During a trip to a remote village in south India in 2016, Aadith Moorthy witnessed a funeral procession he wouldn’t forget: That of a farmer who had taken his own life. He would later learn that the failure of monsoon rains had caused the region’s crop yields to drop. It made him think about the devastation climate change could deliver farmers—along with how technology could be deployed to reverse its harms.
It’s also what let Moorthy to found Boomitra. Today, the San Mateo, California-based agtech startup is pioneering a new business model to compensate farmers for using sustainable soil practices—by operating what it calls an international soil carbon marketplace.
Boomitra aims to increase carbon sequestration, or the practice of capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, in agricultural soil. To do that, the company, whose name means “friend of earth” in Sanskrit, partners with more than 150,000 farmers and ranchers across Africa, South America, and Asia to shift to regenerative land practices.
Proponents argue these sustainable practices can improve soil health, which in turn helps the lands bank carbon. As the farmers turn to regenerative techniques, Boomitra uses satellite technology and AI to monitor carbon increases in their soil, which are then third-party verified as carbon removal credits. Companies and governments who are looking to offset their carbon emissions can buy carbon credits from Boomitra, and the majority of the revenue from each credit goes directly to the farmers and ranchers.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that storing carbon in the soils can reduce carbon dioxide at the lowest cost to people—$0 to $100 per ton—and estimates that that practice could remove between two and five gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2050. For comparison, the world’s power plants released 32.5 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2017.
Cropland takes up 10% of the earth’s land, and adopting more regenerative practices is an effective means for locking carbon in its soil. With one strategy, farmers can add more carbon to agricultural soils by planting “cover crops” like clover, beans, and peas after their main crop is harvested, which helps soils store carbon year-round. Another involves less-intensive tilling, because breaking up soil can release stored carbon back into the atmosphere.
Boomitra hopes to support these strategic changes via technology. Farmers can use a Boomitra-run app that allows them to track soil carbon levels alongside their cover crops and soil tillage. The idea has resonated with investors, too: Boomitra has received $6 million in seed investing from investors including Chevron Technology Ventures and SVG Ventures-Thrive.
The startup is still in the early stages of fulfilling its mission. Right now the projects are getting third-party certified, and once that’s verified in coming months, the company tells Quartz, finances will be sent to farmers and ranchers.
This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023, a series that spotlights the people deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good across the globe. Find the full list here.