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Workshop in Kenya on the politics of agriculture in the climate talks

According to IATP analysis of project cost and benefit estimates, the carbon payments are negligible in the Kenya Agricultural Soil Carbon Project: at most a little over $1 per farmer per year for 20 years.

Used under creative commons license from CGIAR Climate

The Africa Biodiversity Network, ActionAid Kenya, the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance and IATP held a workshop in Thika, Kenya in late October to discuss what is at stake for food producers and African agriculture as African governments head to the global climate talks in Durban in a few weeks to decide whether to launch an agriculture work program. Representatives of 55 civil society organizations including farmers organizations such as the Network of Ecofarming in Africa (NECOFA), the East African Farmers Federation, the NGOMA campaign (a food security campaign of smallholder maize and dairy farmers), and community- and faith-based development organizations such as the Anglican Church of Kenya-Western Region Christian Community Services,  came together to discuss the politics of agriculture within the climate talks, the notions of “climate-smart agriculture” and what soil carbon offsets could mean for Kenyan agriculture and its food producers. 

The World Bank has pressed African agriculture ministers to support a mitigation-focused approach to agriculture in the climate talks whereby carbon trading would deliver financing for agriculture projects that would sequester soil carbon and at the same time deliver adaptation benefits. The World Bank BioCarbon Fund-supported Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project is being showcased as the first-ever soil carbon project in Africa that will deliver “triple wins” for farmers. The project is likely to be a major highlight in the African Pavilion at COP 17. In September, African agriculture ministers issued a communiqué  to “establish an agriculture programme of work that covers adaptation and mitigation” and to scale up technologies for “climate-smart agriculture.” However, the agriculture discussions remain deadlocked at the UNFCCC because of sensitivities around agriculture trade protectionism and the fact that it is being discussed under a legal framework that aims at reducing or removing agriculture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (read: mitigation) in specific sectors rather than focusing on adaptation.
At the workshop, Esther Magambo, Coordinator of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Climate Change Unit, demystified the concept of “climate smart agriculture” (CSA) by stating that “it is nothing new” but that that the concept brings out the “hidden value” in sustainable agriculture land management systems and “that is carbon.”  Currently, Price Waterhouse Cooper is being contracted in Kenya to undertake a study on Kenyan agriculture’s potential for carbon markets under the banner of CSA, while the Bank is helping the Kenyan government develop a framework for climate smart agriculture and the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMAs) plans. 
PACJA briefed participants on the evolution of the climate talks and the engagement of African governments, while ABN discussed the impacts that various climate schemes have had on African agriculture and pressures on land. These included the conversion of large tracts of food producing land to jatropha or palm oil plantations for biofuels in countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana. For instance, a failed jatropha project by Sun Biofuels left hundreds of Tanzanian people landless and jobless.
IATP continued the discussion on the politics of agriculture in the climate talks, and elaborated on the mechanics of the carbon market, and the role of carbon traders, speculators, project developers and other carbon consultants. We also demystified the potential for trading soil carbon on either regulatory or voluntary markets, including the fact that soil carbon credits were as low as ten cents on the Chicago Climate Exchange before it collapsed at the end of 2009. The participants learned that even REDD credits are a miniscule fraction of the voluntary market, let alone soil carbon credits. And linkages were made between food price volatility and the volatility in financial markets due to derivatives trading. Many participants were surprised to learn that carbon was a commodity traded like maize in trading platforms. 
IATP also shared its findings on actual carbon payments to farmers in the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project—which are a maximum of $1 per farmer per year over the project’s lifetime given a carbon price of $4 per ton. ActionAid Kenya also presented its findings from its studies on soil carbon markets and the impact on small producers. ActionAid’s s estimates the carbon payments for the Kenya project to be as low as 25 U.S. cents a farmer. It presented six reasons why soil carbon trading will not work for small producers. 
The analysis that farmers won’t benefit significantly from carbon payments was corroborated in the afternoon by Magambo and Vi-agroforesty. Magambo was questioned as to why the government should endorse the carbon trading approach when farmers do not benefit from carbon payments. Magambo responded that the money to do extension comes from carbon credits, but that payments to farmers are “not much at all.” However, such projects should bring  adaptation benefits. She added, “The icing on the cake will allow (farmers) to have a grading shed or improve part of a road they are using.”
Vi-agroforestry, the project implementor of the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, also presented on the project. The representative said that the math on carbon payments is negative when it comes to carbon revenue, but that the project enables co-benefits. He stressed the idea of using mitigation as way to fund adaptation. He added that small organizations cannot undertake such projects on their own. In Vi-agroforestry’s case, which is a large Swedish development organization that has been working in the region for over 25 years, the infrastructure was already in place with regards to extension. The World Bank provided all the support and expertise for the soil carbon methodology development and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). In most instances, the organization setting up the carbon finance project including baselines and the project design document, MRV, must pay, up front, all these costs and/or pay back the financer for costs upon carbon payments. In this instance, Vi-agroforestry negotiated with the World Bank to not have to pay back the pre-financing costs. 
One participant challenged the notion that mitigation and adaptation are the same thing. She said that this creates confusion and that in reality these concepts are two very different things for African farmers. 
In responding to questions and challenges, Magambo admitted that the only place agriculture was being dealt with in the climate talks was under mitigation, but that if governments take care of their concerns, then adaptation could also be included.
Participants agreed that Kenyan organizations needed to work together to raise awareness of these issues and explain to farmers the reality regarding carbon markets. Many also expressed concerns that high expectations were being raised to farmers that soil carbon schemes deliver payments while in actuality they do not. There is a danger that farmers will abandon sound agroecological practices if the revenues they were expecting are not delivered. This message captures the urgent need to identify alternative forms of climate financing within the global climate talks that predictably supports farmers for agroecological practices that increase adaptation.