Africa / Agriculture / Climate Change / Forest Carbon Project / Poverty / Worker Rights

Improving Access and Equity for Smallholder Carbon Projects

Jeff Hayward, director of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program, weighs in on the challenges facing smallholders interested in participating in carbon projects. 

It is abundantly clear that there are systematic barriers to entry preventing smallholder participation in carbon projects. We’ve seen this firsthand, whether validating forest carbon projects or helping communities and smallholder farmers in the field in Mexico and Ghana to develop their own projects.

The Rainforest Alliance is tackling some of these barriers in an effort to make the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standards more accessible for smallholder-led projects.  We’re doing this through a new project with the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC) Ghana, and hand-in-hand with our staff in Ghana.

One of the smallholder projects studied was the Rainforest Alliance's Forest, Communities, Climate Alliance Project in Ghana.

One of the smallholder projects studied was the Rainforest Alliance’s Forest, Communities, Climate Alliance Project in Ghana.

Challenges Faced by Smallholders

Through an in-depth analysis of smallholder projects and an assessment of how various voluntary standards (like the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the Voluntary Carbon Standard and the Gold Standard) enable smallholder participation, several factors have emerged as challenges:

  • Unique characteristics of smallholder communities can result in difficulties in organization and preparation required to meet carbon standards.
  • The complex nature of smallholder governance structures can make it hard for them to manage a carbon project on their own.
  • The financial and technical requirements needed to obtain validation are often too challenging for smallholders to face on their own.
  • Communities usually do not have the skills needed to determine difficult calculations, such as baselines or carbon leakage, and must hire or partner with outside experts.
  • Grouping multiple small parcels of land to encompass one “project” adds complexity.
  • Land tenure and use rights are often not clear or resolved.

Addressing Smallholder Challenges within Carbon Standards

The barriers to implementing a community-led carbon project are substantial and won’t be reconciled overnight. However, by revising the CCB standards we can help alleviate some of these issues by making the standards more suitable for communities.

To get a better sense of the real-life challenges projects face, the Rainforest Alliance, CCBA and NCRC facilitated a learning exchange workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for 16 smallholder carbon project managers. These project managers provided first-hand accounts of project challenges and helped us to identify strategies for increasing smallholder access and benefits to the CCB Standards, including:

  • Developing tools, guidance and capacity building to benefit community- and smallholder-led projects. Guidance related to calculating leakage and developing monitoring and evaluation tools were found to be particularly important.
  • Relieving the cost barriers of coming into compliance, auditing and earning benefits from being validated and verified to the CCB Standards. This could include developing special provisions for smallholder projects that allow new parcels of land to be added to grouped projects. This would reduce the overall cost of validation and would promote growth of the project over time.
  • Collaborating with other standards to create guidelines for projects seeking dual certifications and thus alleviate duplication of information.

A Look Ahead

Building on this analysis, the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program is providing guidance to the revision of the CCB Standards. Next, we will apply lessons learned to support the development of a CCB validated project in the Juabeso-Bia region of Ghana, encompassing thousands of smallholder cocoa farmers. Lastly, we’ll look for pilot opportunities for current and new Rainforest Alliance projects designed to engage rural communities in REDD+ programs and carbon projects.

Ready to learn more? Visit the CCBA website to explore the CCBA Smallholders project and visit our website to access our climate standards review study.  

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