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Quantifying smallholder GHG emissions & SAMPLES

Student from Maseno University explains a maize experiment currently being carried out by SAMPLES. Photo: K.Foster (ICRAF)
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Smallholder farmers and climate change: information and informed practices

Smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Yet little is known about either the contribution of smallholder systems to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or how smallholder farmers can mitigate GHG emissions or sequester carbon, and benefit from doing so.

Thus, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is prioritizing research to gather needed data on emissions and to provide analysis of that data to inform smallholder farmers and national policy-makers of the most effective climate-smart agricultural practices. 



Standard Assessment of Mitigation Potential and Livelihoods in Smallholder Systems (SAMPLES) conducts research with the objective to quantify GHG emissions from smallholder farms around the world in order to identify agricultural practices that will increase smallholder farmers' food security while also mitigating climate change through reduced GHG emissions and/or increased carbon sequestration. SAMPLES takes a four-fold approach. 

First, CCAFS is working with local partners to measure and document what farmers do and how those activities contribute to GHG emissions. In Kenya, researchers are looking at a wide range of farm activities, from the crops people grow to the way they manage livestock and manure. For example, different local breeds of cattle, feeding regimes and forages affect methane emissions, and scientists are finding that with GHG emission reduction and food security can be achieved. In Bangladesh, Colombia, the Philippines, and Vietnam alternative wetting and drying (AWD) and intensive rice production offer significant mitigation potential, without decreasing yields and while saving farmers' time and water resources.  The Philippines example is described in the box below.

The second focus of SAMPLES is  identifying hotspots: priority farming systems with great potential for mitigation actions.

Third, SAMPLES aims to increase the amount of GHG emission information available worldwide by reducing the costs of research. Measuring GHG emissions has been technically demanding and expensive, but SAMPLES is helping by working with partner countries to develop the laboratories and facilities they need and to train the next generation of scientists. SAMPLES also partners with the Climate Food and Farming Network (CLIFF) project to sponsor field work by students with advanced degrees. Finally, SAMPLES scientists are developing and testing less-expensive measurement methodologies like gas pooling

Fourth, SAMPLES is developing a protocol for standard assessments that will be shared worldwide. In the past, measurements in different places have employed different protocols and techniques, preventing wider applicability of the data. SAMPLES is developing new, low-cost measurement methods and seeking consensus among researchers for their use, which will result in data being comparable across research sites and thus much more valuable.

Eight CGIAR Centers are now contributing to SAMPLES: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), nternational Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI),  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Find a complete list of publications from SAMPLES researchers here.

Please contact Meryl Richards for more information about SAMPLES.

Quantification in Developing Countries

Scientific consensus on quantification of greenhouse gases increased through the 2013 of a special issue of the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters, a joint effort of CCAFS and Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The articles offer a vision of an improved system for quantifying GHG emissions in smallholder agriculture and show that targeted investments in improved methods to gather data could result in dramatic and quick improvements in GHG reductions, while also meeting global food needs.

Small-Holder Agriculture Mitigation Benefits Assessment (SHAMBA)

Options for smallholders to access finance for agricultural GHG mitigation interventions are currently limited to compliance-grade carbon-offset schemes, including the sale of carbon credits verified by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). However, the precision of GHG accounting required by the VCS prevents its use by many smallholder farmers.

Link: Overcoming the risk of inaction from emissions uncertainty in smallholder agriculture

To provide an alternative source of mitigation finance for projects working to introduce climate-smart agricultural practices to smallholder farmers, the University of Edinburgh  and partners developed the SHAMBA tool. The SHAMBA GHG accounting approaches strike a balance between providing sufficient assurance that mitigation benefits have been achieved and ensuring that the maximum amount of mitigation finance raised is devoted to activities that improve livelihoods. The methodology is easy-to-use and broadly applicable to assess and monitor mitigation benefits achieved by smallholders who change to agricultural practices with mitigation benefits.

With support from CCAFS and other partners, the SHAMBA methodology is currently being reviewed by the Plan Vivo Foundation for acceptance as a methodology for projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the goal of having a web-based tool for displaying and querying mitigatin benefits. Projects working with smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa will be able to use SHAMBA to assess and monitor the mitigation benefits of their activities, and access mitigation finance through the sale of Plan Vivo credits, without the need to rely on technical experts or consultants.

To support monitoring of mitigation benefits and to make links between mitigation and livelihoods, SHAMBA draws on the work of SAMPLES.

Read more about SHAMBA in Malawi.

Climate-Smart Villages

Climate-smart villages are sites where researchers, local partners, and farmers collaborate to evaluate and maximize synergies across a portfolio of climate-smart agricultural interventions. We aim to improve farmers’ income and resilience to climatic risks and boost their ability to adapt to climate change, while also gaining mitigation benefits from reduced GHG emissions and increased carbon sequestration..

Researchers, local partners, farmers’ groups and policy makers collaborate to select the most appropriate technological and institutional interventions based on global knowledge and local conditions to enhance productivity, increase incomes, achieve
climate resilience and enable climate mitigation.

Please contact Julianna White for more information about Climate-Smart Villages.

From Farm to Landscape

Initial climate and agriculture research did not incorporate small-scale farms or landscape approaches. To address this knowledge gap, CCAFS researchers focus on individual farms and over the larger landscape in which those farms are located, allowing accounting of interactions among different sources and sinks. For example, trees can be a source of GHG emissions if they are burned or eaten by livestock, and they can be a sink for carbon if they are allowed to stand and grow. In the past, researchers from different disciplines would study cattle and plants separately, but with the landscape approach, researchers study how plants and cattle interact with one another to affect GHG emissions. Find more information, please read:

CCAFS Report: Methods for the quantification of emissions at the landscape level for developing countries in smallholder contexts

CCAFS Working Paper: Baseline GHG emissions from the agricultural sector in East and West Africa

The power of trees for GHG mitigation: climate change agriculture and food security

a landscape approach recognises the many different ways we can assess an agroforestry system 

Smallholder farmers are unlikely to make production choices based on mitigation; mitigation will occur only as a co-benefit of practices that directly benefit their farms and families. Researchers believe that good agricultural practices and mitigation can go hand in hand, with fewer emissions per unit of production. Trees in agroforestry systems, for example, can physically protect the crops beneath them from the worst of violent weather. They can also sequester carbon, increase soil fertility, and provide forage for livestock and fuelwood for sale. And farmers who use fertilizers carefully can save themselves money while at the same time lowering emissions of nitrous oxide.

Partnerships for impact

The same standard assessments of mitigation potential that will assist smallholder farmers directly will also help national policy makers to produce more effective plans to guide low-emissions development, because information derived from better measurements will feed into the larger-scale decision-support tools that CCAFS and partners are producing for them. High-level policy interest is crucially important, and the Global Research Alliance (GRA) on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases is taking a keen interest in CCAFS research. Because the GRA is a country-level organization, it helps to ensure that the latest research results inform national and regional policies.

Please find a full list of Low-Emissions Agriculture publications here.

Key Links and Resources:

Visit the SAMPLES website
Download the flyer here

Watch a video seminar on SAMPLES

For more information about CCAFS quantification research, please contact Julianna White