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Driving Sustainable Agriculture through Climate Action in Western Kenya

Engaging in a region with outstanding climate change mitigation potential

Recently, First Climate closed an initial contract with Kenya-based Soil Carbon Certification Services (SCCS) to support a sustainable agriculture and land management project, called the Western Kenya Soil Carbon Project. The project, the first in a line of attractive climate action opportunities in East Africa, aims to improve agricultural crop yields and increase resistance to climate change with the help of carbon financing.

A group of local smallholder farmers from partner collective inspect the agroforestry crops used as recommended by SALM methods. Credit for all images: © First Climate

In the Western Kenya counties of Bungoma, Kakamega and Siaya, a collective of more than 32,000 smallholder farmers are gaining training in sustainable agricultural land management, or SALM, techniques and reaping the benefits of the seeds they sow. At the center of the project’s goals are the activities related to collaborating with smallholder farmers to make native soils more resilient to climate change, as well as revamping the way they grow and enterprise their crops. In a densely populated region with limited natural vegetation, agricultural extension services give the farmers direct paths to an invaluable set of entities that facilitate and support farmers through knowledge, training, and access to SALM technologies.

SALM project continuity thanks to carbon finance

The Western Kenya Soil Carbon Project was originally funded and set up by GIZ (Gesellschaft für international Zusammenarbeit GmbH - German Development Cooperation Agency) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) between 2020 and 2023. For a sustainable long term project management, GIZ created the Soil-Carbon Certification Services (SCCS), a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Kisumu, Kenya. After this successful set up phase GIZ handed over the carbon project to SCCS as a way of transitioning the project to private sector and SCCS decided to leverage carbon finance to ensure the project’s continuation. As a result, SCCS partnered with First Climate and agreed on bridge funding by First Climate, which guarantees the project’s ongoing activities on the ground in advance of receiving the first carbon issuances. "It is rewarding to support local smallholder farmers in creating a positive impact in agricultural production, the environment and in the living conditions of their families. Choosing to work with First Climate as our exclusive partner means we will have more carbon stored in local soils, increased farming families’ agricultural yields, more food secure families, improved livestock feeding and a boost in family incomes in the long term. All this will enhance the ability of smallholder farm families to deal with the effects of climate change,“ says Fred Marani, Technical Director at SCCS.

First Climate Project Manager, Lina Ávila, visits an active farm in Kenya which uses SALM techniques such as terracing and cover crops to incerease the soil carbon.

"At an active project site, we have a unique opportunity to witness the positive impact of the sustainable agriculture activities we promote. " ̶ Lina Ávila, Project Manager at First Climate

Recently, First Climate representatives conducted a site visit to the project area in Western Kenya as part of due diligence, with the purpose of gaining firsthand insights and strengthening the partnership with SCCS. This site visit further emphasized First Climate’s

interest in the region, and especially Kenya which has taken the lead position of worldwide countries developing the carbon market. Lina Ávila, a Project Manager at First Climate, documented initial findings stating, “At an active project site, we have a unique opportunity to witness the positive impact of the sustainable agriculture activities we promote. The implementation of SALM practices not only enhances emission removals but also facilitates knowledge and experience sharing between farmers which promotes organization and farm enterprise development. Farmers are now able to ensure agricultural productivity in the short and long term, which increases food security and generates revenues for their families while reversing land degradation.”

An excellent example of various SALM techniques including terracing, tree planting, and crop covers at a participating farm in Western Kenya.

