Experts harvest carbon and energy ideas for land regeneration

Many sustainable agricultural practices can complement land regeneration techniques such as FMNR. This was the conclusion by experts at a parallel discussion session that was held during the Beating Famine conference.

I had the pleasure of attending a group whose theme was carbon sequestration, water and energy for land regeneration. Chairing the discussion was Stephen Twomlow -a climate and environmental specialists from International Fund for Agricultural Development.

World Vision International’s climate specialists, Mr Assefa Tofu and Hailu Tefera initiated discussions by speaking about the Humbo Ethiopia Assisted Natural Regeneration project. They were followed by Dr Amos Wekesa who spoke about Kenya’s Agricultural Carbon Project- Africa’s first soil carbon project. Dr Dorothy Naitore and alphaxard Kimani of the International Small Group Tree Planting Program (TIST) outlined how environment restoration can be a path way to food security. While Ethiopia’s Ms Roza Negash spoke about World Vision’s energy efficient stove project in Ethiopia. Lastly, the World Agroforestry Centre’s Water Management, Programme Coordinator, Malesu Maimbo showcased research advancements  in rainwater harvesting for land regeneration.


The Humbo project

According to Mr Tofu and Mr Tefera s, the Humbo project is restoring indigenous tree species to the Humbo area which is a mountainous region in south western Ethiopia.

They argued that restoring around 2700 hectares of native forest had been shown to increase local income while regenerating the area. In Assefa’s opinion, the project was the first in Ethiopia to use Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) encourages rural communities to take charge of regenerating their own lands by identifying, selecting, and pruning existing tree and shrub root stocks in the soil.

“The Humbo project is made up of seven community cooperative societies managing the regeneration areas. There is also a system in place to monitor the project’s environmental and social issues,” Hailu said.

Aside the regeneration value of the project, the presenters argued that there are other environmental, social and community benefits. They gave the example of how participatory approaches are being used to make sure that carbon revenues from the project are being invested in local infrastructure and food security.


Carbon queries

Interestingly, it seemed the participants were focused more on the effect the carbon venture had on the local households than its land regeneration capacity. They asked “How are you calculating the carbon credits?” and “Were Households negatively impacted by the project?”

Dr Amos Wekesa was well placed to answer questions about carbon credits while speaking about the 20-year experiment – Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP).

According to Dr Wekesa, “the project was ultimately aiming to test the role carbon finance can play in persuading small-scale farmers to adopt more sustainable practices.”

He explained how the carbon finance project aimed to indirectly sequester carbon by encouraging farmers to adopt Sustainable Agricultural Land Management (SALM) practices on approximately 45,000 ha in the Nyanza and Western Provinces of Kenya.

A number of people in the audience found it uneasy that although it was called a carbon project, its main aim was really increasing yields and productivity with the carbon component only acting as an income supplement to the farmers.

However, as Amos explained, even though it seemed like a diversion, the focus on SALM was very much in line with the carbon project’s goal of sequestration. He explained that unsustainable agricultural practises release large amounts of Carbon through the top soil.

“The project reverses soil loss by increasing yields, which captures carbon in plants and also by keeping carbon in the soil through practises such as zero tilling,” said Dr Wekesa.

Currently, the project has around 300 farmers with approximately 30 households and aims to sequester 60,000 tons of carbon per year. Dr Wekesa says “efforts are underway to bring 50,000 more farmers into KACP, which aims to generate carbon credits for another 20 years.”  Once again, some participants wanted to know the details of how baseline measures of soil carbon were done.


Environmental restoration

The specialists from the International Small Group Tree Planting Program (TIST) addressed the issue of baseline measures while attempting to convince conference attendants that environment restoration is a path way to food security. Dr Dorothy Naitore and Alphaxard Kimani shared about the TIST program which has achieved awards for their accurate monitoring and evaluation of environmental services.

Similar to KACP, they said that their program simultaneously addresses environmental issues and poverty by connecting rural households to the carbon market.  “TIST carbon is bought by C-Quest Capital (CQC),” said Dorothy.

The company is responsible for marketing the carbon emissions which it buys from the program. On occasions, CQC pays in advance for the anticipated carbon credits.

“This serves the purpose of making sure the project has enough finance to continue” said Alphaxard.

The TIST project is comprised of a number of small groups of 12 farmers. According to Dorothy,  the project empowers farmers to carry out very accurate soil baseline measures by using quantifiers to record baseline data, “they are also the ones who choose and plant the trees,”  Said Dorothy.

The farmers’ accuracy has led to their work being “Validated and Verified against the VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) and also by the CCB (Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards).”  She added.

Asked about the actual instruments the farmers use, Dr Naitore explained that the farmers use handheld computers and GPS to record the location, number, size, and species of live trees. The data farmers collect are then uploaded to a central database using standard mobile phones and can be accessed anytime at

Talking of its success, Dorothy claims “the money farmers have been getting from the carbon offset program has been enough to buy them food.” She adds “because of the use of mobile phones, there is the capacity for farmers to be paid carbon credits directly through mobile money services such as MPESA.

Working in India, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Honduras and Nicaragua, TIST also provides means for training farmers on nursery development, tree planting, conservation farming, nutrition, preventative health education and fuel-efficient stoves.


Energy Efficiency

Another highlight of the session was a fuel-efficient stove project run by World Vision.   This was presented by Ms Roza Negash from World Vision who spoke about the project based in Ethiopia.

It seemed like a challenging topic to relate to land regeneration but as Roza outlined, with so many people dependant on firewood in Ethiopia, more efficiency means “less wood chopped and less forest degradation.” Moreover, she explained that “scarcity of firewood had motivated more farmers to use cow dung for burning leading to less fertilizer on farmland”.

World Vision’s pilot stove project uses their very economical Tikikil stoves which have been distributed to around 2,500 rural households in Ethiopia. In the future, the project aims to distribute 40,000 of the stoves.

She urged those present to explore possibilities of introducing the stoves to their own countries too. A quote on her presentation read, “In developing countries, 730 million tonnes of biomass are burned each year, amounting to more than 1 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere.”

She concluded that aside from land regeneration, the stoves are also improving the health of women and children. “Around 1.6 million people who are mostly women and children die from diseases that come from inhaling smoke from open cooking stoves,” Roza claimed.

All in all, it became clear towards the end of the themed discussion that the success of all the mentioned projects will lead to the improvement of ecosystems and ultimately water availability. Malesu Maimbo who is the Programme Coordinator of the Water Management unit at the World Agroforestry Centre seemed to agree with this.

He said “In terms of water use, the most efficient is the forest then grassland, wetland then crops.”  “Converting forests to cropland means misusing water,” he added. His talk explored ways in which advances in rainwater harvesting can be used for land regeneration.

Malesu explained that different sizes of areas and their use determine how water is managed within them. “A field used for agricultural land requires different watershed management than a landscape undergoing land regeneration.” For these reasons, says Malesu, Centre scientists have been focusing on developing models that can predict the effects of different landscape configurations and identify best watershed management for that configuration. “Our research has found that for storage, Marshlands store the largest amount of water and the least effective being water run-off.”  However for economic reasons, “we encourage run-off because water storage is increasingly expensive”.

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Christopher Mesiku

Chris Mesiku is a science communicator volunteering at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. In the last 5 years, he has worked as a communicator for various scientific institutions. He holds a Bachelor of Science, Graduate Diploma in Science Communication (ANU) and a Masters in Philosophy of Science (UQ).

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