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The Life+ Agricarbon project has managed to offset the carbon footprint of 1.2 million Europeans thanks to Conservation Agriculture

On the 9th of June 2015, the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils (AEAC.SV) presented the results of the "Life+ Agricarbon, Sustainable agriculture through carbon counting" project at the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The project's four years of analysis clearly show that Conservation Agriculture is an essential tool in the fight against climate change since it leads to the sinking of around 2 million tonnes of carbon per year into the soil, offsetting the annual carbon footprint of 244,000 inhabitants, i.e., 1.2 million Europeans in four years.

Maria José Alonso, Technical Consultant for the Spanish Climate Change Office, was chosen to inaugurate the Event to present both the results of Life+ Agricarbon and the new Life Climagri project. Maria José Alonso highlighted the role of international negotiations of the Spanish Office for Climate Change and pointed out that agriculture in general, and conservation agriculture in particular, has been essential to meet the challenge of putting a stop to climate change and that Spain has satisfactorily fulfilled the Kyoto Protocol. Alonso highlighted the need for "close coordination between the agents involved, with farmers playing a relevant role".

Next to take the floor was Íñigo Ortiz de Urbina Belsué, coordinator of the external monitoring team for the Life programme for Spain and Portugal, who highlighted that "Sustainability and added value form an essential part of the Life projects and must be shown through impact indicators". Ortiz pointed out that "Life Agricarbon has been an exemplary project which has helped Spain and the European Union to achieve its goals with respect to climate change".

Next, Jesús Gil Ribes went on to present the results of the Life+Agricarbon project. Professor of the University of Córdoba and Chairman of the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils, he was chosen to sum up the conclusions of four years of field studies. Sustainable systems such as Conservation Agriculture, based on the total or partial reduction of soil tillage, keeping it protected with a permanent layer of vegetation cover, and crop rotation, and such as Precision Agriculture, which makes more efficient use of supplies thanks to the use of new technologies based on global positioning systems and site-specific application of supplies, constitute a set of sustainable agricultural techniques with great potential for the reduction of the atmospheric concentration of CO2.

This was the focus of the European Life+ Agricarbon, "Sustainable agriculture through carbon counting" project, financed by the European Union's Life programme. The project was coordinated by the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture of Living Soils and participants included the European Conservation Agriculture Federation, the Andalusian Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Fisheries and Food of the Regional Government of Andalusia and the AGR126 research group of the University of Córdoba.

The project, which took place between the years 2010 and 2014, focused its actions on demonstrating the mitigating effects of the aforementioned agricultural practices on rainfed, herbaceous crops. Following four agricultural campaigns using Conservation Agriculture and Precision Agriculture on the pilot farms, Jesús Gil Ribes highlighted that "on the demonstration plots where both techniques were implemented, around 20 less tonnes of CO2 were given off thanks to reduced energy consumption. Additionally, thanks to Conservation Agriculture, which dispenses with soil tillage, CO2 emissions have been reduced by up to 88% and the storage of up to 56% more carbon storage has been achieved with respect to the plots managed conventionally".

Applied to the total surface area of direct seeding crops in Spain and the coefficients in relation to the capture potential of conservation agriculture techniques contained in the scientific article written as part of the project "Meta-analysis of atmospheric carbon capture in Spain through the use of conservation agriculture”, 1.77 million tonnes of CO2 would be captured annually, which, in terms of annual emissions per capita in the year 2011 for EU 27 (7.4t CO2/inhabitant) (Eurostat), would mean the offsetting of the carbon footprint corresponding to a population of around 240,000 inhabitants. Therefore, Jesús Gil Ribes concluded: "The project as a whole has managed to compensate the carbon footprint of 1,200,000 European citizens". Gil Ribes also emphasised the "possibility of carrying out conservation agriculture in any area where agriculture takes place" highlighting the "energy efficiency and the soil and water conservation this technique implies". He also mentioned the possibility that "thanks to the collaboration of Life+ Agricarbon with the Technological Platform for Sustainable Agriculture and associations and companies of the agriculture industry, any farmer can assess their activity in relation to sustainability using a calculator available on www.agricarbon.eu".

Various communication and broadcasting activities have been carried out as part of the project, in addition to training courses, practical day events held in the field and a conference at the European level, which included the direct training of 3000 people and an indirect impact on an audience of more than 200,000 people.

Presentation of the Life+ Climagri Project

Rafaela Ordóñez Fernández, Director of the Alameda del Obispo IFAPA Centre and General Secretary of the AEAC.SV, presented the "Life+ Climagri, Best Management Practices to combat climate change Project". The agriculture industry is considered to be one of those that may be affected by climate change. The changes predicted may have a negative effect on agricultural yield. If we don't anticipate adaptation in time and take measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, the financial, social and environmental consequences may be considerable, bearing in mind the important role the agriculture industry plays, both as a producer of food products and environmental goods and services.

In this respect, Rafaela Ordóñez stated that "the Life+ Climagri project addresses said problem, establishing the development of strategies for the agronomic management of field crops, which contribute jointly to the mitigation of climate change and the adaptation of crops both to present and future climate conditions and which serve to boost and develop the environmental policies and legislation of Spain and the rest of the EU with respect to climate change, as its goal. The project has established a total of 12 farms in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, where a series of good agricultural practices selected by experts are followed".

Indeed, the project's scope of application is limited to the Mediterranean Basin, this being one of the areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in Europe, and irrigation crops, very demanding in terms of energy consumption, and the actions aimed at mitigation and adaptation are therefore expected to have a considerable impact.

The project, with a duration of 4 years and 7 months (June 2014-December 2018), is being led by the Spanish Association for Conservation Agriculture Living Soils (AEAC.SV), and has the Young Farmers' Agricultural Association of Seville (ASAJA Seville), The European Federation of Conservation Agriculture (ECAF), the Andalusian Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Fisheries and Food (IFAPA) and the University of Córdoba as participating partners. It has a global budget of 2.24 million Euros, of which 1.12 million Euros are financed by the European Commission through the Life Programme.

Conservation Agriculture, a reality in Spain's countryside

To finish off the event, a round table was held, moderated by the general coordinator of both projects, Emilio González, which included the participation of pioneering farmers in conservation agriculture who participated in these interesting initiatives. José Fernando Robles, from ASAJA Sevilla, highlighted the need for greater support from public administration bodies to facilitate farmers' access to these sustainable techniques. Juan José Pérez, technician and farmer from the Seville area informed regarding the advantages of conservation agriculture for rainfed crops whilst Miguel Barnuevo, a farmer from Albacete, explained the benefits of water management for irrigation crops. Rafael Calleja, a farmer from the Palma del Río area (Córdoba), offered an interesting perspective on the contribution of conservation agriculture to orchard crops such as olive and citrus fruit trees. Angel Luis López, chairman of the No Till Association of Guadalajara, explained how the organisation of day events in the field is an effective way of raising awareness of conservation agriculture, both in terms of agronomics and machinery.