How carbon trade is a shield against poverty, climate change for Ugandan farmers

By Rukia Nabbanja 

  • Carbon trading is a market-based system aimed at reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming
  • Carbon trading schemes have helped to improve the livelihood of many farmers in the western arm of the rift valley (Albertine rift) or western Uganda
  • Finding buyers of carbon credits from within the countries hard since there is no clear policy on carbon markets

After a four hours drive from Kampala, the cloud of dust that had been following us, on a murram road, from Masindi town settled. Our guide told us that we had “landed” in Kinogozi village, Karujubu Sub County in Masindi district. This is home to Ali Kaijuka, an elder who has discovered a niche of earning money from trees without cutting them down.

His journey started a decade ago with one tree, which has increased up to 460 indigenous trees today. This has helped him start up an agroforestry plantation where the crops are integrated with trees.

Kaijuka says the major reason for planting his forest was to conserve the environment. He also started the initiative to increase rainfall in his area, since he is a farmer. He was also hoping that the trees would help him in old age and also bequeath them to his children and grandchildren.

“I wanted to protect the environment and also prepare for my old age because the trees would have grown to be sold for timber,” he said.

He says carbon money is acting as a small incentive for him to plant the trees. The windfall benefits have come from the bumper harvest from his crops. The trees also add fertility to the soil and help to improve the yield from his farmland.

Carbon trading schemes have helped to improve the livelihood of many farmers in the western arm of the Rift Valley (Albertine Rift) in western Uganda. In addition to the carbon money, the farmers also gain many benefits from the trees such as nutrient recycling, control of soil erosion and shielding their crops from the impacts of the changing climate.

The initiative is part of a program known as Trees for Carbon Benefits under the NGO, Eco-Trust.

How carbon trading works

Carbon trading is a market-based system aimed at reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, particularly carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels. It works by first setting an overall limit or cap on the number of emissions that are allowed from significant sources of carbon.

Governments then issue permits up to the agreed limit in form of carbon credits, and these are either given free or auctioned to emitting companies in any sector. If a company curbs its own carbon significantly, it can trade the excess permits on the carbon market to another buyer for cash. 

If the company is not able to limit its emissions, it may have to buy extra permits from a seller. According to Investopedia, the buyer of the permit is paying for producing and consuming the good that has negative effects on third parties.

A carbon credit is an emission permit equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide tCO2 removed, avoided or sequestered. 

The World Bank calculates that carbon prices need to be in the range of USD $40-80 by 2020 and between $50-$100 a ton by 2030 to achieve  the temperature goals set in the Paris Agreement, according to Reuters.

Helping farmers earn money from growing trees

Trees for Global Benefit is a long-term cooperative carbon offsetting scheme that is established in some rural communities in Uganda. The main objectives of the program are to increase carbon sequestration, encourage sustainable land-use practices and link farmers to the carbon market, where they trade their carbon credits for money. Farmers are enabled to practice small-scale forestry activities with the broader aims to reduce carbon in the air while supporting farmers’ livelihoods.

According to Proscovia Kisembo, the field coordinator of Trees for Global Benefits Masindi, the program is run on the model that supports rural poor farmers to realize their goals for their forest plantations, while in the process also using their plantations to earn money from the carbon credits generated and traded from the growth of the trees. This extra income helps the farmers support their livelihoods.

Much as there are many indicators that carbon trading schemes have changed lives, there are challenges too on the side of the farmers and organisations that are helping them to find market for their credits.

According to the Uganda Carbon Bureau, the major challenge that they are facing as an organization and East Africa at large are the low numbers of schemes being formulated and taken through registration, as many remain invalidated.

Kisembo says that their challenge is getting people interested in the scheme. In addition, most of the people in their system are scattered in different areas, which makes the monitoring hard and costly, she said.

She also added that finding buyers of carbon credits from within different countries is hard due to lack of a clear policy on carbon markets.

