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Implementing Smallholder Carbon Projects

Building local institutional capacity through participatory action research



July 19, 2016

Short Summary

Two smallholder agricultural carbon projects in East Africa engaged in a participatory action research process to identify ways local actors could take on larger management roles within the projects. This brief presents the key lessons from this process.


Global voluntary carbon markets, a long-ballyhooed financial mechanism for reducing global emissions, have begun to create incentives for the practice of climate-smart agriculture. Climate-smart agriculture seeks to implement agricultural systems that can simultaneously provide climate change resilience and mitigation. In this context, agricultural carbon projects with smallholder farmers in developing countries have begun to emerge in order to take advantage of carbon-finance to support the broader benefits of climate-smart agriculture. It is critical, as these projects become more widespread, to determine how to build local capacity for implementing, managing, and scaling up. Local leadership is critical to ensuring long-term viability and equitable benefit sharing.

Participatory Action Research puts knowledge directly to use

Participatory Action Research methodology was used in this case to help build local institutional capacity while investigating how to build local institutional capacity. Benefits from participating in the research were built into the research process, and thus the research process could be built in to the agricultural carbon projects. PAR methods were specifically used to provide a platform for project managers to share experiences, develop a clearer understanding of the challenges they face, jointly develop research questions, collaboratively develop solutions, and track the impact of these efforts.

Key lessons learned

  • Community-based intermediaries can play a leading role in land-management trainings and supportive roles in carbon measurement and marketing.
  • Local government participation is critical to project success.
  • Local NGOs and private-sector actors can play central roles in training, providing agricultural inputs and linking farmers to markets.
  • Standardized training and curricula are important for scaling up.
  • Women’s roles in projects can grow if project benefits are aligned with their needs and trainings are made more accessible.
  • Agricultural benefits are more important than carbon payments for participating farmers.
  • Strengthened local and national policies in support of sustainable agricultural land management are needed to scale up project benefits.


This study was supported by the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security research program (CCAFS).

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