Sustainable Agriculture Land Use Methodology Aims to Open Door to Carbon Markets for World’s Small Farmers
January 9, 2012 | Andrew Burger
Agriculture scientists, field researchers, farmers and ranchers are searching for ways to address several critical and interrelated issues related to the sustainability of agriculture these days: growing demand for food by a growing world population; growing demand for water, energy and other natural resources; and challenges associated with a changing climate. A new World Bank methodology for estimating and accounting for greenhouse gas emissions on farms and ranches where sustainable agricultural practices are being employed holds out the promise of addressing all three.
Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), a global leader in independent certification and verification of environmental, sustainability, stewardship, food quality, food safety and food purity approved the World Bank methodology, VM0017 Adoption of Sustainable Agricultural Land Management, on Jan. 6 under its Verified Carbon Standard. Considering that most of the world’s farmers and ranchers grow crops and raise livestock on relatively small plots of land, it’s fitting that the new methodology is based on the results of the World Bank’s Western Kenya Agriculture Carbon Finance project.
“The World Bank’s methodology will help small scale farmers access global carbon market whilst improving crop production over the long run,” said Dr. Robert J. Hrubes, Senior Vice President of SCS in a recent press release. “It’s a win-win for farmers.”
Background on Western Kenya Agriculture Carbon Finance Project
The World Bank’s Kenya Agriculture Carbon Finance Project aims to promote what it calls Sustainable Agriculture Land Use Management (SALM) practices to help farmers increase carbon in soil and biomass on agricultural lands. The project focuses on strengthening farmers’ ability to increase crop yields, while at the same time adapting to climate variability and minimizing degradation of land and water resources and threats to biodiversity.
Another of the program’s principal objectives is to link small-scale farmers in western Kenya to the worldwide carbon market. To do so, the project will help local farmers apply sustainable agricultural practices and subsequently help them to document, organize and amass these records in order to apply for international carbon credit programs, the main one being the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which the World Bank administers.
Agricultural activities make use of between 40%-50% of the earth’s land surface and 70% of global freshwater resources. Though best estimates are that agricultural use of land is the source of 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, small farms have largely been “left out in the cold” when it comes to being able to participate in programs that would allow for the generation of additional revenue from sales of carbon credits related to small farmers’ efforts to reduce carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and other GHG emissions.
Now that the new sustainable agriculture methodology has been approved under Scientific Certification Systems’ Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the sustainable agriculture land use management practices being used by smallholder farmers in western Kenya can be used to produce additional revenue by applying for and selling credits on so-called voluntary carbon and GHG emissions reductions credit markets run by private and non-profit sector organizations, as well as the international institutional markets, such as the CDM and the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
As explained in the VCS news release, the VCS VM0017 methodology “can be used to monitor and measure the GHG benefits of a range of project activities that increase carbon stocks in the agricultural landscape.”
“Project activities may include use of cover crops, improved tillage practices and agroforestry, among other practices. The methodology may be used in a range of agro-ecological zones but is only applicable in cases where the soil organic carbon would remain constant or decrease in the absence of the project.”