Technologies to enhance and monitor soil carbon for Africa
Healthy soil is critical for productive agriculture in Africa. To address declining health, countries are sharing knowledge and learning about new technologies.
The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF), supported by the European Commission, held a capacity-development workshop on technologies for soil-carbon enhancement in African countries, 12–14 December 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya.
The objectives were to help participants better understand the global carbon cycle; the basic concepts of soil-carbon sequestration and the challenges for improving sequestration; the latest technologies for enhancing soil carbon-stock; state-of-the-art, soil-carbon monitoring tools and approaches at field, farm, district, provincial and national levels of relevance to nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to international climate agreements; and how to access knowledge resources.
The 26 participants came from 14 countries, including CTCN national designated entities and the ministries of Agriculture of Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
‘Increased food production can be achieved by transforming food and agricultural systems, shifting to more sustainable and diversified consumption and production, improving governance and securing the political will to act,’ explained Rajiv Garg, CTCN’s Region Manager for East and Southern Africa and West and Central Asia. ‘The use of climate technologies can, without a doubt, accelerate the attainment of these goals.’
Sequestration of carbon in soils plays a key role in climate-change mitigation yet accelerated agricultural development, deforestation and land degradation are contributing to a depletion of soil carbon. Sequestration presents a ‘win-win’ solution for mitigation and for increasing resilience. Carbon-rich soils are healthy soils, increasing fertility, reducing erosion, enhancing water retention and enabling greater resilience to extreme weather variations.
Some of the technologies available in Africa with potential to enhance soil carbon-stock include application of biochar, agroforestry, farmer-managed natural regeneration, organic agriculture, use of area closures and reserves, conservation agriculture and climate-smart agricultural practices. Participants were also exposed to advanced approaches to monitoring and visualizing carbon stock.
‘Agriculture, land use and forestry are embedded across CTCN’s technical-assistance portfolio, with 54 requests submitted specifically related to agriculture,’ said Agathe Laure, a climate-change adaptation specialist with CTCN in East and Southern Africa and West and Central Asia. ‘These sectors are vital to address climate-change challenges. It is no surprise that agriculture is among the key sectors prioritized by countries’ NDCs, for both adaptation and mitigation.’
‘Rethink the issue of dependence on overseas development aid for research and development,’ urged Tony Simons, Director General of ICRAF. ‘Instead, focus on innovative approaches to project financing as the world is shifting from development aid to more blended financial mechanisms. This approach strives to harness resources from the private sector, governments, academic, non-governmental organization and other institutions.’
Modern information systems for mapping and monitoring aspects of soil, including soil carbon, emerged as a main area of interest during the workshop. Participants visited ICRAF’s soil laboratories to learn more about spectroscopic analysis and geospatial tools for monitoring the health of soils. ICRAF is skilled in pooling knowledge on soil-carbon enhancement technologies and approaches. It is also widely regarded for making such knowledge available to technicians and planners. A training manual will be developed covering the topics explored during the workshop to facilitate knowledge sharing and possible replication of the event in other regions.
‘The workshop has been an eye opener to me,’ said Lyson Kampira, CTCN’s national designated entity for Malawi and an officer of the Malawi National Commission for Science and Technology. ‘It has provided me with insights into technologies for land and soil management to make them more productive, while keeping them healthy through using agricultural technologies to increase soil carbon.’
CTCN facilitates technical assistance to countries based on their requests channeled through national designated entities by mobilizing experts in specific technology sectors. CTCN assistance is through technical assessments, including technical expertise and recommendations related to specific needs, identification of technologies, barriers and efficiencies, piloting and deployment of technologies, and technical support for policy and planning, training, tools and methodologies and implementation plans.
‘Capacity-development workshops expose national designated entities to climate technologies that can contribute to low-emission development and achieving NDCs while building climate resilience,’ said Mehmood Hassan, head of Capacity Building at ICRAF. ‘This workshop will ultimately inspire the countries to develop programs for greater integration of soil-carbon sequestration technologies into their national climate strategies and plans.’
World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.