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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Using Carbon Trading to Boost Economics of Developing Countries

October 23, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University is teaming up with the United Nations and the Chicago Climate Exchange in a unique project that could boost economic opportunities for farmers in developing countries while, at the same time, improve the environment.

The collaborative effort involves implementing production techniques that support carbon sequestration -- the storing of atmospheric carbon in plants, trees and soil so that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reduce or slow. Carbon dioxide emissions are recognized to be one of the leading causes of global warming.

At the same time, stored carbon has been found to increase soil biodiversity, control erosion, improve water quality, and reduce chemical inputs.

Farmers in developing countries seeking to adopt conservation practices are limited in their ability to do so because of the need for purchased input, special equipment, resources or other technology to accomplish such tasks. That's where this project comes into play.

"The goal is to use carbon sequestration trading as a vehicle for land restoration and improvement in countries where farmers don't have the money or the resources to implement such practices," said Rattan Lal, an Ohio State University soil scientist with the School of Environment and Natural Resources and one of the leading scientists in the project. "This project, if successful, may be the vehicle that breaks the current vicious cycle of current gradient decline present in so many developing countries."

Lal is among a group of soil scientists, foresters, economists and program policy leaders from several university colleges, including the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, The John Glenn School of Public Affairs, and the College of Social and Behavioral Science, who are working with countries in Africa, South America and Asia to encourage farmers to adopt one of four carbon sequestration and land restoration techniques: conservation tillage; soil fertility improvement; desertification control and restoration of degraded land; and afforestation.

"What we want to do is select a farming community of 25,000 acres and work to encourage farmers to adopt one of these practices," said Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "It's going to take working closely with local communities and governments and the training of graduate students and local Extension specialists to make it happen." In addition to the training courses, researchers plan to monitor carbon in the soil and study its relationship to soil and water quality, crop yield and food security.

As an incentive for farmers in those developing countries to adopt conservation practices and get the program off the ground, the Chicago Climate Exchange plans to pay growers $15 for every ton of carbon they store per year, which amounts to around $2-$3 an acre. The Chicago Climate Exchange ( is a voluntary rules-based greenhouse gas emission and trading system, and the place to go to trade carbon credits in the open market.

Yannick Glemarec and Matt Spannagle, both with the United Nations Development Programme Energy and Environment Group in the Bureau of Development Policy, recently visited Ohio State to meet the players of the project, CFAES administration and Provost Barbara Snyder. The project titled, "Promoting Sustainable Land Development Through Carbon Finance," is planned as a five-year effort and is expected to begin in April or May of 2007.

"The UN visit to Ohio State went very well and it was a delight to see such good representation from the university showing full support of the project. This can be a great move for us to link with the UN on a project that could potentially improve land resources in developing countries," said Lal. "We hope that when the five years is up, farmers involved in the program will be participating in a self-sustaining, market-driven carbon sequestration and land restoration effort."

Lal said that carbon trading has a role to play in solving some of the world's most pressing food security problems, while improving the environment.

According to Ohio State soil science research focusing on soil quality in such regions as the United States, Africa, India, South America and Latin America, if soil carbon content was increased by one ton per hectare (roughly 2,000 pounds per 2.5 acres) using such conservation practices, grain yield would increase 220-440 pounds per 2.5 acres, wheat yield from 44 pounds to 110 pounds per 2.5 acres and soybean yield from 44 pounds to 88 pounds per 2.5 acres.

"What that means for regions like Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, whose food deficit will be 22 million tons by 2010, is that if farmers can adopt carbon-storing practices, food production could increase by 32 million tons every year, basically eliminating that food deficit," said Lal.

Candace Pollock
Rattan Lal