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Food production accounts for one quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. While the burning of rainforests has grabbed attention in recent years, there is growing recognition that the loss of peatland also matters. Peatlands, which include fens, bogs, and mires, make up about 3 per cent of the world's land but hold a lot of carbon.
They contain a type of soil called peat, which forms in waterlogged areas when dead vegetation doesn't fully decompose. This enables peatlands to store twice as much carbon as the world's forests. But peat is also good for growing crops on. That means draining the land which then starts to release its carbon.
Peat is also extracted for use in horticulture and to be burned for fuel. Sometimes, efforts to clear land by burning set light to the underlying peat. Conservation group The Global Peatlands Initiative says that emissions from peat fires in Indonesia in 2015 generated more carbon dioxide than that year's total for Japan from all sources.
Scientists estimate that drained or burned peatland makes up between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Europe is the continent in which the greatest overall area of peatland has been drained over the centuries. Records of drainage in the Netherlands date back to the 8th century. But southeast Asia is closing the gap. It now accounts for half of global peatland emissions.
As net-zero-minded governments wake up to peatland's value as a carbon store, ecologists are studying potential solutions. In eastern England, for example, home to some of the UK's most productive farmland, research is going on into rewetting. Schemes could include helping farmers to take up so-called paludiculture, also known as 'wet farming'.
One possible crop is sphagnum moss, which can be made into compost that could prove lucrative, as the government considers banning the sale of horticultural peat. And rewetting doesn't have to be all or nothing. Research published last year in the journal Nature found that just halving the depth of the water table in the world's drained agricultural peatlands could deliver a 1 per cent cut in all manmade greenhouse gas emissions.
Better peat management can help save the planet but that need not be at the expense of food production.