to climate change, and biodiversity loss, and particularly vulnerable to its impacts. It is therefore essential to re-think how the agricultural systems can sequester more carbon, and simultaneously create vital ecosystems.

A recent research article by LUCSUS researchers Emma Johansson and Sara Brogaard envisions Swedish farms as carbon sinks rather than sources, and shows how we can re-design the current farm- and food system to also address other social, economic, and environmental sustainability challenges.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Policy, is based on workshops with participants in an initiative called Swedish Carbon Sequestration [Svensk Kolinlagring]. The workshop participants discussed what alternative futures might look like, how they would function, and how to get there. Together they created a vision for a more sustainable farm- and food system, including; perennial crops, keyline design, online farmers markets, increased collaboration between farms, and increased knowledge about soil health. The participants highlighted complex interactions between animals, trees, leys, and crops that can support carbon sequestration. They also emphasized the need to increase both farmer’s and society’s knowledge about soil health and its multiple positive effects on carbon sequestration.

The study highlights that the food system will be transformed by changes in consumer demand, increased knowledge and awareness, shortened value chains, and by changing policies and financial support systems to favor farmers who engage with agroecological principles of farming. However, the transformation of the farm- and food system clash with current agricultural policies and EU laws.

– Today's agricultural policy and EU laws focus on quantity, on growing large quantities of crops, says Emma Johansson. The problem is that this kind of agriculture does not contribute to carbon sequestration, on the contrary, it depletes the soils.

Another challenge, according to the researchers, is the lack of cost-effective methods for measuring carbon sequestration with enough precision, especially underground. This makes it difficult for companies that want to invest in carbon sequestration to be able to measure and report how much carbon sequestration they have contributed to.

–  We need to create an understanding among the companies that want to invest in carbon sequestration that there are many important values, such as vital ecosystems, increased biodiversity, living soils, and not least better health and economy for farmers, says Emma Johansson.

According to the researchers, it is important to create a more holistic vision of what sustainable farm- and food system looks like, but it requires that we are open to other ways of valuing carbon sequestration, but also to changing policy and legislation.

Illustration of a future sustainable farm
Ideas and principles of what a sustainable future farm can engage with to sequester more carbon, create vital ecosystems, and also create positive effects on farmers’ health and income. Illustration: Emma Johansson

Visions for a sustainable farm-and food industry

Together with farmers and representatives from the food industry the researchers have  listed a number of visions and principles for a sustainable farm- and food system, with increased carbon sequestration..

table of visions for a sustainable agriculture. Text.

Read the paper Envisioning sustainable carbon sequestration in Swedish farmland in Environmental Science & Policy here