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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


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 help to store organic carbon in soils and vegetation are becoming increasingly popular. However, little is 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 is especially apparent in dryland and sub-humid systems, as much more attention has focused on tropical forests, even though poverty problems are often less acute than in sub-Saharan Africa where this project focuses. Assessing the risks and gains of managing land for carbon is an urgent challenge that requires the cooperation of a large team, working across traditional disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. As such, this proposal has 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 aim of the project is to hold a planning and capacity building workshop in Namibia in September 2010, which will refine and develop research ideas on the topic of 'managing land for carbon'. We will focus on study areas in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi. These countries include a range of different land use systems, and encompass parts of sub-Saharan Africa in which poverty remains an important challenge. Workshop activities will: a) review current understanding of carbon stores and losses and the ways in which they are measured for both soil and vegetation; b) identify the livelihood activities that the poor pursue in the study areas and the groups of people that could benefit from payments associated with managing the land for carbon; c) identify 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) evaluate existing best practices in research for the development of community-based payments for carbon storage projects. The novelty of our project lies 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 extend it by assessing organic carbon in both soil and vegetation and link this with social and economic analyses to enable more complete assessment of different land use options. Activities during the workshop will include a 'stakeholder analysis' to identify which groups of people and organisations need to be involved in the larger proposal. This will ensure it has 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 addresses 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 can 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 help enhance the capacity of southern researchers.


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Description It was a project proposal and development grant so the focus was on building relationships and collaborations rather than findings per se. Some members of the team have built on the links made and applied for other funding (non-RCUK).
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal