Managing land for carbon in southern Africa: relationships between carbon, livelihoods and ecosystem services

This project was part of the ESPA scoping phase, which ran between 2008 and 2011. The resulting proposal for further funding was unsuccessful.

Deforestation and land degradation contribute significantly to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. How land is used and managed is therefore vital in determining how much carbon is stored or released into the atmosphere.

Payment systems encouraging particular land uses and land management practices that helped to store organic carbon in soils and vegetation were becoming increasingly popular. However, little was known about the risks and gains this produces for the environment, particularly in terms of its ability to support food production, nor how it could affect the livelihoods of the poor. This lack of knowledge was especially apparent in dryland and sub-humid systems, as much more attention had focused on tropical forests, even though poverty problems were often less acute than in sub-Saharan Africa where this project focused.

Assessing the risks and gains of managing land for carbon was an urgent challenge that required the cooperation of a large team, working across traditional disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. As such, this proposal had been developed by a multidisciplinary group of natural and social scientists with expertise from across 4 southern African countries, supported with inputs from international, policy, private sector and Non-Governmental Organisation partners.

The project's main activity was a planning and capacity building workshop in Namibia in September 2010, which looked to refine and develop research ideas on the topic of 'managing land for carbon'. We focussed on study areas in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi. These countries included a range of different land use systems, and encompassed parts of sub-Saharan Africa in which poverty remained an important challenge. Workshop activities: a) reviewing the current understanding of carbon stores and losses and the ways in which they were measured for both soil and vegetation; b) identifying the livelihood activities that the poor pursue in the selected case study areas and the groups of people that could benefit from payments associated with managing the land for carbon; c) identifying the current environmental status of land in relation to nutrient cycling, water, and food production, with a view to assessing how managing the land for carbon could alter these wider services; and d) evaluating existing best practices for the development of community-based payments for carbon storage projects.

The novelty of our project lay in its drawing together of different disciplines and groups in a truly integrated and international approach to build on the current research base yet, we extended it by assessing organic carbon in both soil and vegetation and linked this with social and economic analyses to enable more complete assessment of different land use options.

Activities during the workshop included a 'stakeholder analysis' to identify which groups of people and organisations needed to be involved in the larger proposal. This helped ensure it had a significant lasting impact in improving the lives of the poor across southern Africa while also increasing the carbon stored in the environment. In pursuing these activities, the project addressed the ESPA programme objectives by: 1) contributing towards an improved research and evidence base on ecosystem services, their dynamics and management and the ways they could help to reduce poverty; 2) developing innovative, multidisciplinary research methodologies; 3) engaging key research users (policymakers, the private sector, NGOs and the poor) in the entire process, thus enhancing the uptake and utility of research outputs; and 4) building multidisciplinary south-south and south-north partnerships that helped to enhance the capacity of southern researchers.

Authors: Stringer, L.C.; Dougill, A.J.; Thomas, A.D.; Spracklen, D.V.; Chesterman, S.; Speranza, I.; Rueff, H.; Riddell, M.; Williams, M.; Beedy, T.; Abson, D.J.; Klintenberg, P.; Syampungani, S.; Powell, P.; Palmer, A.R.; Seely, M.K.; Mkwambisi, D.D.; Falcao, M.; Sitoe, A.; Ross, S.; Kopolo, G.
Year: 2012
Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Leeds
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Leeds
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: Patrik Klintenberg Research and Consulting
Country: Sweden
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Malawi
Country: Malawi
Co Investigator
Organisation: Agricultural Research Council
Country: South Africa
Co Investigator
Organisation: Desert Research Foundation of Namibia
Country: Namibia
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Leeds
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: Copperbelt University
Country: Zambia
Co Investigator
Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Country: United Kingdom