As effects of dwindling rainfall continue to ravage the African continent, poor farmers in Kenya are positioning themselves to benefit from the multi-million dollar carbon industry. Already, more than 48,000 of them are selling carbon credits in the United States through the only tree planting programme operating here.
“In this district we have enrolled more than 2,000 tree farmers in 230 groups of about six to 12 people,” says Benard Githui, who is assisting Kirinyaga District participants join The International Small Group and Tree Planting Programme (Tist). The rest are spread out in nearby Nanyuki and Meru districts.
Trees naturally clear the atmosphere of the currently high levels of carbon dioxide. This is measured in form of credits, which brokers sell in the international market.
Under the United Nation’s climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol, rich countries can offset their pollution by paying developing economies for planting trees and implementing clean and renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
According to the World Bank, financing of carbon deals, brokered by middlemen like Tist, is big business and carbon credits worth about US$10bn (Ksh800 billion) were sold in 2005. In 2009, that figure could even double.
Early this month, the Nairobi-based United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) and World Agroforestry Centre announced several projects in Western Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and China to calculate just how much carbon trees and soils actually absorb.
The results will be available in 18 months.
In Kenya, the carbon business is already popular. “The programme’s popularity is increasing and nowadays I get calls from farmers as far as Makueni (more than 200 kilometres away), Thika and Narok who want to join. But I want to ensure it is well grounded here before I move out to train more farmers,” says Githui.
And as concerns over climate change gain prominence in the world, Githui is busy recruiting more farmers to fight and benefit from it.
“It’s a win-win situation. While farmers will continue to draw money from the carbon credit earnings, they will also enjoy other benefits of their trees,” he says.
Local farmers admit weather patterns in the area have changed drastically over time.
Boniface Nyaga, a 55-year-old late entrant into the carbon trading business, notes this year the long rains started mid April, four weeks late after the traditional March 15 date.
Githui says they must plant trees. They are victims of global warming and climate change.
Climate change is any long-term significant change in the expected average weather patterns of a specific region.
It is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat by forming a blanket around the Earth – like the glass of a greenhouse.
Once released, the greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) stay in the atmosphere for many years. As they build up, the planet’s temperature rises.
The heightened temperatures eventually destabilise the global weather patterns and bring long-term climate change.
“We are ready to do anything we can to stop this,” Nyaga says.
According to World Bank’s records, the carbon market has the potential to earn poor nations more than US$25bn (Ksh2 trillion) annually.
Trading firms, brokers and banks are among those expected to rake in money through commissions for organising carbon deals.
The enthusiastic farmers however feel what they currently earn is too little. Tist’s national coordinator Andrew Dinsmore says farmers earn Kenya Shilling 1.50 (US$ 0.019) for each tree every year. “A tree is eligible for credits between three to six months after planning,” he says.
The farmers hope this will improve once the Unep report comes out next year. There is also hope that in December this year, at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, nations may decide to also pay to tropically-forested countries for maintaining forests under a scheme known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).
If REDD is agreed as part of a post-2012 climate regime, this could open the door to carbon storage payments for other kinds of natural ecosystems such as grasslands, pasturelands, peatlands and mangroves.
Currently, Tist enters into a 20-year contract with farmers within which trees under the programme can be pruned for timber or firewood but cannot be felled.
Adds Githui: “We encourage farmers to focus on other benefits of trees and see the money they make from carbon market as an extra income.”
Unep boss Achim Steiner agrees: “Managing the land and its vegetation in more intelligent and climate-friendly ways may generate multiple benefits from stabilizing soils, securing water supplies, conserving biodiversity and generating much needed income for poor and low-income communities.”
Local government officials and the Kenya Forestry Service have supported any tree planting activities but have also been keen to stop farmers growing eucalyptus, a fast-growing tree blamed for dwindling water sources.
All carbon trading activities in the country are manned by the ozone office at the National Environmental Management Authority.
Ozone officer Isaac Elmi says: “These activities are helping us implement the 1987’s Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the ozone Layer.” This treaty was meant to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion.
On the corporate scene, Kenyan firms are also angling themselves to reap from the carbon trade gold-mine. The East African Portland Cement began a project last year that would enable it sell carbon emissions for US$1.7 million (Ksh120 million) annually over a period of 40 years.
Power generator KenGen and Mumias Sugar Company are already engaged in carbon trading. KenGen carbon emissions deal was last year estimated to be worth Ksh1.3 billion (US$1.68) in exchange for 900,000 tonnes of carbon. The Emission Reduction Purchase Agreement entered into with World Bank would see KenGen engage in “cleaner” power production in its various power production plants.
In 2006, Mumias Sugar Company entered into an agreement with Japan Carbon Finance to buy carbon emission reductions from Mumias. The agreement took effect last year and the company management said sales of carbon credits would bring in Sh80 million this year.
The agreement will see MSC reduce its carbon and methane emission from bargasse, the by-product of sugar cane, which will be used to generate electricity. “The co-generation project will allow the company to sell 30MW to Kenya Power and Lighting Company as clean power, eliminating the need for KPLC to burn fossil fuel to get power,” said says James Luchach, an engineer with the company last year.
A carbon conference held recently in South Africa resolved to trade 100 million carbon credits annually from Africa in what was seen as the next opportunity to help the continent tackle poverty through trade rather than aid.
According to Achim Steiner, selling 100 million carbon credits will earn Africa economies an estimated $1.2 billion every year.
Steiner said the challenge would be to ensure these opportunities are available to all– including the farmers in the countryside.
77 Kenya Shilling (Ksh) = 1 US Dollar
By John Muchangi Njiru. He is a 29-year-old Kenyan science journalist. I work with Radio Africa Media Group as a features writer-cum-sub editor for Nairobi Star daily newspaper, while also making reports for Radio Jambo Talk Radio. He has reported on environment, agriculture, health and developmental issues since 2005 at Nairobi-based People Daily newspaper where I worked as the Science Editor, before moving in 2007 as part of the pioneer team at Nairobi Star – currently Kenya’s third biggest Daily.