Production of Carbon Offsets Using Conservation Agriculture Practices

Jean-Francois Rochecouste and Paul Dargusch


This paper examines opportunities for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to consider financial mechanisms for the uptake of conservation agriculture (CA) practices in developing countries to reserve the loss of soil organic carbon. Conservation agriculture, commonly described as the reduction of tillage, maintaining soil cover and introducing crop rotations, is currently being promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as the most sustainable form of farming into the future. It was found that the increasing uptake of CA practices by developed countries improved soil organic carbon benefit and reduced energy inputs. Furthermore industrial agriculture has evolved a range of new technologies that can be adapted in developing countries to improve food security, increase environmental benefits and provide carbon offsets. This is in line with the climate change mitigation strategy of putting atmospheric carbon back in the soil to increase soil organic carbon. It is also noted that recognizing conservation agriculture methodologies in carbon offset schemes would require the development of alternative economic instruments specifically to support small landholder changes in farming practices such as exist for hydrological and biodiversity ecosystem services schemes. Some of the constraints for small landowners providing agricultural carbon offsets are investment capital and an established trading mechanism that recognizes the inherent issues of agriculture. Adaptation of conservation agricultural practices from industrialised agriculture to developing countries is examined along with current offset schemes being proposed in developed countries. A review of the literature examines Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and suggests a number of methodologies for consideration as part of an offset market. It was found that the two main obstacles in market terms are the acceptance of a level of soil carbon sequestration that can be easily calculated and the degree of attached liability for farmers in selling the equivalent of a Certified Emission Reduction unit from a highly volatile system.

Keywords: payments for ecosystem services (PES), market instruments, soil organic carbon (SOC), climate change policy, greenhouse gas emissions, clean development mechanism (CDM), developing countries

Annals of Tropical Research 33(1):85-100(2011)
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