Farmers in Western Kenya embrace carbon credits

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News that farmers in the country would benefit from a climate change initiative by planting trees to earn carbon credits created euphoria a few years ago. There have been rumours that farmers in Western Kenya are making a lot of money from the carbon credits.

This created huge demand for information, especially from the government, development partners and NGOs, on how to enroll to earn money from the World Bank funded Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP) project. But all these expectations disappeared when many farmers realised the issue of carbon credits was exaggerated and was much more complicated than many had believed.

A pilot project

But can farmers really earn carbon credits through planting trees? The whole idea of farmers’ participation in climatic change mitigation in Kenya started in 2009 when the World Bank started the KACP, a pilot project whose aim was to determine how carbon credits systems can operate in agriculture. When the project was started, it generated hope among farmers, not only in the project area in Western Kenya and Nyanza, but also in other parts the country.

The project did not mean paying farmers if they planted trees, but rather encouraging farmers’ to adopt Sustainable Agricultural Land Management (SALM) practices such as agroforestry (planting trees in farms), recycling of farmyard manure through compost making and soil conservation practices such as making terraces, trashlines, grass strips and water harvesting to stop soil erosion.

Many farmers thought they would be paid a lot of money for planting trees. Instead, they are reaping the benefits of increased crop yields and income after adopting sustainable land management practices.


Practices reduce carbon emissions

By taking up these practices, the farmers built soil fertility and reduced the use of chemical fertilizers which are partly responsible for the release of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. Trees play a very important role in the environment - they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. The KACP project encourages farmers to recycle crop residue because burning it releases carbon into the atmosphere while leaving the soil free of soil organic matter which is very essential in building soil structure and fertility.

Farmers learnt the benefits of keeping a few high quality breeds of animals instead of large numbers that give little milk but contribute to methane gas emissions. Besides this, farmyard manure is converted into compost to improve soil fertility.

The benefits that come with adoption of these practices is increased farm productivity, crop yields and more income for participating farmers. “When we started this project there were a lot of expectations on the monetary benefits farmers would get, but they are now seeing the other benefits of the carbon project. They have accepted it because it is increasing their farm productivity and income,” says Martin Barasa, the Vi Agroforestry Project Zonal Team leader in charge of Bumula.

Each participating farm tracked

Although the project works with farmers groups, each farm is taken as a basic unit where the farmer is expected to implement all sustainable agricultural practices that help retain soil organic carbon stocks and improve nutrient levels in the soil to increase food production. In the long run, these practices restore degraded soils, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help build the capacity of the farmer to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Every farmer participating in the project has to fill a farmer commitment form and sign a contract once they have undergone training on all SALM practices. The farm is then tracked to determine the size and then area where it is situated using the Global Positioning System (GPS). The commitment form specifies the area the farmer has designated for the project, the number of trees they will plant and other sustainable agricultural practices they are expected to undertake. Crop yields obtained from each project plot are also recorded. The farmers’ group also signs a separate contract with the project where they commit to abide by all the requirements for participation in the project.

Farmers have to meet targets

Individual farmers, including the farmers' groups have to meet set targets every year on which they are to be assessed. With the help of the project extension staff, the farmers undertake all the SALM activities while keeping records of each activity. At the end of the year, World Bank experts verify the progress made by each of the groups as agreed.

Carbon credit tokens paid to groups

Roselyne Nyongesa shows a pile of firewood from her farm. Now farmers have enough trees for firewood, building and other purposes.

Using the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the experts determine how much carbon has been captured by each of the participating groups. Payment is then made to the group depending on the number of tonnes of carbon removed from the atmosphere through adoption of sustainable agricultural land management practices. The groups are then expected to invest the money received in various activities such as the village savings and loaning schemes, table banking or even poultry keeping where they share the profit made at the end of every year.

“Some of the groups have already received payments for the years 2010 and 2011. But what the farmers get in terms of increased yields and income from the farm is the most important objective of the project, not what they are paid for the carbon credits.

The carbon credits is just an added bonus,” says Barasa. He says that so far, 20,000 farmers in Bungoma have benefitted from the project with 10,980 hectares planted and 443,781 trees grown. He says out of the 13,687 households participating in the project, 75 per cent have experienced a marked increase in crop yields and income. The project targets 60,000 farmers to put 45,000 hectares of land under sustainable agriculture system in Nyanza and Bungoma.

Farmer has tripled his farm income through tree project

Muanda village, Bumula Sub-County, used to get only 4 bags of maize in one acre of land that he used for maize production. He had one cow that produced only 3 litres of milk in a day. He did not keep any other animals, except for a few chickens. Save for a few trees in his farm boundaries, he did not care about planting trees and would often cut them to create space for crops. Nyongesa’s attitude changed in the year 2009 when the Vi Agroforestry Project staff approached him together with members of Subila Farmer Field School (FFS). They trained the group on the benefits of planting trees with crops to improve soil fertility, provide feed for their animals and for firewood, and other sustainable agricultural practices.

Increased crop yields

Composting has improved soil fertility in Mr Nyongesa's farm.

Within 5 years, Nyongesa has transformed his 2½ acre farm into a highly productive land. From the same portion of land he used to grow maize, his yields have increased from 4 bags to 12 bags. Now he has three cows which have increased milk production from 3 to 6 litres per cow. From the cows, he gets farmyard manure that he uses to make compost for use as organic fertilizer on the rest of the farm. The farm has fruits trees mixed with nitrogen fixing tree species such as Leucaena, sesbania, calliandra that he also uses to feed his livestock. Napier grass competes for space with desmodium and other fodder trees.

Made money from trees

A few years ago, Nyongesa harvested eucalyptus trees from his woodlot which he sold to Kenya Power Company for poles from which he made Ksh 1 million. He has replanted the woodlot with various indigenous trees from where he gets his firewood and timber. To diversify his source of income, Nyongesa has planted cassava, tissue culture bananas, beans and arrowroots. From his farm income, he has built a semi permanent house, paid school fees for his children and he is now is planning to go into commercial poultry production.

“My farm is much more productive in a way I would not have imagined five years ago. I earn more than 3 times what I used to earn before the Vi Agroforestry Project came to work with us. We now know that trees have many more benefits that we never thought before,” he says.

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