Sustainable agriculture land management is paying off for Kenyan farmers

Conservation farming techniques are improving the livelihoods of many in the community of Ngurumo, Kenya. Photo: P. Casier (CCAFS)

Farmers are wearing many hats these days, as they try to increase yields, reduce soil degradation, adapt to climate change, and mitigate it at the same time. Investors, research organizations, and NGOs are teaming up to help farmers receive additional funding for these noble efforts via the carbon market.

The World Bank BioCarbon Fund developed a methodology to quantify and give credit for the greenhouse gas benefits of sustainable agriculture land management (SALM) practices a few years ago. The BioCarbon Fund, which mobilizes finance to help develop projects that sequester or conserve carbon in agro-ecosystems, was one of the first funds to focus on emission reductions from land use, land-use change and forestry sector.

In late 2011, the BioCarbon Fund methodology for SALMs was approved for use by the Verified Carbon Standard, a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program. To pilot test the new methodology, the World Bank partnered with the Swedish NGO Swedish Cooperative Center, Vi Agroforestry, to create the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project. Vi Agroforestry, which was already actively training local farmers in SALM practices, planned to use the methodology to measure and give credit for greenhouse gas benefits, providing an additional source of revenue for farmers that incentivized sustainable practices.

farmers employing conservation agriculture techniques in NGurumo, Kenya. Photo: P. Casier (CCAFS)  

The results? In the last three years, the project has worked with over 1,500 farmer groups. Farmers learned that they would receive one Verified Carbon Unit (VCU) for every metric ton of greenhouse gas they reduced or removed from the atmosphere. In January, the carbon project issued its first round of carbon credits to these groups for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by almost 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equal to emissions of 5,164 vehicles in a year. The carbon credits could be sold on the open market, and the proceeds used to finance other projects or supplement income.

EcoAgriculture Partners, in partnership with the low-emissions agriculture program of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), has conducted research with this project since 2010 to improve the viability of the carbon project and its benefits for the rural poor in western Kenya. 

To improve the quality of farmer trainers, EcoAgriculture Partners, CCAFS, and the Environmental Resources Management Center for Sustainable Development (ERMCSD) recently partnered up with Vi Agroforestry to produce a manual and set of posters for trainers to use to teach farmers about climate change and SALM practices. The materials cover soil nutrient management, tillage and residue management, agronomic practices, integrated pest management, agroforestry, soil and water management, and improved livestock management. 

Community training in sustainable agriculture land management. Photo: S. Shames (ecoagriculture PArtners)

Seth Shames, who manages EcoAgriculture Partners participation in the project, is excited about the possibilities for farmers in the program.

In the Vi Agroforestry model, extension outreach is intensive in the first three years of a project, and then gradually phased out. Shames says,

While visiting the project earlier this month, the community facilitators emphasized the importance of the training materials to their success in teaching farmers about climate change and the SALM practices. We are monitoring the results of these trainings and their impact on the capacity of the local institutions to better manage the project.”

The long-term success of each project ultimately depends on the development of strong organizations of farmer groups that can sustain a project after the NGO is gone. Through these materials, the organizations involved hope to build the capacity of local institutions to support SALM implementation, community-based monitoring, and management of the “carbon bonus”, so that the project is truly sustainable.

Download the training manual: Sustainable Agriculture Land Management Practices for Climate Change Mitigation

Margie Miller provides communications and outreach support at EcoAgriculture Partners, who are working to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, provide agricultural products sustainably and support viable livelihoods for local people.