Climate-Smart Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and University of Edinburgh

Project context

The project has been led by a team from PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change team. Over the course of the project working partnerships were formed with a team from the tropical land use research group from the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, and Malawian research institutions and project developers. The project was implemented over an 18 month period from May 2011- October 2012.

The project has focused on the development of a set of tools, methodologies, user-guides and supporting analysis that can support smallholder farmers in Malawi (and the wider sub-Saharan African region) measure the mitigation benefits from implementation of conservation agriculture and agro-forestry practices.

In Malawi over 80% of the population derives livelihoods from agriculture. The majority are smallholder farmers reliant on rain-fed cultivation of maize as the key subsistence crop. These farmers are amongst the most vulnerable in the face of climate change. Adoption of conservation agriculture and agro-forestry practices (especially using N-fixing species) are being widely promoted by the Government, donors and civil society organizations, as interventions capable of increasing the productivity and climate resilience of such systems, to achieve food security and green growth objectives. In addition, these practices have the potential to deliver a ‘co-benefit’ of increased carbon sequestration in trees and soils.


All forms of climate mitigation finance, (including compliance grade carbon markets, PES systems, performance based donor programs, future NAMAs, and ‘climate-smart’ commodity premiums) require the measurement of mitigation performance (although to varying degrees of accuracy). The inability of smallholder projects and programs to cost effectively measure the mitigation benefits of ‘climate-smart’ practices has prevented climate finance opportunities from being realized at scale.

The primary objective of this project was to address these challenges, and develop a proof of concept solution to show that measuring the mitigation benefits of smallholder ‘climate-smart’ agriculture can be simplified and undertaken at low cost. And to explore how such solutions could support access to multiple sources of climate mitigation finance.


The Rockefeller Foundation provided grant funding for development of the tools, methodologies, user guides and analysis. Additional funding has been provided by Irish Aid Malawi and the Royal Norwegian Embassy of Malawi to support in country capacity building in use of the project outputs.

Stakeholder engagement, capacity building and community involvement

Stakeholder engagement, capacity building and community involvement has been critical in designing solutions that meet the needs of organizations working directly with smallholder farmers in adoption of conservation agriculture and agro-forestry practices.

At inception, a project advisory panel was established to provide expert input and critical challenge through-out the project. This was formed of a range of stakeholders from host country governments, research institutions, donors, multilateral development agencies, and NGOs working with smallholder farmers in the region.

To inform the scope, purpose and design of the solutions, background analysis supported by hundreds of interviews and 1-to-1 consultations, was undertaken on a number of issues including:

  • CSA practices;
  • Agricultural carbon market opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Market opportunities for ‘climate-smart’ commodities;
  • MRV and data management for CSA mitigation benefits;
  • Opportunities and challenges in scaling investment in CSA; and
  • Project design processes and needs.

The scope and design was further informed through multi -stakeholder workshops held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 28th October 2011 and in Lilongwe, Malawi on the 2nd November 2011. The workshops brought together over 100 experts and practitioners from the climate, agriculture and development communities and included representatives from: host country governments, donor governments, multilateral institutions, research institutions, NGOs, and the private sector. In addition smallholder visits were made at the Kenyan Agricultural Carbon Project in Western Kenya, and community consultations held at the Anchor Farm project in Mchinji District, Malawi.

During the development phase of the project led by the team from Edinburgh University, further field visits were undertaken and data was collected from a number of project sites and research stations located across Malawi. This data was used to support the GHG flux modeling that underpins the mitigation accounting tools.
In September 2012, capacity building workshops were held in Lilongwe Malawi, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Irish Aid and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. These workshops attended by NGOs, agribusinesses, donors, and farmer representatives, explored how the mitigation accounting tools could be used in development of CSA programs and project ideas.

Outcomes and future plans

A series of public reports, analysis and project developer user guides have been produced over the course of the project. These can be accessed through the link below.

The proof of concept Small-Holder Agriculture Monitoring and Baseline Assessment (SHAMBA) tool, carbon accounting methodology and user guide, has been submitted for approval under the Plan Vivo system, a payment for ecosystem services (PES) standard. These will be available for download upon completion of their consultation and validation processes.

A joint launch event is planned for the 31st October 2012 in London, to share overall project findings and launch a new version of the Plan Vivo Standard.

Interest has been generated to support the further development and application of the tools both in the context of voluntary market PES projects, and donor M&E systems.