BOX 5: Climate-‘smart’ agriculture and soil-carbon credits

BOX 5: Climate-‘smart’ agriculture and soil-carbon credits


The push behind the newest agricultural ‘revolution’ – known as climate smart agriculture – is driven by many factors ranging from multinationals such as Monsanto, eager to embed the money-making intellectual property of genetically modified seeds, to that of mega-dam proponents. But we would not be wrong to identify its most visible proponents: the World Bank and South Africa.

The momentum of both, in fact, is closely intertwined: in September 2011, three months after she collided with ‘climate smart’ ways at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) event in Rome, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson began advocating the ‘climate smart’ concept, she organized the Bank-funded meet and greet with Africa’s agricultural ministers. The UN’s FAO would have been a good ambassador: in their document on the concept, the FAO states, ‘Climate-smart agriculture is rooted in sustainable agriculture and rural development objectives which, if reached, would contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing hunger and improved environmental management.’[1]

According to this FAO report, not only is the agricultural sector the most vulnerable – in Africa, over 90 percent of small farmers will experience drastic crop reduction in the next few decades – but it is also one of the leading producers of GHG, estimated at 14 percent, and ‘a key driver of deforestation and land degradation, which account for an additional 17 percent of emissions.’

The concept extends, in many instances, to the entire economy, including ‘environmental issues, for example energy and water, as well as social issues, such as gender, and economic issues. Achieving the four dimensions of food security (availability and access to of food, utilization of food for adequate nutrition, and stability of food supply) needs to be the overall goal of food production and distribution systems in developing countries.’[2]

The Trojan horse is green-wrapping well-established and known practices such as conservation, within the context of the key solution: ‘Financial mechanisms …that can blend and coordinate funding from different sources, including public, private, agricultural development and climate financing.’[3] As South Africa’s Department of Agriculture revealed that ‘considerable finance will be needed to rapidly implement climate-smart agriculture.’

The country, the gateway facilitating exposure, particularly through the recent COP17, irrevocably backs the concept, using justice-speak (‘agriculture is the economic foundation…employing about 60 percent of the workforce and contributing an average of 30 percent of gross domestic produce…’) to motivate for the location of solutions in neoliberal market-mechanisms.

How will this be realized? ‘The whole proposal of Climate-Smart Agriculture was developed around the possibility of developed countries offsetting their carbon via international carbon market – REDD, REDD+ and soil carbon market. (The UN-REDD Programme is the United Nations Collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries.) Climate-Smart Agriculture comes packaged with carbon offsets,’ writes ActionAid.[4]

Unpacking the reasons why initiatives such as ‘climate-smarts’ soil market won’t work , ‘there is no soil carbon market currently, if there were a market, it would not provide revenues to farmers, the system will be biased against smallholders, to sustain finance from an offset market, developed countries must keep emitting, soil carbon markets are a distraction from addressing real adaptation needs and mobilizing real funding to support adaptation’, and that ‘soil carbon markets are a diversion from real obligations of rich countries: to reduce emissions and to provide substantial, stable, predictable, new and additional public finance.’[5]

But before any of these issues can be considered, – and aside from the fact that many African farmers, cultivating just one or two hectares of land for subsistence would earn perhaps $3 per annum – most African farmers don’t hold legal rights to the land on which the banking scheme is intended to take place.

Smuggled through in the process – as solutions – are high-cost environmentally destructive ‘inputs’ such as fertilizer and pesticide, genetically modified seeds, mega-dams and ill-designed irrigation projects, geared to sustain not Africa’s food needs, but rather, commercial crops.

The process is already under way: Inter-Press Service (IPS)[6] detailed of the venture: ‘The very first project to sell soil carbon credits in Africa is underway in Kenya. Funded by the World Bank, some 15,000 farmers and 800 farmer groups are changing their practices to sequester carbon for a 20-year period. The costs to set up the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project along with the costs involved in measuring the carbon and marketing the credits are estimated at more than one million dollars, said Anne Maina of the African Biodiversity Network in Kenya.’

[1] FAO, ‘Climate Smart Agriculture: Managing Ecosystems for Sustainable Livelihoods’, Undated., <>

[2] South Africa, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2011), ‘Policy Brief: Opportunities and Challenges for Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa’, <;

[3] South Africa, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2011), ‘Policy Brief: Opportunities and Challenges for Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa’, <;

[4] ActionAid (2011), ‘Agriculture: From Durban to the World’, <;

[5] ActionAid (2011), ‘Agriculture: From Durban to the World’, <;

[6] IPS (2011), ‘A recipe for carbon farming’, Dec 2 <;