How carbon sequestration and soil health can reap climate benefits in agriculture

Published on September 20, 2022

The climate emergency needs to be tackled with every weapon in our arsenal, but one tool sits literally right beneath our feet. Soils, and the plants they generate, absorb about 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity each year. Now Al Dahra Group is capitalising on this method of capturing and storing – or sequestering – carbon dioxide by adopting regenerative agricultural practices.

The UAE-based agricultural conglomerate, which has presence in five continents, has set aside 5,000 hectares on their farms to improve carbon sequestration. Al Dahra achieves this through  a variety of approaches, including reducing tillage, giving up ploughing, using particular vehicles that ensure  soils are not compacted as strongly, deploying biological tools to control pests, and using alfalfa and legumes to increase soil organic matter, which promote photosynthesis and protect the soil.

In Estonia we are helping the country and the farmers to achieve the EU objective of keeping greening in winter. We do this by helping the farmers to collect grasses and developing a program to seed mix grasses and Alfalfa. This way not only the farmers achieve EU greening objectives but they will also improve their margins and achieve a lower footprint thanks to the carbon sequestration. 

“We can create climate resilience by investing in the soil which is just below our feet. Soil health is our insurance policy against harsh and extreme climate change,” says Samin Khan, Global Director – Enterprise Risk & ESG at Al Dahra Group.

A Living Business programme partner, the agribusiness firm specializes in the cultivation, production and trading of animal feed and human food commodities such as alfalfa, wheat, corn, rice, flour, fruits and vegetables.

Al Dahra began to focus on its ESG journey in 2020, informally it was always part of our business, Khan says, driven by a corporate vision that focused on mitigating climate and agriculture risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions across Scopes 1 and 2, achieving national determined contributions in each of its operating countries, and responding to changing consumer demand.

Early gains show the way

By adopting regenerative agricultural practices on a pilot area of 5,000 hectares, Al Dahra was immediately able to take 4,508 tonnes of carbon from the air and sink it under the soil.

Along the way, the Al Dahra faced several challenges, not least helping shift perceptions and farming practices. It approached the problem partly by sharing the data of the benefits of sequestration. “The main challenge was to tackle the cultural shift from conventional farming to regenerative and low-impact farming. It involved a lot of discussion and we needed to convince the existing farming team of the advantages of maintaining soil cover throughout the year,” Khan says. “Secondly, making the shift required a lot of detailed information before we were able to make the soil our partner instead of exploiting it.”

Regenerative soil practices and the consequent sustainable business model have significant helped some of the Al Dahra’s ventures, for example, in Morocco, the business has managed to  achieve carbon neutrality, he says.

Now Al Dahra is focused on ensuring the business stays on track from an ESG point of view. “We will maintain and increase the number of trees on our land, ensure year-round soil cover and enhance the use of technology to minimise water consumption,” he says. “We will also recycle 100% of our agricultural and organic waste to increase soil organic matter.”

Al Dahra wants to achieve several goals by 2030, he says, including increasing soil organic matter as laid out by the Paris Accord, decreasing emissions use from chemical fertilizers and pesticides by 20%, cutting water consumption by a fifth, and converting 50% of energy requirements to renewables. Accordingly, Al Dahra is exploring several other ways to promote decarbonization across its agricultural operations, Khan says. “We want to consider using food additives such as red seaweed or other products to minimize methane emissions from livestock. We are also looking at green alternatives to chemical-based agricultural inputs, such as green ammonia for fertilizer use, microbes to help activate the soil, and bio stimulants or plant-based enhancers to improve crop production. Finally, we are also evaluating the use of precision farming and advanced technologies – including satellite imagery – to develop more sustainable agricultural models.”