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The foundations for climate-smart agriculture in Africa

New Working Paper finds that the largest amount of GHG emissions come from the livestock sector in East and West Africa. Photo: ILRI/Stevie Mann
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Mar 9, 2012

by

Cecilia

Written by Sandra Brown and Alexandre Grais

At the latest UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Durban, COP17, Kofi Annan the former UN Secretary General, pointed to ‘Climate Smart Agriculture' as a way for Africa to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts and boost food security. The growing demand for food to meet the needs of the growing population will be exacerbated by potential changes in climate that will impact agricultural production systems. Simultaneously there is a demand for mitigating climate change through actions that decrease emissions or increase sequestration that can also affect agricultural production. On top of this is the internationally proposed REDD+ mechanism that will also affect agricultural practices because expansion of agriculture is a major driver of deforestation in many countries. Any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation will necessarily require a reduction of agricultural expansion. To accomplish these seemingly divergent goals for forest protection and feeding a rapidly growing population, existing agricultural practices must be improved to increase yields and production.

The key question then becomes: How can we ensure that agriculture maintain or increase food supply while reducing net greenhouse gas emissions?

In one of CCAFS latest working papers “Baseline GHG Emissions from the Agricultural Sector and Mitigation Potential in Countries of East and West Africa” (PDF), researchers from Winrock International attempted to address this important dilemma. They started out by estimating the business-as-usual emissions of greenhouse gases for four East African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; and five West African countries—Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Senegal. Then examined the annual quantity of CO2 equivalents per ha that could be sequestered in soil and vegetation (agroforests and native ecosystems) above business-as-usual for several potential mitigation options across the nine countries. The main findings were that:

  • The total amount of GHG emissions from the nine African countries was almost 129 million t CO2 equivalents per year in the mid-2000s.
  • The largest amount of GHG emissions was from the livestock sector, mostly methane from enteric fermentation as expected (83% of the total), followed by emissions from soils due to the conversion of native ecosystems to cropland (11% of the total).
  • Despite the large area of grazing lands burned each year (about 9 million ha), the emissions of CH4 and N2O, as CO2, represent about 4% of total emissions.
  • Emissions from use of nitrogen fertilizer are lower than all other sources and represent less than 1% of the total emissions, so there is potential to significantly increase fertilization of croplands to increase productivity and thus decrease the need to deforest new lands resulting in a viable greenhouse gas mitigation option.
  • There is mitigation potential through improving soil C sequestration from changes in soil management, and even greater potential when combined with agroforestry practices, but a better understanding of present practices and how these can be realistically changed is needed.

This working paper lays the ground work to explore where climate change mitigation actions can be taken in these nine countries without compromising their food security. Read more about CCAFS research on climate change mitigation under Theme 3: Pro-poor Climate Change Mitigation or our latest report "Towards Policies for Climate Change Mitigation: Incentives and benefits for smallholder farmers" (PDF).


Sandra Brown, PhD, is the Director and Chief Scientist for the Ecosystems Services Unit of Winrock International. Alexandre Grais is a Climate Change Mitigation Specialist in the Ecosystem Services Unit of Winrock International.