Co-creating a Soil Organic Carbon community of practice for Africa
Healthy and fertile soils are crucial for agricultural productivity, which is the backbone of Africa’s economy. Healthy soils may also be the climate solution beneath our feet. Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) refers to the soil organic content of soils. SOC plays an important role in soil fertility, water retention and the ability of soils to absorb greenhouse gases (GHG). However, land-use change and land degradation within Africa is severely impacting the organic content of soils, leading to less productive soils and lands and the limited ability of soils to absorb and retain GHG. In order to harness the potential for SOC to promote development and support climate action, the Africa LEDS Partnership is facilitating the creation of a new Community of Practice (CoP) for SOC in Africa.
The global landscape for SOC ambitions
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) outline mitigation and adaptation targets and form the basis for countries’ climate action ambitions. Since the second round of submission of NDCs before the COP26 negotiations, it is clear that there is a growing ambition for countries to focus on mitigation targets and adaptation-mitigation co-benefits through SOC commitments. Outside of SOC there are also a number of countries reporting activities in their NDCs that also contribute to improving SOC (e.g. Agroforestry or wetland protection).
However, despite the growing inclusion of SOC in NDCs there are still various barriers to including SOC targets. Particularly with regards to the availability of accurate data to link practice to SOC stocks which creates challenges for monitoring, reporting and validation (MRV). National level priorities also tend to focus on agricultural production and food security rather than SOC and sequestration. In order for practices to effectively improve SOC, they need to be practical for farmers and incentivized.
Despite these challenges, NDCs can provide a springboard to drive SOC-related projects within countries when aligned with national agricultural policy. Another opportunity is to align NDCs with Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) targets. SOC is one of the key metrics to measure targets for LDN, so many countries who set these targets have some set targets for increasing SOC. Therefore, aligning NDCs and LDC targets and supporting these ambitions through actions which feed into both these targets provides a great opportunity to support SOC.
Reflecting on the country perspective – Cameroon
Cameroon’s economy is dependent on Agriculture, however despite over 70% of the economy reliant on agriculture very little attention has been placed on SOC. Christian Teghe from the University of Bamenda has been working to improve the data availability of SOC in Cameroon, providing estimates for SOC in Cameroon from which to base increasing ambitions.
Teghe’s work includes studies of soil and water protection, where he has worked with women farmers to explore the benefits of conservation tillage and cover cropping in reducing soil erosion and improve SOC.
Teghe’s work has also examined how different land-use types affect SOC, showing a decline as land-use shifts from forestry to monocropping. This has allowed further research using satellite imagery to examine how SOC stock has changed in Cameroon, as well as research to examine what practices support improvements in SOC stock. Working with extension officers and smallholder farmers to improve awareness of the benefits of SOC and training them on techniques to boost yields and SOC such as Push-pull technology, Teghe’s work has been able to demonstrate on the ground solutions while providing valuable knowledge to upscale improvements in SOC conservation in Cameroon.
Shaping the SOC-COP
Between October and December 2021, the AfLP (with support from the LEDS GP and UNIQUE) convened a core group of experts and interested stakeholders to co-explore raising ambitions of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) through a SOC-CoP. Over three workshops, participants co-created the purpose, scope and mission statement for the SOC CoP.
The SOC-CoP has been designed to address various purposes such as networking, knowledge creation and sharing and providing policy and technical support. These activities are intended to serve the greater objective or goal of facilitating action on the ground. To do this, the CoP aims to support evidence-based implementation through closing the gap between policy and regulation on the national level and best practice on the farm level.
In order to achieve this, an important objective of the CoP would be to increase awareness for the value of SOC. Through sharing knowledge and lessons on effective management practices, monitoring, reporting and validation and co-benefits (both mitigation- adaptation co-benefits as well as socio-economic co-benefits) the CoP aims to create key feedback loops. These feedback loops will ensure that examples of best practice and implementation on the farm level inform national level planning, policy and reporting which in turn leads to government providing relevant support to farmers.
The SOC-CoP is open to membership from a range of different stakeholders with a particular emphasis on the important role that practitioners on the ground (e.g. extension service officers, farmers) play. Through a small core group of experts providing strategic guidance, and a wider group of members participating in peer learning the SOC-CoP aims to build a large network of expertise focused on SOC in Africa.
Join our SOC-COP
The AfLP is seeking to grow our membership of the SOC-CoP for Africa. If you are an expert, practitioner or policy-maker working on this issue within Africa and would like to be kept in the loop, send us an email [firstname.lastname@example.org] or join the group on the Green Forum to join exciting discussions and get to know everyone else. Sign up to the Green Forum here.