UFS research supports role of conservation agriculture in fighting climate change

21 March 2024

By: Lebogang Mashala

According to the initial findings of a study conducted by Dr Jerry Dlamini, a lecturer and researcher specialising in agronomy at the Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences, University of the Free State (UFS), conservation agricultural practices, such as legume rotation and no-till practices, can potentially reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions, especially highly radiative gases like nitrous oxide.

The study, known as @CROPGas on X, is being carried out at the UFS Kenilworth Experimental Farm and is funded by the European Joint Programme with a budget of R22 million. It is investigating the impact of various conservation agriculture interventions on greenhouse gas emissions, primarily targeting nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Greenhouse gas emissions are a significant global concern, leading to massive climate change. This concern is particularly pronounced in rainfed agriculture, where understanding and addressing the emissions is crucial for the sustainable use of agricultural practices. 

Dlamini noted that this is a significant finding because nitrous oxide has a global warming potential 100 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year horizon. “This means that its impact on ozone depletion persists far longer despite being emitted in smaller quantities,” he said.

Dr Jerry Dlamini, a leading researcher and lecturer in agronomy at the University of the Free State (UFS), is at the forefront of groundbreaking studies in this area.

In South Africa, rainfed agriculture is vital in food production, contributing substantially to the nation’s agricultural output. However, this sector also stands as a notable contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through activities such as livestock farming, fertiliser use and changes in land use.

The two-year project, which began in December 2022, is a collaborative effort between European and African universities and institutions. These institutions include Rothamsted Research (UK), University College Dublin (Ireland), University of Nottingham (UK), University of Poznan (Poland), British Geological Survey (BGS), University of Zambia, University of Zimbabwe and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Malawi). 

Dlamini called for increased research efforts to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from South African croplands. He emphasised the importance of field-based measurements, similar to methodologies employed by other nations, to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of South Africa’s greenhouse gas inventories submitted annually to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and to devise effective mitigation strategies.

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