Determining the Carbon Footprint of different maize farming systems within the summer rainfall crop production area in South Africa

carbon footprint


Increasingly the environmental impact of agricultural supply chains is being scrutinized by consumers, NGO’s and governments. South Africa made a commitment to the international community to reduce its carbon footprint, hence the recent focus on carbon emissions, policy and the introduction of a carbon tax.

Improved cropland management has been highlighted as a very practical and viable carbon emission mitigation option and for that reason (and others) Conservation Agriculture (CA) is currently promoted by many role players in the agricultural industry, including Grain SA. However, it is important to conduct an in-country, or regional, study to assess the carbon footprint of different systems, including the assessment of soil health, which will provide essential information eventually facilitating the reduction in the carbon budget and increase in carbon sequestration rates.

It will therefore be important to demonstrate the impacts of different farming systems on the carbon footprint through accurate assessment tools and calculators of the carbon budgets. For example, through a combination of soil health assessments, carbon emission and sequestration rates / potential it will be possible to determine the impact of various management options on the net carbon budget and show how this can lead to improved farming efficiency, reduced emissions and alignment with the future carbon tax, or other incentive mechanisms. The proposed carbon tax legislation also contains mechanisms for selling agricultural carbon credits to other South African organisations to reduce their carbon tax exposure. This project will take the first steps towards understanding the potential of this farm-based carbon credit income stream.


This project will provide the farmers with tools to understand, measure and manage carbon emissions and sinks on their farms. It will create awareness in the agricultural value chain (from farmers to markets) on their C-budget, C-footprint and C-sequestration potential of farming systems (tillage and crop rotations) to minimise carbon emissions, optimise C-sequestration and reduce impact on climate change. It will also provide the farmer with a management tool to improve resource efficiency and reduce overhead costs which may improve economic sustainability of the farm. The benchmark C-footprint for the regions can enable the farmers to compare themselves to other farms in similar areas and create the opportunity to learn and implement practices from each other.

A user-friendly C-sequestration app is intended for comparison purposes of crop rotation and cultivation systems scenarios to be used by a wider user group, including farmers and extension officers. The purpose of the app will serve to be informative and to create awareness of various C-sequestration options. The app will have the advantage that data need not to be provided by the user as the user will interact by selecting various options on soil type, crop rotation- and cultivation systems from drop-down menus.

The information from the Phase 3 project and rigorous monitoring and implementation process can be used in the future if carbon tax is implemented. Determining the impact of various farming systems on C-budgets also has long term policy implications as the information can be used to assist government in focussing their mitigation strategies for the agriculture sector.

It is important to recognise that the assessment will not be representative of all farms in a specific region but rather to provide a “snapshot” view of a particular farming system in a particular region. From 9 years of experience in the agricultural carbon footprinting, Blue North can confirm that farmers who measure their carbon footprint improve their farm management systems.  This process often challenges current farm management systems and highlights areas where farm management systems can be improved. Combined with data on soil health and sequestration under different practices in the regions identified, the net C footprint or C budget can further stimulate thinking and awareness on more sustainable and climate-smart agricultural options.


ASSET Research will collaborate with the following institutions:

Blue North Sustainability (Pty) Ltd manages the Confronting Climate Cahnge (CCC) Initiative on behalf of the South African Fruit and Wine Industry Bodies.  CCC was established in 2008.  The initiative focuses on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas emissions at farm-level and across agricultural value chains, as well as a climate change knowledge resources for the industry.  The initiative currently focusses on perennial tree orchards, but CCC has already developed a carbon footprint protocol, the data collection tools, database and reporting tools for grain farming in South Africa.

The CCC initiative is project managed by Blue North Sustainability, a Stellenbosch-based sustainability practice that is focused on the development and implementation of robust and credible sustainability programs in agricultural businesses and value chains.  Blue North was founded in 2011. Blue North Sustainability completed the C-sequestration assessment of the WCT funded C-footprint project in the Western Cape.

TerraSim CC is an environmental consulting company specialising in the earth science component of sustainable land use, rehabilitation of mine- and degraded land, and remediation of contaminated land. Terrasim was founded in 2011. Terrasim has a registered professional soil scientist with 24 years of experience in soil science and environmental field. Terrasim specialises in the application of numerical modelling of the climate-plant-soil-water- and waste-soil-water continuum aspects.



Phase 1 (bi-annual) C Footprint in maize, report | March 2019

Phase 1 (annual) C Footprint in maize, report | September 2019

Phase 2 (bi-annual) C Footprint in maize, report | March 2020

Phase 2 (annual) C Footprint in maize, report | September 2020

Phase 3 (bi-annual) C Footprint in maize, report | March 2021

Phase 3 (final) C Footprint in maize, final report | September 2021

Carbon sequestration Website:


Video 1: The carbon footprint of Summer Maize Farming Systems in South Africa. Part 1: Introduction.

Video 2: The carbon footprint of Summer Maize Farming Systems in South Africa. Part 2: Carbon Emissions & Carbon Sequestration.

Video 3: The carbon footprint of Summer Maize Farming Systems in South Africa. Part 3: Results from the work completed with The Maize Trust.