Written by Henko Vlok, SIZA Environmental Specialist

Food is a basic human need, and a healthy diet is crucial for our health and wellbeing. However, food provisioning releases greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere at every stage. Agriculture in particular releases significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide (two potent greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere due to the usage of non-renewable energy (fuel and electricity), plant protection products, fertilisers, land-use change, etc. As agriculture is a significant contributor to GHG emissions and is also affected by the impacts thereof, one of the major risks to these impacts is reducing food security. With a growing demand for food and agriculture being negatively affected by the effects of GHG emissions, it is of utmost importance that this problem is addressed by prioritising emission reduction practices.

GHG emissions are globally recognised as significant contributors to climate change. Therefore, the SIZA Environmental standard focuses on the practices to improve South African agriculture’s resilience to climate change and reduce its GHG emissions directly. By focusing on the sustainable management of the four cornerstones of the environment, namely: soil; water; energy, materials and waste; and biodiversity and ecosystems, the standard provides an integrated approach towards reducing GHG emissions.

When talking about GHG emissions, the first thing that comes to mind is often electricity and fossil fuels, such as petrol and diesel. It is indeed true that these elements have a significant impact on a farm’s GHG emissions; however, factors such as waste management, fertiliser use, and soil health are often overlooked. Therefore, the SIZA Environmental standard advocates a 360° approach to managing emissions — tackling the climate crisis from all possible directions to create the most significant impact. The standard evaluates the implementation of practices to reduce electricity and fuel usage while also promoting precision application of fertilisers and pesticides to prevent unnecessary emissions and implementing healthy soil practices as a means of returning carbon to the soil. Furthermore, the standard aims to reduce the amount of waste to landfills by promoting reuse and recycling practices, where feasible.

Although the challenges we face in terms of GHG emissions will not be solved overnight, the SIZA Environmental standard is designed to assist producers, packhouses, and processing facilities in their journey towards reducing emissions to air. As this journey towards reducing GHG emissions is monitored using quantifiable data, SIZA implemented a brand-new innovation as part of its online platform called SIZA Digital Recordkeeping. This online monitoring tool allows for calculating production inputs and monitoring the effectiveness of day-to-day operations using standardised methods. As agriculture’s significant contributors to GHG emissions are attributed to the resources consumed and applied during production inputs, the SIZA Digital Recordkeeping Programme consists of a built-in functionality where production inputs are processed into a carbon footprint — the total GHG emissions created by a business. The calculation of a carbon footprint is then monitored as part of the SIZA Environmental standard requirements and forms a baseline for targets to be set and practices to be implemented to reduce the GHG emissions of a business.

Therefore, the SIZA Environmental standard prioritises calculating GHG emissions and implementing sustainable and efficient agricultural practices to reduce emissions within South African agriculture.