“Most of the active buyers are in other countries like China and the United States of America, so we find ourselves competing for the same small market with other carbon schemes, yet there are more industries coming up here,” she said.

This comes at a time when Uganda’s climate change bill has been delayed to be debated after the cabinet approved it.

According to the Daily Monitor, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Climate Change Uganda (PFCC-U), Mr. Lawrence Biyika Songa, said the climate change bill was endorsed by Cabinet and government officials were waiting for it to be sent to Parliament for discussion.

Fighting climate change an urgent matter

The year 2020 for many will be remembered for a common element, the Covid-19 disease that put an entire world on its knees, but also worth noting is that 2020 was one of the warmest years in terms of atmospheric temperature since record-keeping began in 1880, tying with 2016, according to NASA.

The world is already experiencing extremely hot and cold or harsh weather patterns, depending on one’s geographical location.

According to the World Resources Institute, the trend is as a result of human activities such as deforestation and energy use including for transport, industrial and manufacturing activities, and electricity, particularly the burning fossil fuels. This has contributed to the accumulation of greenhouse gases responsible for the rising temperatures, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), which represented 73 percent of the global emissions in 2017 .

Over the years, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas has increased by 47 percent above pre-industrial levels, leading to global warming. This is partly because the rate of deforestation has increased exponentially.

For Uganda, which has inadequate clean energy, carbon dioxide emissions are mostly from burning fossil fuels such as charcoal, petrol for light and transport, firewood, the agriculture sector and recently from a few industries.

Many small businesses depend on charcoal. Oscar Naturinda, a chapati seller in Kansanga, Kampala, said he burns a minimum of 48 sacks of charcoal per year. There are millions of businesses and homes using the same source of energy to cook a meal since it is one of the most affordable energy sources in the country.

This however comes at the cost of an immense rate of deforestation, or cutting down of natural forests, which should be acting as carbon sink to suck carbon dioxide from the air.

A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases. These sinks are very important in keeping the levels of carbon dioxide  in the atmosphere at manageable levels.

According to Global Forest Watch, Uganda lost 844 kha of tree cover, an equivalent to 11 percent decrease in tree cover, in a period of 19 years.

Early in the morning at a charcoal burning site in Nakaseke district, a charcoal burner, Lukwago Fred, said natural forest makes better charcoal than planted forest trees.

“We try to make sure we understand what it means to have dealt in the charcoal burning business for five years, in relation to sustainability,” Lukwago said. He explained that for a natural fully-grown Milicia excelsa tree locally known as a “mvule”, if it has a good number of branches, it produces 10 sacks of charcoal which does not even satisfy half of his annual consumption.

“I may need at least to have between five to ten fully grown trees to meet my weekly target. For these smaller trees that are like two years old, I would need to cut down at least one to two to fill one sack of charcoal,” Lukwago said.

Scientists warn against this trend of deforestation if it continues. The question is; will there be trees left in the next 20-30 years, and how much carbon will be trapped in the air?

What is the solution?

There are many interventions to reverse global warming and its effects on vulnerable communities published in literature and media that are being taken on at different levels, which in the end help to cut down emission concentration and still benefit vulnerable communities, such as Trees for Global Benefits TGB.

The international Paris Agreement’s REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) policy and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) require that greenhouse emissions be reduced to a percentage that is manageable, meaning the trend could be reversed. The international agreements push developing and developed countries to play their part in the fight to reverse climate change.

To honor this international duty, and in line with Uganda’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), EcoTrust established the TGB program seeking to help the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions in forestry and transport, agriculture, forestry and the energy sectors by sensitizing Ugandans toward realizing the country’s commitment for 22 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030.

Uganda and many other developing countries are the worst hit by climate change disasters such as too much rainfall causing floods, rising water levels, famine and landslides – and its ability to adapt quickly to the effects of the incidents is low.

This story was produced with support of the Media Challenge Initiative.

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