, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 29 – Scientists from 14 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa gathered in Nairobi on Monday at the start of a three-day workshop to address the role of sustainable agriculture, forestry and agro-forestry in the fight against climate change.
The workshop is expected to determine research priorities and the next steps for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) and agriculture in the region. The workshop is co-hosted by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the World Agro-forestry Centre.
“One way to improve African participation in the bio-carbon market is better governance,” said George Wamukoya, climate change advisor to the COMESA secretariat.
“African governments can develop national policy frameworks for investment, financing and development of bio-carbon initiatives, in order to clarify the ‘ground rules’ and attract project developers.”
Dr Peter Minang, Global Coordinator of the Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn (ASB) Partnership at the World Agroforestry Centre, emphasized that “sharing knowledge and resources is the key to promoting bio-carbon development in Africa”.
He added: “Many countries in Africa experience similar climate change-related challenges and regional initiatives, such as the Africa Bio-carbon Initiative, can help pool technical methods and skills. This is essential for building up the knowledge base and developing best practices.”
Although there is significant potential for African nations to participate in carbon markets, thanks to large quantities of carbon stored in trees, soils and vegetation, the continent still lags behind Asia and Latin America in the number of projects on the ground.
The Africa Bio-Carbon initiative, led by COMESA, seeks to boost commitments and investments in sustainable agriculture, forestry and agro-forestry, so that rural communities can better adapt to a changing climate, as well as contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Agroforestry Centre, which is providing scientific support to COMESA, has found that despite more than 100 bio-carbon projects currently in Africa, most of these projects are at an infant stage: only 5 percent are actually selling carbon and paying farmers to plant and protect trees.
Project developers face barriers including complex rules of the carbon market, high start-up costs, and poor governance.
Scientists participating in the workshop this week will share their findings to date, and propose strategies for enhancing the number of bio-carbon projects in Africa, as well as how to build national capacities to monitor, report and verify emissions reductions.
The workshop will advise COMESA on research priorities and next steps. Participants include scientists from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), several African universities, and from NGOs.
As countries in Asia and Latin America rapidly develop and implement REDD projects, a major fear is that Africa will remain marginalized from mainstream carbon markets, despite the continent being the most vulnerable to climate change. Dr Minang fears that the small number of bio-carbon projects in Africa will prevent ‘learning by doing’.
“On the ground experiences allow you to make mistakes, learn lessons, and help you design a project according to local ecological and economic circumstances,” says Minang. “There’s only so much we can learn by going to meetings and reading technical manuals.”
Workshop participants will visit the Rukinga REDD project, which is unique in Kenya for reducing emissions from deforestation and providing alternative incomes to local communities. Located in an important wildlife corridor approximately 150 km northwest of Mombasa, between Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks, the project aims to avoid over 3.5 million metric tones of CO2 emissions from deforestation and forest degradation over a period of 20 years. Wildlife Works LLC, which runs the project, will share with visiting scientists some of the opportunities and pitfalls in setting up and running a REDD project.
The Africa Bio-carbon Initiative is working to ground policies in practical experience, and ensure a good scientific basis, so that African countries can realistically assess their carbon assets, and carefully make their way to the market.