Eight years ago, extended droughts and unpredictable rainy seasons in the Nyanza and Western provinces of Kenya were destroying the crops of smallholder farmers, and with them, farmers’ ability to earn an income and provide food for their families. Despite their best efforts, farmers lacked the know-how to adapt to, and even prosper in a changing environment. One effort to address this challenge has been a Sustainable Agriculture Land Management project in Kenya, which, since 2009, has been working with thousands of smallholder farmers to increase their use of sustainable agriculture land management practices. The project, supported by the World Bank Group’s BioCarbon Fund in partnership with the Swedish NGO Vi Agroforestry, aims to support a total of 60,000 farmers managing 45,000 hectares of farmland in western Kenya. The project has trained farmers on how to sustainably rehabilitate degraded lands to increase crop yields and farm productivity. On average, farmers saw maize yields more than double during the project, leading directly to higher incomes. The project has also rewarded farmers with credits for the additional carbon sequestered in the soil and trees as a result of adopting sustainable land management practices. “We wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to use carbon finance as a catalyst to directly improve the lives of smallholder farmers,” says Abel Lufafa, Senior Agricultural Specialist at the World Bank. The project is the first agricultural land management carbon project in the world to successfully issue emission reductions payments for successful implementation of agricultural practices, under the Verified Carbon Standard. But the carbon credits purchased by the BioCarbon Fund — totaling about $580,000 over seven years — have been the secondary, value-added benefit. Farmers say the biggest pay off for them has been increased farm productivity. “I joined the project to get knowledge on how to increase my production and my income,” says another farmer Ben Oliech. “What I liked about the training is that it emphasized diversification. When one crop fails, I can still benefit from another enterprise.” Increasing farm productivity and measuring soil carbon required significant technical support and innovation over the course of the project, including the development of the first methodology for carbon accounting from sustainable agricultural land management practices. “We needed to develop a new methodology under the Verified Carbon Standard since we were talking about a new way for farmers to earn carbon credits. It was critical that we met the rigors of the Standard while at the same time kept the methodology simple enough for farmers to understand and implement,” says Neeta Hooda, Senior Natural Resource Management Specialist for the Bank’s Environment and Natural Resources Group. Between 2009 and 2015, the project was able to verify the reduction of 184,447 tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking about 38,425 cars off the road for a year. Over the 20-year lifespan of the project (ending in 2030), the project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by almost 2 million tons. Although implemented at smaller scale as proof of concept, the activities, if implemented at scale in additional areas, have the potential to increase income and climate change benefits. During the seven years the BioCarbon Fund was involved in the project, the initiative has shown that carbon finance is not just an esoteric concept. It was implemented at the grassroots level, and farmers are better off for it. Moving forward, large-scale landscape programs being piloted by the BioCarbon Fund’s Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes will directly benefit from the experience and methodologies developed by these smaller-scale projects. The success of the Kenya project also proves that rather than functioning as a stand-alone initiative, carbon-related programs can be integrated into the broader development agenda for improving livelihoods. “Since I joined the project, our life has really changed, because when there is income in the family there is peace,” says farmer Matthews Odhiambo Asuna. More on the BioCarbon Fund The BioCarbon Fund is a public-private sector initiative that mobilizes financing to help develop projects that sequester or conserve carbon in forests and agro-ecosystems. It is the first carbon fund to focus on land use projects. Over the past decade, the Fund has committed $90 million to more than 20 projects that have restored about 470,000 hectares of land around the world.
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