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Finding solutions for climate change mitigation that benefit small farmers

Farmers in Ghana could save up to 1 million tons of carbon a year (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Farmers in Ghana could save up to 1 million tons of carbon a year
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Smallholder farmers need more income and the world needs to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Although both of these needs can be met through carbon markets, it's notoriously difficult to link smallholder farmers to these markets. Researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are working in four countries to assess the contribution that small farmers can make to carbon markets and ways to link them to these markets.

Climate friendly agriculture

Greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced and carbon sequestered through the adoption of climate-friendly agronomic practices - for example crop-residue management and no-tillage farming - and through improved use of organic and chemical fertilisers. By 'trading' carbon stored or emissions reduced, a carbon market provides a means to turn this useful activity into a profitable one. In a carbon market, a wealthy emitter who does not want to pay the high cost of reducing emissions pays someone else to reduce enough emissions to offset their pollution.

"With the proper financial incentives," explains Alex De Pinto, a senior researcher at IFPRI, "smallholder farmers in developing countries could reduce emissions and sequester carbon while generating much-needed income." But carbon markets, currently dominated by developed and emerging economies and industrial sectors, have not been designed to include smallholder farmers with tiny plots, sometimes in remote areas. "It is difficult to design a way to effectively and predictably measure and track how much carbon these farmers reduce or store," De Pinto adds. "Without such a system, it is difficult for farmers to join such markets."

De Pinto and colleagues, including Senior IFPRI Research Fellows Claudia Ringler and Gerald Nelson, are examining agricultural systems and their policies in Ghana, Morocco, Mozambique, and Vietnam to determine which agronomic practices have the highest climate change mitigation potential and possible ways for smallholder farmers to take advantage of carbon markets.

In Vietnam, key mitigation strategies include alternative wetting and drying (© Mai Van Trinh)
In Vietnam, key mitigation strategies include alternative wetting and drying
© Mai Van Trinh

A combination of on-site measurements and crop-modelling simulations were used to assess the mitigation potential of smallholders in Ghana and Mozambique where very little, if any, organic or inorganic fertiliser is used and smallholders rely on the soil fertility regenerating power of a long fallow period. In collaboration with scientists at the Soil Research Institute in Ghana and at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, IFPRI researchers found that, adjusting applications of manure, nitrogen fertiliser, and crop residue management, farmers in Ghana could save up to about 1 million tons of carbon a year and, in Mozambique, up to about 600,000 tons. These amounts could translate into significant earnings in a carbon market: Ghana could earn up to US$38 million a year and Mozambique up to US$24 million*.

Advantage Vietnam

With high use of inorganic fertiliser and a focus on rice production, Vietnam has an even greater potential for climate change mitigation. Key mitigation strategies could include alternative wetting and drying (AWD) and direct seeding of rice, which both considerably reduce methane emissions. AWD, for example, could reduce emissions by 63 million metric tons CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), with potential gains for farmers of US$627 million annually.

Many farmers are already using these potentially lucrative mitigation options to reduce production costs and increase yields. For example, dry seeding for the spring rice crop in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam is already common. However, although the overall potential is enormous, varying planting dates, fertiliser applications, and soils lead to a range of potential outcomes across agro-ecological zones and provinces. For example, while AWD has a large potential in the Red River Delta, it is less likely to find acceptance in the Mekong Delta, where water control is more limited.

These results are timely for Vietnamese policymakers. In December 2011, the government signed a 'Decision' officially committing to increase agricultural production and reduce emissions and poverty (each by 20 per cent) by 2020 through 'green and safe agricultural production' methods. In a recent workshop in Hanoi, researchers** met with policymakers to address implementation challenges including measurement, reporting and verification, capacity building within the government, and the impact of agricultural mitigation on adaptation and economic development - and to identify potential ways to achieve these commitments and benefit small farmers.

Rice straw can be converted into biochar (© Mai Van Trinh)
Rice straw can be converted into biochar
© Mai Van Trinh

Overcoming barriers

IFPRI has found that carbon markets in developing countries are often hindered by a lack of institutional support. However, analysis in Ghana, Morocco, and Mozambique indicates that NGOs and farmers' organisations are already in place and, with some additional funds and training, they could aggregate farmers, disseminate the necessary knowledge to participate in carbon payment schemes, and help enforce and verify adoption of climate change practices.

With Vietnam, the country has an advantage, says Dao The Anh, director of the Center for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (CASRAD). "Although farm sizes are small, rural organizations are very strong and tend to link directly to the commune level, and can facilitate organizing farmers and developing projects," he states. Carbon projects are best placed at the district level, combining two or more communes to achieve sufficient project size.

In all four countries, IFPRI researchers found a link between the poorest areas and those that have the biggest potential for agricultural climate change mitigation. In Vietnam, they found that poverty concentration is largest in the Mekong and Red River Deltas, the same areas that also boast the largest mitigation potential from food crops. In Ghana and Mozambique, the linkages were somewhat weaker, but high mitigation potential overlapped with high poverty in certain zones. Additional research is needed, but if these results are confirmed, says De Pinto, this would indicate that "climate change mitigation and poverty reduction are compatible, if not synergistic, goals."

* Assuming a price of US$10 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent
** IFPRI, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Centre for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (CASRAD), and the Institute for Agricultural Environment (IAE)

Written by: Marcia MacNeil, IFPRI

Date published: May 2012


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Probably keeping the poor with limited inputs will remain po... (posted by: RAVINDER RAJU AMBATI)


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