Grass brought to South America in the bedding of slave ships 500 years ago could be the answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on agricultural land, new research shows.
Agricultural land is responsible for around 14% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, making it a bigger violator than modern transport, but new research shows that a tropical grass used as livestock feed could be further engineered to fight global warming.
The tropical grass, called Brachiaria humidicola, inhibits the release of nitrous oxide, which has a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide or methane. Its chemicals enable the plant to bind nitrogen into the soil, thus making it more productive.
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Researchers are now breeding different strains of the plant to increase these nitrogen-inhibiting properties.
The grass can also reduce nitrate pollution of waterways and show significant potential for carbon capture. It also holds the promise of higher productivity and better economy through the need for less fertilizer.
Researcher Dr. Michael Peters from the Cali, Columbia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) says the ultimate goal is to modify rice plants to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from wet paddy fields by up to 50%.
"We are working to identify the genes for biological nitrification inhibition and transfer that to other crops. We assume that at least half of the gases can be saved in livestock production in tropical environments”.
CIAT is working with Dow AgroSciences, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, to get seeds onto the market within the next three to five years.
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The grass originated in sub-Saharan Africa, but is widely grown on pastures in Brazil and Colombia. However, it is still not clear how the use of this tropical grass could be applied on a global scale as the plant does not grow well in temperate climates.
Another potential downsides is that increased productivity could provide an additional economic incentive for the clearance of forests, and the proposed expansion of brachiaria pastureland poses a challenge to biodiversity.
However, scientists say those issues could be resolved along the way and that for now, the benefits outweigh the risks.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com