Carbon Credits Can Benefit African Farmers Thanks to New System

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The global carbon credit trading schemes emanating from the Kyoto Protocol are now creating a multi-billion dollar market – the European carbon market was worth €14.6 billion in 2006 – and represents one of the fastest growing business opportunities in the world. Being green has finally come of age. Yet all the benefits of this are largely bypassing Africa despite more than 70 percent of the continent’s inhabitants earning a living off the land.

The World Agroforestry Centre – whose mission is to advance the science and practice of agroforestry to transform the lives and landscapes of the rural poor in developing countries – in partnership with Michigan State University has developed a method using satellite imagery and infrared sensing that measures carbon storage in African farmland. They have completed a pilot programme in western Kenya and are ready to encourage poor farmers to plant trees as soon as the European Union allows carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol to be awarded for this kind of scheme. Further pilot projects will be rolled out in 2007 in partnership with CARE International and the WWF.

But European Union policies on carbon credits are holding back this significant opportunity to enhance African livelihoods. Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is at present not willing to recognize the new method of verifying carbon storage in farmland. The ETS is the largest multi-country, multi-sector greenhouse gas emission trading scheme in the world. The issue of carbon storage, or carbon “sinks” as they are known, is very controversial in the world of Kyoto agreement implementation. Non-government organizations that advocate for forests and indigenous people have worked hard to exclude the use of forestry credits to offset fossil fuel burning, arguing that forestry offsets to date have been for big monoculture plantations of fast-growing eucalyptus or pine trees. It is claimed they are net carbon emitters over their lifetimes and also cause additional environmental and social problems.

But the World Agroforestry Centre’s approach is very different from a monoculture plantation. Their scheme is to help rural Africans to integrate more trees into their agricultural production systems, with benefits besides storing carbon. They argue that the right kinds of trees can increase the productivity and resilience of the land. Trees provide food, fuel, fertilizer, and medicine – medicinal trees are the main source of medication for 80 percent of Africa’s population.

Louis Verchon, the lead scientist for climate change at the World Agroforestry Centre, believes that if the EU would put in place a new scheme to credit farmers who capture carbon in their land, “millions of dollars in carbon credits could begin flowing to the world’s rural poor.” At present, Verchon says two-thirds of the carbon credit business is being captured by Asian countries who are mostly offering industrial solutions. “Africa has something to offer on this – it can’t compete with the likes of South Korea on industrial solutions, but it has plenty of land.”

In order to make the scheme work, two things will need to be improved: Africa’s institutional weakness and the paucity of qualified carbon credit verifiers. A network of verifiers would be required to inspect farm sites and make the calculations required to allocate carbon credits to poor farmers. At present, there are no qualified African-born verifiers in Africa according to Verchon.

The WAC are working with WWF and CARE to build up NGO capacity and start demonstration projects to prove it can work – two pilot projects are already up and running in Kenya. They are also automating much of the process by building a web portal.

Verchon says the WAC “are in it for the long-haul and we will see this grow over the next ten years.”

Published: January 2007


  • More on emissions trading: Click here
  • Kenya’s Greenbelt Movement: Founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, it provides income and sustenance to millions of people in Kenya through the planting of trees.
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© David South Consulting 2022

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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