4 December 2015

Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (Montpellier)

Africa: CGIAR Consortium Develops Climate Solutions with Soils for Food Security

Photo: Amadou Keita/IFAD
For the people living in the Sahel region of Mali, climate change is not a question of debate; it's an undeniable reality and a pressing concern. For decades the climate has been getting hotter and drier.
press release

Paris — Proposed initiative worth $225 million in seven developing countries could boost yields by 20% whilst offsetting emissions by 15%

At the U.N. climate talks (COP21), leading agriculture research partnership CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Centers has announced a five-year proposal to mitigate future climate change through soil carbon sequestration in developing world agriculture. It forms part of the new “4 pour 1000” initiative, launched by France as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, which seeks to raise the amount of carbon in soils.

CGIAR works on a broad range of “climate-smart agriculture” solutions, including conservation or zero tillage approaches that help sequester carbon. It proposes to reach farmers in Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Nepal and Colombia with climate-smart agriculture that can boost the levels of carbon captured in soils, such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture and efficient forage and range land management. Funding required to carry out the initiative is estimated at $225 million.

CGIAR estimates that farmers will be able to improve their agricultural yields by 20% and offset greenhouse gas emissions by 15% or 25 megatonnes of CO2e.

“This landmark CGIAR initiative aims to show that we can improve food security while adapting to climate change and mitigating emissions. We do not have to choose between the two,” comments CGIAR Consortium CEO Frank Rijsberman. “Agriculture can become part of the climate change solution, and as a first step we have to demonstrate low carbon agriculture: making agri-food systems carbon-neutral”.

Soil is a massive carbon reservoir, containing two to three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Increasing soil carbon by 0.4% (4 per thousand or “pour mille” in French) per year would offset atmospheric carbon emissions. Increasing soil carbon not only mitigates climate change, it also would increase – or restore – soil health and fertility, thereby helping agriculture to adapt to climate change and improve environmental health overall. In its 4th Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that 90% of agriculture’s climate change mitigation potential lies in soil carbon sequestration.

The project, jointly implemented by the CGIAR Research Programs for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and Water Lands and Ecosystems will build on actions submitted by countries to COP21, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

An analysis of 160 INDCs carried out by the CGIAR Research Program for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security revealed that most countries had prioritised action in agriculture: 80% included agriculture in climate change mitigation targets and 64% included agriculture in climate adaptation strategies. This comes despite agriculture being absent from the main draft text being negotiated at COP21.

“Countries have shown a real appetite for technical support and financing for agriculture initiatives that will help them both adapt to and mitigate climate change,” comments Bruce Campbell, Director of CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. “4 per 1000 is the kind of win-win intervention that will help countries tackle both these issues as part of our climate smart agriculture toolbox.”

The locally adapted farming methods being promoted by CGIAR will have wide-ranging benefits in addition to sequestering carbon; they will improve crop productivity and soil health as well as enhancing the water-holding capacity of the soil. These will include:

Conservation agriculture: Conservation agriculture relies on the main principles: minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover and practicing crop rotation. A farmer can yield on average 300kg more per hectare by combining these approaches, and in some regions and soils can increase organic matter in soils. More information: http://bit.ly/1XuxE0X

Improved forage and rangeland management: Improved tropical forages can sequester large amounts of carbon—on a scale similar to that of forests—with the added possibility of reducing emissions of nitrous oxide and methane per unit of livestock product. There is evidence that the potential of sown forages to sequester carbon (assuming good pasture and livestock management) is second only to that of forests and that sown forages could realize 60–80% of agriculture’s total potential to mitigate climate change. More information: http://bit.ly/1TkmmpQ

Agroforestry: Agroforestry is a form of inter-cropping that dedicates 10% of a cropping area to trees. The most promising results in agroforestry come from the integration of Faidherbia albida trees, an indigenous African acacia, with food crops. These trees improve soil fertility by drawing nitrogen from the air and transferring it to the soil through their roots and shed leaves. This is being applied to several millions of hectares, where crop yields often increase by 30 percent and sometimes more. In Zambia, for example, maize yields tripled when grown under Faidherbia trees. More information: http://bit.ly/1YHgjzh

Recycling of nutrients from towns and cities back to agricultural lands: Megacities, and more importantly medium and small cities are rapidly growing, and already more than 15% of our agricultural lands lie within 20km of these growing cities. This proximity to huge sources of nutrients that are currently in waste streams offers many new opportunities to closing nutrient cycles and providing nutrients for biomass production and soil carbon storage. More information: http://bit.ly/1lXedx9

Notes to editor

About CGIAR Consortium

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. CGIAR is the only worldwide partnership addressing agricultural research for development, whose work contributes to the global effort to tackle poverty, hunger and major nutrition imbalances, and environmental degradation. Research is carried out by the 15 Centers, members of the CGIAR Consortium, in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, development organizations and the private sector.

About 4 pour 1000

The “4 pour 1000 – Soils for Food Security and Climate” Initiative, launched by France, sets out to bring together all willing contributors in the public and private sectors (national governments, local and regional government, companies, trade organisations, NGOs, research facilities, and others) under the framework of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA). The aim of the Initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. The goal of the Initiative is to engage stakeholders in a transition towards a productive, resilient agriculture, based on a sustainable soil management and generating jobs and incomes, hence ensuring sustainable development.

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