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Triple Win of Climate-Smart Agriculture put into Practice

March 8, 2011


Kenyan farmer, Maurice Kwadha, interacts with Andrew Steer, Special Envoy on Climate Change, The World Bank. 

Peter Warutere/World Bank

  • About 60,000 farmers in the Kisumu and Kitale regions of western Kenya are participating in the first agricultural soil carbon project.
  • The project has helped transform small scale farming by letting farmers practice climate-smart agriculture and improve their livelihoods.
  • By adopting climate-smart agriculture techniques, the farmers are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of their crops to drought, and creating stronger soils that sequester more carbon.

Africa’s first agricultural soil carbon project changes Kenyan lives. Tom Odhiambo and Maurice Kwadha are small-scale farmers in western Kenya, and they understand all too well the impact of climate change on their local environment and food production. On just one acre of land inherited from his father, Tom and his wife Mary practice improved agricultural practices, which have enabled them to increase yields and make more money than other smallholder farmers in this hot and dry environment.

Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, witnessed firsthand how “climate smart” agriculture is transforming small scale farming and improving the livelihoods of poor farmers, thanks to the support of the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund (BioCF) and Africa Region.

"These farmers have adopted new farming techniques and as a result are benefiting from a triple win in agriculture," said Steer during a field visit to Kisumu near Lake Victoria. "They are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of their crops to drought and creating stronger soils that sequester more carbon."

Steer recently spent a day at the site of an agricultural soil carbon project in Kombewa in the outskirts of Kisumu. He was accompanied by Patrick Verkooijen, the Bank’s new coordinator for climate-smart agriculture, the World Bank’s regional focal point Johannes Woelcke and Bo Lager, the project coordinator of SCC-Vi Agroforestry— the Swedish Cooperative which is implementing the project.

Odhiambo and Kwadha are among 60,000 farmers in the Kisumu and Kitale regions participating in the first agricultural soil carbon project in the world supported by the BioCF and -Vi Agroforestry.

"This land was bare beforehand, but with support of this project I have improved it through mulching, inter-cropping and application of manure," said Odhiambo, who has a remarkable mix of maize, bean, groundnuts, bananas, sweet potatoes and cassava on this small plot of land. He also has planted trees on the edges of his "shamba," which provide fodder for his one cow, act as wind-breakers and when mature, will provide both firewood and fencing poles. The project demonstrates that there is significant potential to support Africa’s agriculture and rural development through the "triple-win" of increased productivity, enhanced climate resilience and greenhouse gas mitigation.

" These farmers have adopted new farming techniques and as a result are benefiting from a triple win in agriculture. They are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of their crops to drought and creating stronger soils that sequester more carbon. "

Andrew Steer

Special Envoy on Climate Change, The World Bank

Farmers in western Kenya are learning that there is a range of improved technologies and management practices available which can simultaneously lead to higher productivity, better water harvesting and retention, improved efficiency in the use of water. Such practices enable farmers to adapt to climate variability and change, address the increasing irregularity of rainfall patterns, and finally, combat climate change by sequestering carbon, particularly in soils. The potential for carbon sequestration at the global level is estimated at 5.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually - a significant contribution to global mitigation efforts. In addition to agroforestry, the concept of a “triple win” is particularly promising for Africa in sectors such as integrated water management, multi-purpose water storage facilities, sustainable intensification, low-tillage agriculture, integrated soil fertility management, improved weather information, weather-based risk insurance and better land-use planning.

Recognizing the strong potential of the ‘triple win’ in agriculture, a number of next steps are essential. A robust but cost-effective methodology showing how emission reductions are measured and monitored is being developed. In agriculture, the main mitigation potential is based on the amount of soil carbon that is sequestered. But the monitoring of these net emission reductions does not necessarily involve expensive soil carbon measurements. The Kenya project demonstrates that cost-effective carbon accounting methods are available using a ‘farmer self-assessment approach’ where improved agriculture practices are verified by independent third parties. The amount of carbon sequestered is calculated using default values for carbon stock changes depending on agro-ecological zones and soil types. In the case of the project in western Kenya, a new methodology was developed and has been submitted to the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) for approval. Once approved, it can be used by any project developer for replication.

Another important piece of the puzzle is that, although the mitigation potential of soil carbon is substantial, the mitigation potential per unit area of land is comparatively small. Such an approach requires institutions, such as farmer cooperatives, to have the capacity to aggregate emission reductions from several small areas. In Kenya, smallholder farmer groups are able to access the carbon market and realize an additional carbon revenue stream by working together.

While projects such as Vi Agroforestry are important, and are being developed for the voluntary carbon market, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) also neglects agriculture carbon and much still needs to be done for the continent to fully see the fruits of a ‘triple win’. Further progress on CDM reform to benefit Africa is needed, as well as advances in access to information, carbon markets, investment, institution-building, and financing which can be pursued through actions complementing the negotiations undertaken by the UNFCCC.

Also, the World Bank is increasing support to agriculture by 60%, focusing on reducing risk and vulnerability, raising agricultural productivity, linking farmers to markets and strengthening value addition and enhancing environmental services and sustainability. Climate-smart agriculture is today squarely on the agenda for Africa and is expected to be a key focus of the climate change summit later in the year in Durban, South Africa.