Low-carbon agriculture in South America to mitigate global climate change and advance food security

Environ Int. 2017 Jan:98:102-112. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.10.020. Epub 2016 Nov 9.


The worldwide historical carbon (C) losses due to Land Use and Land-Use Change between 1870 and 2014 are estimated at 148 Pg C (1 Pg=1billionton). South America is chosen for this study because its soils contain 10.3% (160 Pg C to 1-m depth) of the soil organic carbon stock of the world soils, it is home to 5.7% (0.419 billion people) of the world population, and accounts for 8.6% of the world food (491milliontons) and 21.0% of meat production (355milliontons of cattle and buffalo). The annual C emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production in South America represent only 2.5% (0.25 Pg C) of the total global emissions (9.8 Pg C). However, South America contributes 31.3% (0.34 Pg C) of global annual greenhouse gas emissions (1.1 Pg C) through Land Use and Land Use Change. The potential of South America as a terrestrial C sink for mitigating climate change with adoption of Low-Carbon Agriculture (LCA) strategies based on scenario analysis method is 8.24 Pg C between 2016 and 2050. The annual C offset for 2016 to 2020, 2021 to 2035, and 2036 to 2050 is estimated at 0.08, 0.25, and 0.28 Pg C, respectively, equivalent to offsetting 7.5, 22.2 and 25.2% of the global annual greenhouse gas emissions by Land Use and Land Use Change for each period. Emission offset for LCA activities is estimated at 31.0% by restoration of degraded pasturelands, 25.6% by integrated crop-livestock-forestry-systems, 24.3% by no-till cropping systems, 12.8% by planted commercial forest and forestation, 4.2% by biological N fixation and 2.0% by recycling the industrial organic wastes. The ecosystem carbon payback time for historical C losses from South America through LCA strategies may be 56 to 188years, and the adoption of LCA can also increase food and meat production by 615Mton or 17.6Mtonyear-1 and 56Mton or 1.6Mtonyear-1, respectively, between 2016 and 2050.

Keywords: Best agricultural management practices; C-offset; Greenhouse gas; Land use and land use change.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Animals
  • Carbon / analysis
  • Carbon Sequestration*
  • Cattle
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem
  • Food
  • Food Supply*
  • Forests
  • Livestock
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Soil
  • South America


  • Soil
  • Carbon