February 26, 2014

Kenyan Farmers’ Soil Carbon Sequestration Builds Resilience to Climate Change

Krista Heiner, EcoAgriculture Partners John Recha, SANREM-Africa Louis Wertz, EcoAgriculture Partners Amos Wekesa

In January 2014, farm households in Kisumu and Kitale, Kenya became the first Africans to earn carbon credits generated in part from soil carbon sequestration. Farmers in these western Kenyan communities are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate.  Significant changes are becoming more frequent, such as water scarcity, rainfall variability, emerging pests and diseases, and extreme weather events like floods. Agriculture is sensitive to these changes, especially on the highly degraded landscapes in western Kenya. Smallholder farmers in this area rely directly on rain-fed agriculture to meet their household needs, including food. Changes in rainfall threaten their very subsistence.

However, sustainable agricultural land management practices, such as the use of crop residues for mulching and composting, manure application, water harvesting, terracing, and tree planting help buffer these farmers from climate variability while increasing farm yields and sequestering carbon in the soil. And now farmers have even begun to earn extra income by selling carbon mitigation credits to an international market, which further improves their ability to weather bad growing seasons.

Photo by Seth Shames/EcoAgriculture Partners.

Photo by Seth Shames/EcoAgriculture Partners.

The Kenya Agricultural Carbon project, managed by the Swedish NGO Vi Agroforestry, is the first test case of the Voluntary Carbon Standard methodology for certifying soil carbon on small farms. As of January 2014, family farmers in Kisumu and Kitale have generated a reduction of 24,708 metric tons of carbon dioxide while improving their yields and adapting to the changing climate, becoming the first Africans to earn carbon credits generated in part from soil sequestration.

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

Through participatory research, project managers determined that building the capacity of local institutions to manage the project would increase the long-term development benefits, as well as reduce costs. In the past several years, they have been working to build the capacity of community resource persons to train other farmers – especially women – how to adapt their farming practices to a changing climate by sequestering carbon in the soil.

To do this, project managers have jointly written a field manual entitled, “Sustainable Agriculture Land Management Practices for Climate Change Mitigation: A training guide for smallholder farmers in western Kenya” that will be used by Vi-Agroforestry staff to train community facilitators on implementing and managing sustainable agriculture and land management (SALM) activities on their farms. In addition, the project managers hope that the training guide will serve as a tool for community resource persons as they recruit and train other farmers on SALM practices. The goal of this project is to increase the number of farmers in Kitale and Kisumu who are adapting and building resilience to climate change, while sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes. Selling soil carbon credits is just one piece of that effort.


  • Oscar Simon Rodriguez Parisca
    February 26, 2014 at 6:52pm

    It will be interesting to have access to the field guide, eventhough, local conditions widely vary to other locations. Please, let me know if it can be downloaded from some address. Thanks

  • PSBaker
    February 26, 2014 at 3:03pm

    How much are they earning from credits per hectare per year?

    • kheiner
      February 28, 2014 at 6:00pm

      Good question. It is estimated that farmers receive a carbon bonus of $2.50 per hectare per year, but it seems that the many other benefits of adopting SALM practices, including the increased productivity of the land and improved resilience to climate change, are the major motivations for many farmers.

  • Kame Westerman
    February 26, 2014 at 1:48pm

    Thanks for this blog – good work!

    I wonder if you could comment on how traditional gender roles factor into your work in Kenya. As the photo demonstrates, women are very much involved in small holder agricultural farms in Africa, yet are too often left out of management or decision-making. And an additional element here is the income derived from the sustainable land practices – how is that income being distributed to families? is there any way to ensure that this income is being shared equally within the household? How is the training for SALM practices incorporating specific elements to ensure both men and women are able to participate and benefit?

    • kheiner
      March 3, 2014 at 9:45am

      Great question, Kame! Gender roles have been a concern throughout our work. As you mentioned, women provide much of the labor associated with the carbon projects’ agricultural practices, and issues related to women’s land tenure, benefit sharing, participation and leadership in the carbon project were considered throughout the design and implementation of the project. As far as the training goes, specific investments were made to make sure that women were able to participate in the training sessions, like timing the sessions in the afternoon and during specific seasons. Additionally, women were targeted to serve as community facilitators and serve in leadership positions within community groups that make decisions about the carbon project. Finally, practices that resulted in increased benefits for women, such as planting trees that provide firewood, shade, fruits, and fodder, were emphasized.

  • Linked from How Can We Meet Global Food Needs while Lowering Emissions? | Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Blog   April 18 9:53am

    […] and have already seen successes in obtaining carbon offset credits for agriculture by Kenya’s Vi Agroforestry and the role of business and Community Markets for Conservation in creating value added products […]