After producing one of the first French technological demonstrators for the estimation of carbon storage in agricultural soils, ITK is developing services and management tools for “low carbon” projects in agriculture.
A year ago, ITK traveled to Kenya to start the Kilimo pilot project, a sustainable agriculture project requested by the governor of Vihiga county in Kenya, and supported by the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. To improve local food security, the company has developed a solution that helps farmers to increase their yield and income, while promoting soil health. With the help of Airbus and the contribution of its subsidiary E-Tumba, ITK has deployed a smartphone application which helps optimise local crop management by sending personalized advice to small producers. This advice helps maximize production and carbon storage in the soil of maize fields. By providing indicators of the effect of farming practices on carbon storage and seasonal forecasts of labile carbon dynamics in soil it promotes a sustainable management of Kenyan peasant agriculture.
In practice, this decision support system (DSS) allows small rural producers to make informed choices that can increase income, based on practices that both improve yields and promote carbon storage. Kenyan farmers receive personalised advice for their plots via SMS or voice messages in the local language. Over the last 18 months, this project, called KILIMO (Kenyan Initiative for Low Input Maize production), has made it possible to help more than 2,000 small producers of white maize – the local staple food – choose their practices and maximise soil carbon storage. This is a first step towards a long term increase in soil carbon storage.
ITK is part of the “4 per 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” initiative which promotes agricultural practices aiming at storing carbon in soils. The objective is to increase soil organic matter by 4 grams per 1,000 grams of CO2 each year in order to offset all greenhouse gas emissions.
Farmers refine their practices to promote soil fertility and carbon storage
In soils, organic matter (bacteria, fungi, crop residues, etc.) is mainly composed of carbon. It makes for a better and more complex soil structure, that can better resist erosion. Once mineralized, organic matter provides important nutrients for plants and offers additional functions of carbon storage. The evolution of the stock of organic carbon in soils results from the balance between organic matter inputs, their mineralization and the exports by the crops.
Different practices are available to increase carbon storage:
- Planting cover crops : they protect soils against climatic hazards and provide additional inputs of organic matter.
- The introduction of grain legumes in crop rotations: it provides nitrogen fertilization by nitrogen fixation.
- Through the input of organic waste products: they reinforce the soil microbiota.
- Managing irrigation to promote the development of roots, which themselves constitute soil biomass and promote carbon storage.
- Reduction of tillage
The amount of carbon storage is an effect of these practices over the long term. Agronomic models can help to estimate storage dynamics depending on adopted practices. This is the case of the KILIMO model which estimates and tracks carbon storage in cultivated soils.
Precision agriculture: a tool to maximize carbon storage
ITK is already contributing to the decarbonization of the agricultural sector. The company is open to opportunities from carbon project leaders in the agricultural sector around the world.
For more than 10 years ITK has accumulated experience in the development of tools for the optimisation of agronomic practices, on the basis of its expertise in crop yield modelling and forecasting. An example of this is its Cropwin solution. Cropwin indicators allow farmers to simultaneously control irrigation and nitrogen inputs for their plots. The “season” view of the application and the weather forecast, allows users to plan in advance their operations while maximizing their income. Cropwin is offered for maize (grain and silage) and wheat (winter and spring) crops.
Cropwin employs agro-climatic modeling and artificial intelligence for creating maps of potential yield several months in advance, based on information on common farming practices in a specific geographical area. These maps are available from the start of the growing season, allowing farmers to plan in advance and take the best decisions to maximize their yield and improve their soil health.
These tools for measuring, forecasting, simulating and steering are necessary to accelerate the decarbonization of agriculture and in line with the new agroecological and soil conservation practices that are gaining momentum in France, driven by farmers and public authorities. By integrating scientific knowledge and field observations, these smart agriculture tools make it possible to assess finely the needs and behaviors of crops and livestock. This information supports the adoption of carbon-conscious agricultural practices and livestock management choices that reduce methane emissions. The insights that it provides are useful in the context of projects aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.
“Carbon neutral” regions and cities
The creation of smart cities will require the development of resilience and the adaptation to climate change. Agriculture can play a role in the decarbonization of cities and regions. This agri-food dimension is still not very present in projects for smart and sustainable cities. ITK is developing a platform of digital services to help cities with decarbonization challenges, quantify the impacts of possible decarbonization actions and carry out projects, allowing them to finally take action. This innovation is based on a monitoring platform and stems from an agri-territorial development project that promotes exchanges between local communities and farmers. The platform encourages farmers and breeders to adopt carbon-conscious practices while maintaining or even improving their economic performance. It is also a tool to recover organic waste from the city, such as sludge from wastewater and compost, in the context of decarbonization projects.
Agronomist and scientific editor