Mitigation of climate change through Agroforestry

Global climate change is increasingly recognized as the greatest global threat facing humanity.  For the majority of the world’s population, the persistent problems of food insecurity, rural poverty, and the struggle to develop and sustain new sources of economic growth must now be considered against a backdrop of uncertainty and change in historical climatic patterns.  Separately and together, governments, and international organizations need to respond to the immediate concerns of extreme poverty, environmental degradation and climate change.  Under mounting time pressures, there is an urgent need to evolve win-win solutions that address both these immediate local and long-term global threats.

Carbon sequestration in agricultural soils and woody perennials, and the transfer of carbon credits through market structures, represent one such win-win opportunity.  Reforestation and agro-forestry systems offer perhaps the greatest potential to remove large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. Indeed, such offsets are the only way to remove current atmospheric carbon dioxide as all other mitigation measures can only reduce future emissions.  Trees grow in all but the most extreme conditions (e.g., deserts and arctic).  Their physiology enables them to tolerate intra-annual climatic fluctuations of greater magnitude and duration than annual species, thus allowing them to mitigate risks to which annual crops are most vulnerable, and which with increased climatic change, will become increasingly common.   Many tree species also yield additional high-value products – edible fruits and leaves, fodder for livestock, gums and oil-bearing nuts for human and industrial uses, including feedstock used in the manufacture of biofuels – that offer a perfect opportunity for creating a win-win situation through removing carbon from the atmosphere and providing new sources of income for farmers worldwide.  In fact, the patentable approach developed at Michigan State University – Carbon2Markets™ – focuses on the co-development of market value-chains for sequestered carbon and secondary products.  This approach, which includes a specific model for project development and measurement of its carbon, is pivotal to enlisting the managerial skills and lands of tens of millions of farmers around the world in the struggle to slow and abate climate change. 

Forestry and Agroforestry. Most of the carbon market trade involves emission reduction credits but there is also growing interest in the use of trees and forests for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol and some voluntary carbon markets, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, allow countries and companies to offset their carbon emissions by carrying out tree planting projects. There is also considerable evidence that forests and agroforestry (the planting of trees on farms) in developing countries provide substantial benefits to rural dwellers, national economies, and the environment. Trees provide a range of products for home use such as food, timber, firewood, medicines, and fodder as well as products for sale, boosting farm incomes, rural economies, and national exports. Trees on farms and in forests can also provide a range of environmental services, such as conserving biodiversity, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation in rivers and lakes, and increased soil fertility. Moreover, what is often unrecognized is that while forested area is declining in developing countries, tree cover on farms is rapidly increasing, as farmers substitute for the tree products they formerly accessed from forests and seize market opportunities for selling tree products. Agricultural land now accounts for over double the area of forested land in Africa, giving justification to the slogan that, “the future of trees is on farms.