Villagers in western Kenya are the latest participants in a project carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners to calculate how much carbon can be stored in trees and soils when the land is managed in sustainable, climate-friendly ways.
Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project is already being carried out in communities in Niger, Nigeria and China, where scientists are developing a system for measuring, monitoring and managing carbon in a diverse range of landscapes.
Under the UN Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing economies for implementing clean and renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has noted that by keeping higher levels of carbon in the soil – a process known as “carbon sequestration” – farmers can help reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, enhance the soil’s resilience and boost crop yields.
However, as UNEP noted, more research is needed to evaluate just how much carbon different farming systems actually lock away.
“This key issue must be resolved if farmers, conservationists, communities and land owners are to be paid per tonne of pollution removed from the atmosphere,” the agency said in a news release.
As part of the initiative, researchers will work with project managers in all four countries to set up carbon and greenhouse gas prediction systems.
“Farming carbon alongside farming crops is just one of the tantalizing prospects emerging as a result of the world’s urgent need to combat climate change,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Some industrialized countries are considering investing tens of billions of dollars in capturing carbon off the smoke stacks of power stations and burying underground.
He added that managing the land and its vegetation in more “intelligent and climate-friendly” ways may generate multiple benefits from stabilizing soils, securing water supplies, conserving biodiversity and generating much needed income for poor and low-income communities.
Dennis Garrity, Director-General of the World Agroforestry Centre, emphasized that the knowledge gained from study sites around the world, including Lake Victoria, will help enable some of the world’s poorest people – in the most vulnerable places – to obtain the benefits of carbon sequestration.