Reducing costs and improving benefits in smallholder agriculture carbon projects: implications for going to scale: Seth Shames, Louise E. Buck, Sara J. Scherr
The mitigation of climate change through project-based smallholder agriculture faces inherent complexity, high costs of project development and challenges of risk management and securing benefits for smallholder farmers (Bracer et al. 2007). Large groups of farmers can be difficult to organize and rural institutions supporting these projects often are weak. Without adequate social, financial and property protections, farmers will be at risk of exploitation in the rush by carbon developers to capitalize on international carbon market opportunities. So far, the number and scale of these projects has been relatively small in both regulated and voluntary carbon markets. Even in cases where projects are established, their size is minuscule compared to the potential for climate change mitigation and farmer participation. For these projects to achieve more significant strides towards climate and rural livelihood objectives, and to play a transformative role in rural landscapes, they must be organized at scales that are orders of magnitude greater. To achieve this transition to a new generation of larger and pro-poor agriculture carbon projects, the constraints of high cost and risk management to assure farmer benefits must be addressed. This chapter proposes design principles that can be applied to overcome these barriers. The principles are elaborated through discussions of various elements of project design that can be applied by project developers and farmers in agriculture carbon projects. We draw on insights from EcoAgriculture Partners’ work as a non-governmental organization (NGO)
focused on policy and advocacy related to agricultural carbon projects, mostly in Africa (Bracer et al. 2007; Scherr et al. 2007; Forest Trends et al., Climate Focus and EcoAgriculture Partners, 2010; Shames and Scherr, 2010). To reduce costs, we consider the principles of leveraging preexisting institutional capacity and working at scale. These principles are applied to farmer aggregation, land management extension services, carbon measurement, and farmer compensation. To reduce risk and improve benefits for farmers, we propose the principles that farmers benefit principally from yield improvements resulting from climatefriendly interventions and that they partner with groups who are sensitive to their needs and play active roles in project development and implementation. These principles are applied to project design and monitoring, negotiations and contracting, land tenure and carbon rights, and project financing for farmers. Our analysis suggests that there are signposts for projects to move in larger, farmer-friendly directions. However, project designs and rules for project development will need to embrace approaches that can integrate agro-ecological and social heterogeneity at large scales and provide space for significant farmer participation.