Carbon Farming

Carbon Farming is a term coined ten years ago for efforts to retain carbon in soils by minimum tillage. As used by Eric Toensmeier in his book on Carbon Farming as a Solution, the term also encompasses ecoforestry and the recognition that living plants retain more carbon than crop residues from conventional agriculture. As part of a project to expand the PFAF database to include more species for tropical conditions, we concentrated on the 700 plants identified by in the Species Matrix in an appendix to Toensmeier’s book.

Plants to Save the Planet

Plants For A Future (PFAF) started the project we now call ‘Plants to Save the Planet’ (PSP) three years ago. We realised that the plants information and search facilities we provide could be part of a global movement to shift public focus from issues concerning people and animals onto recognising the power and importance of plants. Since we started PSP we have extended our database of 8000 useful plants, adding around 700 species suitable for tropical situations. We have also introduced search terms, ‘glossary items’, to enable designers to identify plants which are most suitable for designs with the following aims: Carbon Sequestration, Carbon Farming and Food Forests.

The Carbon Farming Solution

A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security

Carbon Farming Solutions Book "In The Carbon Farming Solution, Eric Toensmeier admirably harnesses available data with traditional wisdom to propose a practical response to climate change. Toensmeier's solution-oriented ideas combine his clear understanding of ecology, agriculture, and the magnitude of the challenge we face with a set of agriculture-based solutions that are suited to various livelihoods, communities, and systems of production. This book will surely be a benchmark in policy-relevant knowledge."

Dr. Cheikh Mbow, IPCC panelist and senior scientist on climate change and development, World Agroforestry Centre

With carbon farming, agriculture ceases to be part of the climate problem and becomes a critical part of the solution

Agriculture is rightly blamed as a major culprit of our climate crisis. But in this groundbreaking new book, Eric Toensmeier argues that agriculture―specifically, the subset of practices known as “carbon farming”―can, and should be, a linchpin of a global climate solutions platform.

Carbon farming is a suite of agricultural practices and crops that sequester carbon in the soil and in above-ground biomass. Combined with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions―and in concert with adaptation strategies to our changing environment― carbon farming has the potential to bring us back from the brink of disaster and return our atmosphere to the “magic number” of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Toensmeier’s book is the first to bring together these powerful strategies in one place, including in-depth analysis of the available research and, where research is lacking, a discussion of what it will take to get us there.

Carbon farming can take many forms. The simplest practices involve modifications to annual crop production. Although many of these modifications have relatively low sequestration potential, they are widely applicable and easily adopted, and thus have excellent potential to mitigate climate change if practiced on a global scale. Likewise, grazing systems such as silvopasture are easily replicable, don’t require significant changes to human diet, and―given the amount of agricultural land worldwide that is devoted to pasture―can be important strategies in the carbon farming arsenal. But by far, agroforestry practices and perennial crops present the best opportunities for sequestration. While many of these systems are challenging to establish and manage, and would require us to change our diets to new and largely unfamiliar perennial crops, they also offer huge potential that has been almost entirely ignored by climate crusaders.

Many of these carbon farming practices are already implemented globally on a scale of millions of hectares. These are not minor or marginal efforts, but win-win solutions that provide food, fodder, and feedstocks while fostering community self-reliance, creating jobs, protecting biodiversity, and repairing degraded land―all while sequestering carbon, reducing emissions, and ultimately contributing to a climate that will remain amenable to human civilization. Just as importantly to a livable future, these crops and practices can contribute to broader social goals such as women’s empowerment, food sovereignty, and climate justice.

The Carbon Farming Solution does not present a prescription for how cropland should be used and is not, first and foremost, a how-to manual, although following up on references in a given section will frequently provide such information. Instead, The Carbon Farming Solution is―at its root―a toolkit. It is the most complete collection of climate-friendly crops and practices currently available. With this toolkit, farmers, communities, and governments large and small, can successfully launch carbon farming projects with the most appropriate crops and practices to their climate, locale, and socioeconomic needs.

Toensmeier’s ultimate goal is to place carbon farming firmly in the center of the climate solutions platform, alongside clean solar and wind energy. With The Carbon Farming Solution, Toensmeier wants to change the discussion, impact policy decisions, and steer mitigation funds to the research, projects, and people around the world who envision a future where agriculture becomes the protagonist in this fraught, urgent, and unprecedented drama of our time. Citizens, farmers, and funders will be inspired to use the tools presented in this important new book to transform degraded lands around the world into productive carbon-storing landscapes.

More on Eric's book

A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security

Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier has kindly allowed us to add information from his book The Carbon Farming Solution to the website. Eric identified 700 plants that can be a critical part of the solution to climate problems. Eric is the award-winning author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and the co-author of Edible Forest Gardens.

