The Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) project in the South Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 5th Oct 2012 | last updated 16th Oct 2012

Climate-smart practices with adaptation and mitigation potential in smallholder farmer systems

MICCA Overview

The Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) Pilot Project is implemented in the South Uluguru Mountains (in Tanzania) and it is part of the MICCA Global Programme ran by FAO. MICCA Global is formed by a set of Pilot Projects operating in four countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Ecuador. Each pilot project has a particular focus. Overall, the main MICCA Programme goal is to facilitate developing countries in contributing to the mitigation of climate change in agriculture and moving towards low carbon emission agriculture. MICCA is working with national and international partners to carry out a set of pilot projects designed to integrate climate-smart practices into existing smallholder agricultural development activities. Pilot projects are being chosen which focus on those agricultural activities that tend to have high emissions as well as high potential for their reduction. Agriculture production must increase if the global food supply is to keep pace with population growth. Yet at the same time, it is clear that if the world is to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating climate change, agriculture must become ‘climate-smart’. Agricultural production systems managed in a ‘climate-smart’ way, emit fewer greenhouse gases, create significant carbon sinks, and at the same time become more productive and more resilient in the face of a changing climate (FAO 2010).

This article will provide an overview of the MICCA Tanzania project initiative, which mainly focuses on the promotion of conservation agriculture and agroforestry at the community level and has a lifespan of 3 years. The Pilot Project in Tanzania started in early September 2011 and will last until August 2014. 

Background of the MICCA project area 

The Uluguru Mountains (UM) lie 200 km inland from the Indian Ocean Coast and South of Morogoro town, in Tanzania. They are one of the thirteen mountain ranges that form the Eastern Arc Mountains (EAM), and are also recognized as part of a Global Biodiversity Hotspot (URT 2005). In addition to that, the UM are also of exceptional interest for being an important water catchment area in the country that supplies water to cities like Morogoro, Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam (URT 2005). The people in UM are predominantly smallholder farmers who are also the main food producers in the country, and are perceived as degraders of their own environment (EAMCEF, 2005-2007).

In spite of the biodiversity richness, the UM is faced with a host of human pressures causing rapid land use changes. These include: slash and burn, felling trees for shifting cultivation, timber, firewood, brick-making, and building pole collection; uncontrolled fires; clearance subsistence; and cash-crop cultivation (Buckley and Bhatia, 1998). While agricultural land in the area has historically been relatively well suited for agriculture, land and water resources have been deteriorated and have led to an increase in soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, and a subsequent increase in sediment loading. In turn, crop yields, household incomes, and any other hopes of livelihood security have declined significantly (CARE Tanzania 2008). Yet, without proper extension or education on alternative farming methods and livelihoods strategies, little progress seems possible for a country that 80% of the rural poor heavily depend on rain-fed agriculture, which accounts for over half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (URT 2007), and for an area where traditional practices (i.e. slash and burn) prevail and farmers lack knowledge about alternatives. Subsistence smallholder agriculture characterized by unsustainable practices such as slash and burn coupled with wood fuel, timber and charcoal extraction are the main drivers of deforestation in Africa, in contrast to Latin America and Asia where export markets drive agricultural intensification and it is a leading driver of deforestation (FAO 2008; DeFries et al. 2010; Palm et al. 2005; Burgess et al. 2002).

MICCA Tanzania and climate-smart options in the area

In Tanzania’s Uluguru mountains, current farming practices include slash and burn agriculture and annual burning of field sites and adjacent forest areas are causing severe soil degradation. To tackle the continuous degradation of forests and the use of unsustainable farming practices, the Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) Pilot Project is being carried out within the Hillside Conservation Agriculture project (dated back in 2009 and in its last year of implementation), in which soil conservation and zero tillage practices are integrated into smallholders’ farm management. The MICCA pilot project will introduce agroforestry into conservation agriculture practices (the latter already introduced in the project area through the Hillside Conservation Agriculture Project). By measuring the increase in carbon accumulation resulting from these climate-smart practices, the pilot project will provide quantifiable evidence of the contribution smallholder farmers can make to mitigate climate change (FAO 2012). Climate-smart agriculture produces triple wins: improved livelihoods, mitigated greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and increased adaptive capacity of farmers.

Climate- smart options with great potential in the area include: conservation agriculture, agroforestry coupled with soil and water conservation techniques, improved cooking stoves, and environmental awareness including avoiding slash and burn and deforestation, the importance of trees in the landscape, and climate change awareness creation.

In addition to the agroforestry component, other climate-smart options complement and will make sustainable the smallholder farmer system in the project area of Kolero, Kasanga, and Bungu wards covering a total of fifteen villages, in Mvuha Division, Morogoro Region (South Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania). Climate- smart options with synergistic adaptation and mitigation potential in the area that are currently being promoted and will be fostered in the near future include: conservation agriculture and improved seed varieties; agroforestry and soil and water conservation techniques in the steep slopes; improved cooking stoves; tree-planting including tree nursery establishment and management; and home vegetable gardens.

Project main approaches in the field 

A group-based learning process including Farmer Field Schools (FFS), Participatory Technology Development (PTD), Participatory Variety Selection (PVS), and a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) component is what the project is based upon (CARE Tanzania, 2008). Farmers’ empowerment and social mobilization coupled with a combination of technical, social and economic approaches that focus on skills development and capacity building of rural women and men farmers are at the heart of the project methodological approaches. The FFS approach provides a learning environment in which a group of farmers gather in the field to learn about their crops and the factors that affect them through the PTD and PVS processes. They implement their own locally specific knowledge and informed decisions about crop management, land-use practices, seeds, and pest management in their own fields. This process stimulates local innovation for sustainable Conservation Agriculture (CA) and improves their decision-making capacity. In addition, the PTD framework encourages farmers to reflect upon their farming systems, and methods to improve soil fertility and conserve water. They also experiment, adapt and develop relevant innovations for managing agricultural and natural resources suitable for their local conditions. Technical solutions are agreed upon for trial and experimentation organized by FFS groups. Farmers try new crop varieties, rotation systems, intercropping practices and others, and analyse the lessons learned from their demonstration plots. The PVS enables farmers to conduct on-farm testing of different crop varieties (both improved and local crop varieties) under their own local management regime, and select the most suitable and high-yielding crop varieties based on their own local selection criteria, and their own needs. On the other hand, to ensure financial sustainability, the project promotes a VSL component, enabling participating farmers to accumulate savings, borrow money and finance small-scale farm inputs to support the adoption of CA farming practices and other goods that improve from productivity and income through off-farm enterprises.

By trying to encourage women farmers, resource focal persons are appointed in order to form new FFS and VSL groups, and facilitate training to farmers, the so-called Contact Farmers (CFs) and Community Based Trainers (CBTs), respectively. A field office has also been built as part of the project (the so-called “Centre for Sustainable Living” –CSL-). The CSL will be a model for sustainable village-based outreach and will provide a centre for CA training, and mentorship of emerging village-based extension professionals. As a result, family food security, income generation, healthy communities, better access to nutritious crops, and healthy soils will be realised.

Scientific measurements

Greenhouse Gases Measurements

Conservation Agriculture (CA) has been found to increase yields, C content in soils, and maintain soil moisture suggesting it could be considered climate-smart. For these reasons, CA is promoted in the project area. However, deriving benefits from CA appears to be sensitive to the environmental conditions, the adoption of the particular components of the technology bundle, and the broader production system. In the MICCA project site, soil N2O, CH4 and CO2 are measured with Gas Chromatographer and Licor using the field and laboratory protocols developed by ICRAF. Improved measurement protocols using Photoacoustic Gas Monitoring (INNOVA 1412) is tested. In order to relate the emissions to important soil parameters which control the fluxes, such as temperature, precipitation, Nmin, pH, water-filled pore space (WFPS) are measured together with the gas fluxes. Gas fluxes of the different land use systems will also be simulated using the mechanistic model DNDC and statistical modelling approaches. The models will be calibrated against the gas measurements and will eventually lead to a better representation of net GHG fluxes in tropical agricultural systems (Mpanda and Rosenstock, 2012).

Land Health Surveillance

ICRAF is using a land health surveillance framework for targeting agroforestry and sustainable land management interventions and assessing their impacts on land health (the capacity of land to sustain delivery of essential ecosystem services) to provide information at a landscape scale. The protocol is being applied in the Africa Soil Information Service ( and as a baseline and monitoring framework. The protocol uses a probabilistic sampling scheme with basic observations being taken on 1000 m2 plots, nested within 1 km2 clusters, within 100 km2 blocks. Soils are sampled and analysed using low cost, high throughput infrared spectroscopy methods, with only a small subset of samples needing to be analysed using conventional analytical methods (Mpanda and Rosenstock, 2012).

The ground data on vegetation and soil conditions is analysed in combination with fine spatial resolution satellite imagery, to provide detailed information on woody cover and tree densities, above- and below-ground carbon stocks, soil constraints to productivity, and soil functional capacity (nutrient, retention, hydrological regulation (infiltration capacity, water holding capacity), carbon and nitrogen storage, biodiversity and flood risk. The information is used to target interventions for sound management of agricultural landscapes (e.g. management of environmentally sensitive areas, and filter areas) not only farm production. Repeat surveys in five years’ time provide scientifically sound data on project impacts at a landscape scale, including carbon stocks. Additional sampling can be done on farms where interventions are being tested, using the same measurement protocol (Mpanda and Rosenstock, 2012).

Climate-Smart Agriculture potential for adaptation and mitigation benefits

The potential of climate-smart agriculture in both helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change is high. Conservation agriculture can increase soil organic matter, the ‘resilience of the land’ through enhanced fertility, soil structure, soil life and biomass production, and can increase the water infiltration and retention (FAO 2010). The use of trees and shrubs on farm help to tackle a triple challenge: food security, mitigation and reducing vulnerability and increasing the adaptability of agricultural systems to climate change.

By adding biomass (e.g. mulch or plant cover) the soil is protected from wind, high temperatures and evaporation losses but it also minimizes the crop water requirements and the growing period is extended. Soil organic carbon (SOC) is increased and the mechanisms of carbon and nutrient cycling are strengthened. Therefore, due to its water saving ability, CA is a water management technique that can increase resilience to climate change and its use will be critical in areas where the impacts of climate change are already underway, especially in dry environments. In addition, the use of CA can increase the tolerance to changes in temperature and rainfall including droughts and floods. CA can then be applied in a variety of agro-ecological zones and farming systems and in multiple cropping systems (FAO 2011). 

Agroforestry (AF) is the incorporation of trees on farm. The use of trees and shrubs on farm help to tackle a triple challenge: food security, mitigation and reducing vulnerability and increasing the adaptability of agricultural systems to climate change. They decrease the effects of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and wind storms. They also prevent erosion, stabilize soils, increase infiltration rates and impede land degradation. They also enrich biodiversity in the landscape and increase ecosystem stability and improve soil fertility and soil moisture through increasing soil organic matter (FAO 2010). Nitrogen-fixing leguminous trees and shrubs are important to soil fertility when there is limited access to mineral fertilizers or agrochemicals. AF systems provide timber and fuelwood all over the world and tend to sequester more carbon than agricultural systems without trees. In addition, trees and shrubs provide important regulating and supporting services to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Ground cover, either vegetative or with mulch is the key factor determining the microclimate. Thus, land management can seriously influence the microclimate by reducing wind and improving shade (FAO 2011).

The hillside of the Ulugurus has steep slopes of over 45% inclination and soil erosion and water run-off are the main problems facing the project area. Agroforestry practices along with soil and water conservation techniques increase the potential to reduce vulnerability to climate change of the forest-agriculture interface. Ground cover, either vegetative or with mulch is the key factor determining the micro-climate. Hence, land management can seriously influence the micro- climate by reducing wind and improving shade (FAO 2011). The land tenure system in the project area is an important aspect to consider when selecting soil and water conservation measures as the land tenure system is clan-based; thus, posing serious implications on the kind of investments one can make on the land if s/he does not own it.

Key messages and Lessons learnt

Some of the key practical considerations in promoting climate-smart agriculture within smallholder farmer systems can be outlined below based on the community work conducted by CARE Tanzania at the MICCA project site within the Hillside Conservation Agriculture Project in Tanzania:

  • Conservation Agriculture has a slow adoption among farmers, and it is first applied in staple crops. Gradually, farmers implement the combination of the 3 principles of Conservation Agriculture: minimum soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotation/association.
  • CA is labor intensive at the start, but afterwards less work and less land to obtain higher yields. Investments in conservation agriculture can be recovered relatively quick. However, a thorough study on the economics of conservation agriculture should be undertaken in order to have an in-depth understanding of the costs and benefits of using the technique.
  • The involvement of schools into the project triggers the CA adoption.
  • Climate change and environmental awareness is key to behavioral change and to combat slash and burn practices.
  • Strong partnerships with Local Government Authorities and District Government guarantee success of the projects as they support the project efforts whenever is required.
  • The use of demonstration plots increases climate-smart options adoption by 10%.
  • Contact Farmers and Community-based Trainers reinforce extension services and have proved to be useful in the promotion of conservation agriculture and other sustainable land management practices.
  • The use of CA leads to surplus production leading to increased income and household food security.
  • Revenues from crop sales using CA are 33% higher.
  • There are higher yields with CA than using traditional practices even if the complete bundle of CA principles is not in place.

Main challenges to implementation and up-scaling

The main driver of deforestation and forest conversion has been shifting cultivation and land clearing to seek new land to cultivate using slash and burn methods. The remaining forest patches are now being affected by wood ‘gatherers’ for brick-making (e.g. used for construction), tree bark removal to store crops, and to a lesser extent, fuelwood gathering for cooking purposes. Serious knowledge and capacity gaps have been encountered in the project area regarding climate-smart agriculture and land management practices with adaptation and mitigation potential as well as livelihood and ecosystem services benefits. In addition, the current land tenure system (clan-based) and land scarcity poses the greater challenges for upscaling agroforestry to a wider population.

Farmers renting land (and most likely those more insecure in terms of food security and income) are more constrained to use conservation agriculture and/or agroforestry as they have to ask permission from the clan. At present, clan owners are in a better position to make investments on agroforestry and conservation agriculture on their own land. According to community perceptions, clan owners would not allow any serious investments in their lands as this would pose issues of ownership of trees and tree goods.

The main challenges that the project area faces for the appropriate implementation of climate-smart agriculture are: the land tenure system; poor land management practices, knowledge and capacity building gaps; lack of access to markets with very poor infrastructure; and, lack of access to agricultural inputs, tools and equipment are additional challenges constraining the extent of climate- smart practices adoption. In addition to this, a lack of appropriate supporting policies at the national level hinder a more widespread introduction.

The potential of climate-smart agriculture in diversifying livelihood options and spreading risks against agricultural production or market failures offers multiple co-benefits to improve livelihoods and ecosystem services at the grassroot levels. Therefore, climate-smart agriculture offers a solution to address local needs (through adaptation) while at the same time has the potential to contribute to global efforts in reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate.