May 16, 2012

Making Agriculture "Climate Sustainable"

New Agriculturist‘s May issue of stories and news pieces focuses on “climate sustainable agriculture.” It looks at how within agriculture, productivity is being increase and farmers’ income improved, all while increasing resilience and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Below is a modified version of one of the articles, specifically focused on the Vi-Agroforestry Western Kenya soil carbon project. This project is the first of its kind, approaching farmland as an important “functioning ecosystem” within the context of the larger landscape, and aiming to scale up the efforts to more areas within Africa.

In early 2012, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) approved the very first methodology for soil carbon sequestration through the use of sustainable agricultural land management (SALM) practices. The methodology was developed by the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund to enable smallholder farmers in Western Kenya to adopt improved farming techniques, boost productivity, increase their resilience to climate change, and earn carbon credits. Implemented by the NGO Vi Agroforestry in 2007, the pilot project now involves more than 60,000 smallholders farming 45,000 hectares of land in the districts of Kisumu and Kitale.

Kisumu and Kitale are located in the Lake Victoria Basin, which contains an abundance of water resources. Yet the region faces considerable environmental strain from agricultural land degradation, deforested and degraded water catchments, agricultural chemicals, and urban waste. Increasing populations place additional pressure on already degraded soils while extreme poverty and climate change will further compound the challenges in the region.

To address these insecurities, Vi Agroforestry began testing the idea that carbon finance projects could not only improve agricultural practices of farmers in very poor and degraded rural areas, but also add income from carbon credits for  soil carbon. According to Bo Lager, Programme Director with Vi Agroforestry, the project “strives to maintain and restore degraded farmland into a functioning ecosystem in the landscape, which is crucial for resilience to climate change, production of ecosystem services, and food security.” Farmers, primarily growing maize, have since adopted a suite of agricultural practices known to sequester carbon, including manure management, use of cover crops, returning composted crop residues to the fields and planting trees.

Designed as a climate change mitigation project, the improvements in crop yields (expected 50-100% increases), soil health and water holding capacity, and overall agricultural profitability contribute substantially to the resilience of these smallholder farmers. Increased resistance to drought, diversified income from tree products, and reduced dependence on fertilisers and pesticides all add to the adaptive capacity of the farmers. There are also a number of social benefits, including the potential for improved community cohesion, community organisation strength, and new opportunities for women and youth, particularly in the development of tree nurseries.

The first payments will be distributed in 2012 and crediting is planned through to 2029. Bridging the financial barrier to transition practices, these payments are seen as the first step to more permanent implementation of SALM practices that ultimately result in better yields and higher income. Having completed the first phase of the project, project sustainability will depend on the successful transfer of management responsibilities away from Vi Agroforestry staff to community organisations. ” The experience of the project so far has been encouraging,” Larger concludes, “and there is optimism about the opportunity to use the same SALM methodology in other African countries.”

Read the full article online.

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