You can view the plants in each category by clicking on the relevant button below


Staple Crop

The term staple crop typically refers to a food that is eaten routinely and accounts for a dominant part of people's diets in a particular region of the world. (Chapter 4 of the book)

Basic starch (0-5 percent protein, 0-5 percent oil). Annuals include cassava, sweet potatoes, taro, and yams. Perennials include bananas, plantains, breadfruit, aerial tubers, and starchy trunks.

Balanced carbohydrates (0-15 percent protein, 0-15 percent oil, with at least one over 5 percent). (The carbohydrates are from either starch or sugar.) Annuals include maize, wheat, rice, and potato. Perennials include chestnuts, carob, perennial fruits, nuts, cereals, pseudocereals, woody pods, and acorns.

Protein crops (16+ percent protein, 0-15 percent oil). Annuals include beans, chickpeas, lentils, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Perennials include perennial beans, nuts, leaf protein concentrates, and edible milks.

Protein-oil crops (16+ percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Annuals include soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Perennials include seeds, beans, nuts, and fruits such as almond, Brazil nut, pistachio, walnut, hazel, and safou.

Oil crops (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).

protein-oil protein balanced carb oil sugar


Industrial Crop

Crops grown for non-food uses. Industrial crops provide resources in three main categories: materials, chemicals, and energy. Traditional materials include lumber and thatch, paper and cardboard, and textiles. (Chapter 18 of the book)

biomass tannin medicinal gum dye fiber starch glue hydrocarbon pesticide oil wax vegetable ivory cork soap


Agroforestry Services

Agroforestry Services and Fodder list agroforestry support and livestock fodder uses

nitrogen alley crop windbreak crop shade living fence contour hedgerow living trellis understory legume



bank pasture pod insect mast intensive silvopasture fruit


Other Systems

Lists agroforestry and production systems the crop is reported to be used in.

FMAFS FMNR parkland SRC homegarden multistrata strip intercrop perennial fallow woody agriculture irreg. intercrop dyke-pond evergreen ag dehesa chinampas



Cultivation Status Categories

Plants are classified into nine cultivation status categories in order to distinguish among those that are ready and available now for cultivation, those that are in the midst of research and breeding efforts and may soon be ready for cultivation, and those that are still a glimmer in the eye of hopeful researchers and plant breeders. It's important to draw these distinctions because there are only a few short decades to retreat from the climate tipping point; a plant's readiness for prime time should be a major factor in project development. The nine cultivation status categories are as follows:

1. Global perennial staple and industrial crops (global). These crops are already grown or traded around the world. The annual value of each is more than $1 billion US Examples include coconuts, almonds, and bananas.

2. Minor global perennial staple and industrial crops (minor global). These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

3. Regional perennial staple and industrial crops (regional). These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this large category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

4. Historic perennial staple and industrial crops (historic). These crops were once cultivated but have been abandoned. The reasons for abandonment may include colonization, genocide, market pressures, the arrival of superior crops from elsewhere, and so forth.

5. Wild perennial staple and industrial plants (wild). Some wild plants have strong historic or contemporary use. Although they are not cultivated crops, they may be wild-managed. I have only included wild plants that are relied on as staple foods or industrial feedstocks. Examples include mongongo nuts and North American pinon pines.

6. New perennial staple and industrial crops (new). Most new crops were important wild plants until recently, although some are the result of hybridization. They have been developed in the last few, decades. What they have in common is that they are currently cultivated by farmers. Examples include baobab, argan, and buffalo gourd.

7. Perennial staple and industrial crops under development (under development). Plant breeders are actively working to domesticate these plants for cultivation, but they are not yet commercially available as crops. Examples include most of the perennial cereal grains.

8. Experimental perennial staple and industrial crops (experimental). Plant breeders are testing these plants to see if they could be domesticated for cultivation, but they are still in an experimental phase. Examples include milkweed and leafy spurge.

9. Hypothetical perennial staple and industrial crops (hypothetical). These are perennial plants that could potentially be developed for cultivation. Some, such as cycads (for industrial starch), as simply neglected; others, such as buckwheat and soybeans, are annual crops that could potentially be perennialised by crossing and relatives.

regional crop regional crop only regional timber historic wild staple historic staple historic crop wild staple crop wild crop new crop minor global crop experimental crop beans toxic raw hypothetical crop global crop global fruit crop minor fiber new crop for tubers edible beans mostly wild-collected global crop as annual new perennial crop historic grain crop regional resin crop under development wild-harvested and sold wild-collected as food



Describes the non-destructive management systems that are used in cultivation (Chapter 4 of the book)

standard coppice hay managed multistem fodder