In June 2020, FAO held a virtual training on the EX-Ante Carbon Balance Tool (EX-ACT), a tool developed by FAO to help project designers and implementors estimate and track the impact of agriculture and forestry development projects, programmes and policies on the carbon balance.
Over the past fifty years, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries have nearly doubled. Globally, the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector accounts for 24% of GHG emissions, second to only the energy sector.
In Africa, the agriculture sector is a comparatively lower contributor, emitting 15% of the continent’s total emissions, yet this number is increasing rapidly. As agriculture expands and intensifies to meet the needs of the continent’s rapidly growing population, the sector’s GHG emissions, primarily from livestock production, are on the rise. Expansion of land under cultivation increases GHG sources and reduces GHG sinks. Agricultural expansion and intensification of unsustainable farming practices leads to deforestation, land degradation, desertification, reduced vegetation cover, and loss of biodiversity—all of which reduce the ability of the ecosystem to absorb carbon dioxide.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Most African countries are very low emitters with huge potential to mitigate the negative impacts of agricultural expansion—70% of global agriculture mitigation potential could be realised in developing countries. By adopting well-designed, integrated approaches to improve the sustainability and productivity of Africa’s food systems—like those promoted by the Resilient Food Systems programme—it is possible to slow deforestation and land conversion, restore degraded land, contribute towards Africa’s mitigation efforts and feed growing populations.
The design of the Resilient Food Systems programme reflects the connection between agriculture, food security, and climate change mitigation. Over the lifespan of the programme, Resilient Food Systems aims to sequester or avoid 59 million metric tonnes of GHG emissions.
Each of the 12 country projects are contributing towards this goal through the implementation of targeted afforestation and agroforestry interventions, use of sustainable land and water management practices, and the promotion of alternative livelihoods. Yet, these projects are all unique. They take place in different geographies, with different land use patterns, and are designed to meet the specific needs of different communities. Given this scope and level of complexity, how do we measure progress?
As an executing partner of the Regional Hub, FAO plays a key role in providing technical support, tools and approaches to country projects for monitoring and evaluating the impact of RFS interventions. The Ex-Ante Carbon-balance Tool (EX-ACT) tool was developed by FAO in 2010 to help country partners estimate and track the impact of AFOLU projects, programmes and policies on GHG emission levels. During the RFS M&E workshop in Nairobi in November 2019, several RFS country projects expressed interest in receiving FAO training on applying EX-ACT within their projects.
Given the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic posed to in-country training, the FAO Resilient Food Systems team, in close collaboration with Louis Bockel and Padmini Gopal from the FAO Regional Office for Africa, organised a virtual training for RFS country project teams from eSwatini and Kenya in June 2020. The training combined a guided eLearning course on the tool and practical sessions through videocalls. The training group was kept small, with participants from eSwatini and Kenya country teams, to ensure each trainee was able to receive personalised support from the EX-ACT team.
The objective of the training was to strengthen country project team skills in calculating the carbon balance of their projects. The EX-ACT training took country project teams through the process of calculating the impact of different activities (afforestation, different management practices, land restoration, fertilisation of crops, installation of irrigation, etc.) on GHG emissions and GHG sinks.
EX-ACT allows project teams to compare the relative benefit (or harm) of the project to a business-as-usual scenario: How does the project activity impact future GHG emissions? For better or for worse? This comparison is particularly useful when it comes to making informed decisions on which potential land use investments or interventions should be prioritised over others.
This training today has been a big help. We do most of the things that were covered in this training. We do watershed management, agroforestry, and there is deforestation - so this was very much applicable to the situation in the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund.
M&E Officer, The Nature Conservancy
Not only does the tool help with improved decision-making prior to project implementation, it can also be used to track the performance and progress of investments that are already underway. The calculation and monitoring of GHG emissions across the lifespan of the projects will allow country project teams to track the impact of project activities and report on M&E indicators at both the project and programme level. The hope is that by building national M&E capacity in measuring mitigation within the AFOLU sector, these skills can extend beyond the lifespan of the RFS programme and be applied to resilience-building projects in the future.
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