Getting the measurements right - a new platform for agricultural emissions data

Improving GHG monitoring is a matter of including local knowledge on land use. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)
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SAMPLES is a framework which aims to fill the gap in current greenhouse gas emissions monitoring in tropical developing countries.

Climate change is a hot topic in Paris this year. The City of Light is not only hosting the Our Common Future Under Climate Change science conference this week. It will also be anchoring the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, in December.

Yesterday at the science conference, Meryl Richards of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) debuted two new tools to improve understanding of agricultural emissions and mitigation options: measurement guidelines and a data platform. 

Both the guidelines and platform are products of the Standard Assessment of Agricultural Mitigation Potential and Livelihoods (SAMPLES) project, which began in late 2012.

Richards, who is a Science Officer in the Low Emissions Agriculture flagship program at CCAFS, explained that “the purpose of this project is to improve data and measurement and monitoring methods for greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.”

The project's focus is on agriculture in tropical developing countries, for which the present data situation is particularly bad. So bad indeed, that tropical countries are forced to rely on data from temperate regions, which may not be accurate for tropical soils, crops and animals according to Richards.

This gap translates into high uncertainty about current and past emissions and consequently lessens developing countries’ overall ability to monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and, more importantly, assess the potential mitigation co-benefits of agricultural development.

Related: A new study finds that helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change can also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Richards, one of the underlying problems is that "agricultural landscapes in the tropics tend to be highly heterogeneous.” However, CCAFS scientists from CIFOR, ILRI, ICRAF and partners found a way to combine GIS data and remote sensing data, with locally-sourced information on agricultural management, to stratify the landscapes into different kinds of land use types.

These homogeneous landscape units are then used to get representative samples of the landscape when measuring emissions. This allows capturing the heterogeneity of the regions in question and also to estimate point measurements to the landscape.

The methodology, as well as guidelines for measurement of other agricultural sources and sinks, are available on the SAMPLES website.

Research done over the last two years has also improved our understanding of agricultural practices that can reduce emissions while improving farm productivity and profitability.  We’ve also learned where potential trade-offs might occur. For example, a recently published analysis revealed that conservation agriculture practices in rice-wheat systems of southern Asia can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10-15%, reduce production cost by up to 23% while maintaining yields, and buffer crops against higher temperatures", said Meryl Richards.

However, the right people need to get access to the data. “Better greenhouse gas data is only useful if it can be accessed by those who need it: compilers of national inventories and developers of mitigation plans and projects who need to monitor emissions,” explains Richards.

To this end, data from field measurements will be available on the SAMPLES data platform, which Richard describes as “a place to share metadata and emission factors from agricultural greenhouse gas research. Anyone can download or upload data, and we encourage contributions from anyone conducting greenhouse gas measurements from agriculture.”

Find out more about SAMPLES on the platform's website and on this research in action flyer.