Kenya is rolling out the first programme of its kind in Africa to encourage smallholder farmers in the country to adopt improved farming techniques and boost productivity in ways that will also see them earn carbon credits. The soil carbon methodology, developed by the World Bank in partnership with the Smallholder Agriculture Carbon Finance Project run by Swedish non-government organisation Vi Agroforestry, has been approved by the Verified Carbon Standard. It represents a new approach for sustainable agricultural land management (SALM) practices.
The project focuses on helping farmers adopt practices that increase the amount of carbon in soil and biomass on agricultural lands. As these practices build up the soil’s organic matter, they increase resilience to climate change effects and help store more carbon in the soil.
The new methods will allow project developers to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions reductions gained through SALM practices. As well as reversing soil degradation and boosting yields and productivity, this will allow farmers to earn carbon credits.
Farmers in western Kenya experience the often dire effects of climate change every day, through drought and the decline of soil fertility that can be severe enough to threaten their livelihoods. The World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit’s BioCarbon Fund supported a pilot scheme run by Vi Agroforestry involving more than 60,000 shareholders farming 45,000 hectares of land in western Kenya. All farmers within the six divisions of the project were able to obtain access to advisory services, with positive results noticeable almost immediately.
“This land was bare beforehand, but with the support of this project I have improved it through mulching, inter-cropping and application of manure,” said Kisumu farmer Tom Odhiambo, who grows maize, groundnuts, bananas, sweet potatoes and cassava on his small plot of land.
“My farm was like a football field, but now you can see the difference,” said West Gem farmer Grace Agola, part of the Kamsao Women’s Group. “I have realised improved yields and am able to sell farm produce and get money which I use in micro-finance activities within the group.”
“Project farmers are increasing soil carbon and organic matter through mulching, cover crops, manure and plant waste management” in order to combat erosion and enrich degraded soil, said Bo Lager, Programme Director at Vi Agroforestry. “Carbon finance has the potential to leverage climate-smart agriculture. The methodology is very generic, which means it can be scaled up to various agro-ecological regions in Africa.”
“The most important contribution is the increased yield the farmers are experiencing from practicing climate-smart agriculture,” he said.
“These farmers have adopted new farming techniques and as a result are benefiting from a triple win in agriculture,” said Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s Special Envoy on Climate Change during a visit to one of the divisions in Kisumu. “They are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of their crops to drought and creating stronger soils that sequester more carbon.”
The new practices improve soil water infiltration and holding capacity along with soil biodiversity and nutrient supply.
Better soils raise farm yields and incomes, therefore improving food security and making agriculture more likely to cope with the effects of climate change. Further SALM techniques such as reducing ploughing also reduce the release of carbon dioxide.
“Smallholders can earn carbon credits for that,” says Lager. “Carbon finance helps make the project financially sustainable.” In the past carbon finance has not been employed for rural development, but experts agree that soil carbon has the potential to be of great importance to soil fertility and sustainable agriculture in rural Africa. It also provides a link between these and climate change mitigation on the continent.
“The SALM methodology is a major step forward,” said Professor Pete Smith, a Convening Lead Author for the IPCC, based at Aberdeen University, UK. “Most importantly, it extends carbon finance to smallholders. It also enables cost-effective monitoring of soil productivity improvements, which can be particularly difficult across remote farms in developing countries.”
This is the first approved methodology for agricultural soil practices generating carbon credits, and is one of 38 approved methodologies developed by the World Bank to date. All are freely available to project designers. Simple yet robust and cost effective, SALM enables developers to design projects that enhance agricultural productivity while creating incentives for carbon storage in soils worldwide. The BioCarbon Fund now plans to roll out the methodology across the whole of developing Africa.
"The World Bank's methodology will help small scale farmers access global carbon market whilst improving crop production over the long run," said Dr. Robert J. Hrubes, Senior Vice President of Scientific Certification Systems. "It's a win-win for farmers."
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter