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Offsetting carbon for Zambia’s smallholder farmers


Project Reference: AAGL-0009K

This research partnership tested approaches to the design of a carbon offset programme that involves the adoption of nitrogen-fixing agroforestry species by smallholder farmers in Zambia. The research focused on improving the cost effectiveness of the programme through innovative contract design and evaluating its impacts on farmer livelihoods. By encouraging the adoption of a nitrogen-fixing tree species, the research findings inform the design of programmes targeting climate adaptation through the adoption of more resilient agricultural practices.

The researchers explored barriers to carbon financing for smallholder farmers in developing countries, such as additionality and permanence. The use of household surveys, combined with a randomised controlled trial approach to implementation, provided evidence on the relationship between input costs, offset incentives, farmer characteristics, and outcomes – including programme take-up and tree survival. A Zambian NGO at the forefront of the climate change discussion in Zambia led the implementation, and environmental and development economists from leading universities in the United States led the data collection and analysis. The project was implemented through the farmer networks of Dunavant Cotton, Ltd., a large outgrower cotton company in Zambia.

The research questions and project design were developed in collaboration with policy-makers in Zambia and respond directly to key strategic priorities.

Project resources

Research results are presented in the short report Encouraging the Adoption of Agroforestry: A Case Study in Eastern Province, Zambia. A short overview of the research findings is given in a briefing note of the same name.

This short briefing note presents practical lessons learnt from the trees on farms programme.

Two PhD students, at Elizabeth Walkers at Harvard University and Samuel Bell at Cornell University, collaborated on this project. The results are discussed as part of the chapter Technology Adoption Under Uncertainty, in Elizabeth’s doctoral dissertation Essays at the Intersection of Environment and Development Economics.

Lead: Kelsey Jack (Tufts University and Innovations for Poverty Action)

Project Partners: Mitengo Zambia, Green Knowledge Institute, Dunavant Cotton Ltd.

CDKN Funding: £113,000

Regions/Countries: Africa, Zambia

Type: Research project, CDKN Innovation Fund (Stage 2)

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Project Highlights