Carbon Footprint and the Production of Potatoes Requires Taking Note of Uncertainties

A carbon footprint is a concept that is being applied in a variety of contexts, including agriculture. This concept is important because it relates to climate change. The potato was chosen to be studied by Roos et al. (2010), because it was a staple national crop. The study showed that it was not an easy task finding out the carbon footprint of potatoes due to the high uncertainty levels involved with parameters. The researchers found out that there are limitations associated with the implementation of the concept of carbon footprint, namely the uncertainty levels associated with variables. They concluded by stating that the Climate Labelling for Food had the best value in terms of production of carbon dioxide but encourage the on-going use of uncertainty analysis. Furthermore, they recommend the usage of uncertainty analysis to ensure further understanding of carbon footprint as a concept. – Nitya Chhiber

Roos, E., Sundberg, C., Hansson, P., 2010. Uncertainties in the carbon footprint of food products: a case study on table potatoes. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 15, 478–488.

Roos et al. (2010)  had the desire to study the uncertainties associated with carbon footprint of the potato in order to apply the results on the real-world implementation of carbon footprint, which was via a labeling system. There were no uncertainties in the methods used; instead there were uncertainties associated with finding out the carbon footprint of the potato as there are so many variables, especially those categorized under Activity Data (AD) that affect it and that are in turn difficult to measure. As a result, there is a high degree of uncertainty associated with each variable. In the study, the variety of processes that contributed to the carbon footprint of the potato were the nitrogen dioxide content in soil, the carbon dioxide content in soil, fertilizer production, the packaging, seed distribution, fuel tillage and some others. In order to ensure that all parameters were considered from the agricultural aspect of growing the potato to the time the potato reaches the consumer, another category of parameters was also considered known as Emission Factors (EF), which consisting emissions from soil, emissions from transport and production of inputs, and finally emissions from the transport of the final goods.
It was found out that two parameters, yield and nitrogen content in soil, affected the carbon footprint. Furthermore, it was recognized that decreasing yield will reduce carbon footprint. The authors also acknowledged the need to set up a system that will take into account a variety of conditions that affect soil apart from nitrogen content. The results show that the amount of carbon released from a regular two-kilogram paper bag is higher than the amount of carbon released from packaging following the Climate Labeling Food Project guidelines. Such a discrepancy between the values of carbon highlights the drawbacks of using carbon footprint as a concept. Such a drawback needs to be considered when setting up a system identifying the carbon footprint of agricultural crops.

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