The project is currently being executed in an area of over 9,936 hectares of previously degraded farmland. Carbon finance grants smallholder farmers access to consistent training and provision of extension services in sustainable farming practices, which improve their livelihoods and guarantee their food security. The project has introduced a sustainable switchover from traditional methods, which are widely characterized by low inputs, low crop yields, and a continual loss of soil fertility due to monocropping and overworking of the fields. To reverse this unproductive cycle, SCCS contracts implementation partners (IPs) to support farmers in their land restoration efforts with training and agricultural technical assistance. Adapting and implementing SALM practices such as mulching, cover crops, and composting, among others, leads to carbon sequestration within the soil, whereas planting and cultivating fruit trees and other agroforestry activities sequesters carbon within the tree biomass. The impact potential of the project is enormous in direct relationship with the availability of carbon financing. Since the project is structured as a group project, it has a built-in mechanism for future, long-term scalability as neighboring farms join the collective. The developers intend to expand to an area comprised of around 32,000 hectares as the project scales during the 20-year crediting period confirmed by Verra.

Cultivating more fertile and carbon-rich soil

Promoting sustainable agricultural practices and improving the livelihood potential of local smallholder farmers is at the heart of the Western Kenyan Soil Carbon Project. It puts forward a relatively simple, yet highly sustainable model, which has proven to be easily replicated in the nearly 10 years the project has already been active. Moreover, this project provides farmers with professional development in five of the various categories of SALM, including conservation agriculture, soil and water conservation, integrated soil fertility management, integrated pest management, and agroforestry and tree nursery establishment.

In cooperation with extension agents, farmers receive training in composting, vermiculture, crop covers, reduced tillage, and mulching as part of the conservation agriculture activities for enhancing soil nutrients. The training sessions involve physical (terracing) and biological (tree planting) techniques for soil and water conservation to control the loss of topsoil and reduce runoff water from farmlands. Farmers also learn how to implement pest management methods, such as push and pull technology that consists of intercropping cereals with a pest-repellent plant which drives away pests from the target food crop. In addition to the techniques focusing on agricultural food crops, farmers learn to integrate woody perennials nitrogen fixing trees, shrubs, and fruit trees to control soil erosion and improve soil fertility.

Result-oriented SALM monitoring

Project monitoring and data collection, central to the project’s organization, are fully overseen by SCCS. A detailed monitoring plan has, thereby, been designed to collect all necessary data for calculating and reporting on the scientific impacts of the project, particularly the soil organic carbon (SOC) stock changes. The project features monitoring technologies including an activity-based, digital app for mobile phones and a centrally managed online database. Accessible digital tools, like cell phones and tablets are used to collect and transmit data for the related monitoring. The project also has a designated database to store and share measures needed to accurately compute the emissions reductions and carbon removals. A user-friendly digital application is used to transmit data from the field offline and synchronize it with the database regularly. Part of training local farmers, the majority of which are women-run farms, is an important aspect of linking them to the carbon market and intricate monitoring processes.

Lush climate impact you can see and taste

The farmers are personally invested in the project through individualized application of the know-how gained at trainings and agricultural extension services. Several are already building on the entrepreneurial skills they have learned and selling organic seeds and sustainably produced organic fertilizer. Since using these project related by-products, farmers have reported measurable increases in crop yields and are better equipped to provide their own families and communities with nutritious organic fruits and vegetables, resulting in alleviation of poverty and providing food security in the region.

"We are proud to partner with SCCS and the Western Kenya Soil Carbon Project. During our recent site visit, we witnessed the tangible benefits the project brings to local farmers and the environment. The capacity building of local farmers generates a lasting impact, enhancing both their productivity and proficiency in crop cultivation. The improved fertility and water retention capabilities of the soil lead to increased crop yields and secured income for the farmers and their families. Simultaneously, the long-term improvement of the soil health facilitates the permanent sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere. In light of recent political developments in Kenya, we are optimistic about the potential for climate protection projects in the region. As we continue our collaboration, we look forward to extending our impact by working with additional farmers in the area, " says Wolfgang Brückner, Managing Director, First Climate Projektentwicklung (Project Development) GmbH.

First Climate is excited to introduce this high-integrity carbon project to our portfolio and looks forward to sharing information about future milestones as the project scales and other climate mitigation initiatives developing in the region.



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