How can small holder farmers be involved in Carbon Farming sustainably?


Green gas emissions are more than 50% higher than it was in 1990(UNDP). Agriculture has been cited as one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emission that cause climate change, contributing about 17% directly through agricultural activities and an additional 7%-14% through land use management(OECD,2016). The net effect is a long-lasting change to our climate system and the warming of our planet could have an irreversible impact if we do not act. On the bright side, Agriculture is the only ONE of the sectors that has the ability to transform from a Net Emitter to a Net Sequestrator of CO2  beneficially(Climate beneficial, Carbon Cycle institute). 

What is carbon Farming?

Research shows that healthy soils can store more carbon than the air and by all living things combined. Therefore, Agriculture has the capacity to transform from a contributor to a solution to our largest threat of humanity, climate change. Through soil organic matter stabilisation mechanisms, carbon can remain sequestered in the soil for thousands of years(stockman et al., 2013). However, this is not possible without adoption of innovative climate smart agricultural practices or carbon farming practices.

What is carbon farming? According to FAO, ‘Carbon Farming is the process of changing agricultural practices or land use in order to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil and vegetation(sequestration) so as to reduce the greenhouse gas emission from livestock, soil or vegetation.

How can small holder farmers be involved in Carbon Farming sustainably?

It’s a fact that agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by small holder farmers. Many of these farmers lack access to critical resources such as access to finance, technology as well as knowledge and decision support systems. This characteristic pre-disposes them to the climate risks, making them the most susceptible to impacts of climate change due to their low adaptive capacity. For climate action to be successful in Africa, this segment of farmers has to be adequately supported so as to strengthen their adaptive capacity.

It is in this context that Rabo Foundation, Agriterra and other partners came together to discuss possible models of how to involve small holder farmers in carbon farming practices at SCALE. A roundtable discussion was therefore organised, bringing together donors, small holder farmers, representatives of farmer organisations as well as practitioners in the field of climate change. The objective of the roundtable discussion was to take stock of the knowledge level of the small holder coffee farmers on carbon farming, understand the current carbon farming practices adopted by farmers and also brainstorm on possible challenges and opportunities in carbon farming for the small holder farmers. Seven farmer cooperatives from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda were represented, with very lively discussions gracing the online platform.

Key Findings

Interestingly, a majority of the farmers represented are already experiencing negative impacts of climate change and have already started adopting some carbon farming practices, including agroforestry practices, intercropping and application of compost among others. They are also very eager to learn about the topic and be enlightened in some critical areas such as selection, decision making and implementation of climate clever practices.

During the discussions, some challenges were identified that need to be addressed to ensure scaling of these practices. Some of the questions that came out were:

1. How can we align environmental sustainability with economic sustainability for small holder farmers? For instance, how can carbon farming be profitable? What is the return on investment for climate investment? What are the available sources of finance to fund these investments?

2. What are the pre-conditions for a successful transition from conventional to climate smart farming? From the discussion, one of the most important pre-conditions is the presence of a clear and realistic business case for climate clever farming. Collaboration with other key stakeholders in the whole value chain is also critical for a successful transition.


In conclusion, it was evident that farmers are aware of the impact of climate change. They are also willing to take responsibility for their environment. However, there is need for incentives for the service, availability of a feasible business case and collaboration of key stakeholders across the value-chain. Special attention needs to be directed to gender imbalance in the distribution of resources. In the coffee sector, a quick win would be the promotion of agroforestry practices such as the planting of dual purpose shade trees.

At a higher level, there is need for collaboration among both local and international organisations. There is also a need for eco-friendly policies to be adopted by local governments so as to promote scaling of these agroforestry practices.

Further discussion needs to be undertaken with additional participating stakeholders in the coffee sector, particularly to assess the business viability of carbon farming for small holder farmers. Rabo Foundation and Agriterra will therefore continue collaborating on this subject gathering critical insights on the topic to inform future interventions.  

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