Transformative technologies offer a path for net-zero agriculture in Bihar, says Cornell study

Transformative technologies offer a path for net-zero agriculture in Bihar, says Cornell study

The Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) suggests that Bihar can achieve significant progress toward sustainable development by implementing three transformative agricultural technologies. According to a special policy brief from TCI, Bihar can lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in rice and livestock production while maintaining or enhancing productivity. By doing so, Bihar can achieve net-zero agriculture.

The policy brief is part of TCI’s Zero-Hunger, Zero-Carbon Food Systems project, which aims to develop a roadmap for reducing agricultural emissions in Bihar without compromising productivity. Agriculture contributes 20 per cent of India’s GHG emissions, and the country faces high malnutrition rates, particularly in Bihar, where nearly half of children under five are stunted and underweight.

TCI’s research indicates that Bihar could cut emissions by 9.4-11.2 metric tonnes annually by adopting alternate wetting and drying for paddy cultivation, advanced artificial insemination for cattle breeding, and anti-methanogenic feed supplements for livestock.

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“As India confronts the twin challenges of reducing hunger and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, there is a real danger that efforts to achieve one goal will undermine the other,” said TCI Director Prabhu Pingali. “Our research shows that alternate wetting and drying, advanced breeding techniques, and anti-methanogenic feeds can help Bihar lower its agricultural emissions without harming productivity.”

Globally, 50 per cent of emissions from croplands come from flooded paddy fields, which produce methane through organic material decomposition. India, producing 22 per cent of the world’s rice, is the leading emitter of rice-related methane. TCI’s research demonstrates that alternate wetting and drying, a controlled irrigation technology using less water than continuous flooding, could reduce emissions from paddy cultivation by 3.96 metric tonnes annually by 2050, with a 70 per cent adoption rate.

The policy brief details emission reductions for each of Bihar’s four agroclimatic zones, noting that the southwest and northwest zones have the highest mitigation potential for alternate wetting and drying.

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“Agricultural land in Bihar is quite diverse, necessitating interventions tailored to the context of different regions,” said Milorad Plavsic, TCI’s manager for strategic initiatives and project lead for Zero-Hunger, Zero-Carbon Food Systems. “By providing regional mitigation estimates, we can help policymakers direct resources to the areas where they can have the most impact.”

TCI’s research also shows significant emission reductions are possible in Bihar’s livestock sector. By 2050, the state’s cattle population is projected to reach 46 million, with emissions projected to reach 52-61 metric tonnes. Advanced artificial insemination and anti-methanogenic feed supplements can cut those emissions by 5.4-7.2 metric tonnes annually and can help the state achieve net-zero agriculture.

Advanced artificial insemination using sex-sorted semen can improve productivity while maintaining smaller herd sizes, reducing overall emissions. TCI research indicates that improved productivity among dairy cows could generate INR 207.5 million in additional income by 2050. Anti-methanogenic feed supplements, like Harit Dhara, commercialised in the early 2020s, reduce methane production during cow digestion.

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TCI calculated these projections in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) using the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security’s Mitigation Options Tool for Agriculture. TCI researchers also conducted workshops and field visits in Bihar to identify suitable mitigation options.

In the next phase of the Zero-Hunger, Zero-Carbon Food Systems project, TCI is working with partners in Bihar to assess the viability of several interventions and generate evidence to support scaling them up through existing state programmes. Researchers are focusing on reducing cattle herd size and emissions using sex-sorted semen and anti-methanogenic feed supplements; achieving optimal water and nutrient usage in rice production through integrated management practices, including alternate wetting and drying; and using agrivoltaics to produce both solar power and food on the same farmland.

“With the effects of climate change being felt more and more each passing year, India must address the issue with the same urgency with which it is addressing hunger among undernourished populations,” Pingali said. Speaking on achieving net-zero agriculture in the state, Pingali added, “By focusing on the viability of existing technology, we hope to give policymakers in Bihar and across India the evidence they need to implement effective solutions now.”

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