How can we assess the mitigation potential of agriculture and forestry development projects?

Submitted by Monica Coll Besa | published 6th Mar 2013 | last updated 18th Jun 2018

Mitigation measures in the agriculture and forestry sectors are creating interest as potential source for additional income and as a means of fueling adaptation to climate change. However, there is a lack of relevant experience on the ground on the relation between adaptation and mitigation. Generally, discussion of the potential synergies between adaptation and mitigation measures are often treated in a generalized manner and are not strictly related to noticeable sectors such as agriculture and forestry (Verchot et al. 2007). In this article, a tool for assessing the mitigation potential of agriculture and forestry project interventions on the ground is presented and can be used in the context of assessing synergies between adaptation and mitigation options such as climate-smart agriculture.

Background of the tool

EX-ACT (EX-Ante Carbon Balance Tool) is a tool jointly developed from three FAO divisions: TCS, TCI and ESA*. It aims at providing ex-ante estimations of the impact of agriculture and forestry development projects on GHG emissions and Carbon (C) sequestration, indicating the effects on the C balance (reduced GHG emissions and C sequestered above and below ground). The tool is a land-based accounting system which measures carbon stocks, stock changes per unit of land, and CH4 and N2O emissions expressed in ton equivalent-CO2 per hectare and year (Bernoux et al. 2010). The main output of the tool is an estimation of the carbon balance associated with the adoption of alternative land management options (‘with project’ scenario), compared with a ‘business as usual’ (reference or baseline) scenario.

EX-ACT has the potential to support project designers to select project activities with higher benefits both in economic and climate change mitigation terms and the output could be used in financial and economic analysis. Furthermore, the tool is cost-effective, requires a minimum amount of data, and has resources (tables, maps) which can help finding the information required to run the model. Also, EX-ACT works at project level but can easily be up-scaled at programme/sector level.

Basic contents of EX-ACT and main outputs

EX-ACT has been developed based on the Guidelines for National Green-house Gas Inventories completed with other existing methodologies. The default values for mitigation options in the agriculture sector are mostly from IPCC (2007). Other coefficients such as embodied GHG emissions for farm operations, inputs transportation, and irrigation systems implementation are from Lal (2004). Two approaches can be used: the tier 1 and the tier 2 approach. The tier 1 approach uses default emission factors provided mainly by the IPCC (Bernoux et al. 2010). The tier 2 approach allows for the inclusion of ad-hoc emission factors, which are more adapted to the local context and more accurate than the IPCC’s default factors. It is possible to use either approach, or combine the two in a single carbon-balance appraisal. When precise field data are not available, the simplest way to proceed is to use the tier 1 approach. 

EX-ACT consists of a set of linked Microsoft Excel sheets in which project designers insert basic data on land use and management practices foreseen under projects’ activities. EX-ACT adopts a modular approach – each ‘module’ describes a specific land use –and following a three-step logical framework:

a)    A general description of the project (geographic area, climate and soil characteristics, duration of the project);

b)   Identification of changes in land use and technologies/ practices foreseen by project components using specific ‘modules’ (deforestation, forestation, forest degradation, annual/perennial crops, rice cultivation, grasslands, livestock, inputs, energy); and

c)    Computation of C-balance with and without the project using IPCC default values and –when available –ad-hoc coefficients.

The main output of the tool consists of the C-balance resulting from project activities.

The Way Forward

EX-ACT was created in early 2010 and went through a peer-review process in order to be adopted for project designers in international organizations and donor agencies working on agriculture and forestry projects. The tool is now available for free by donors and technical partners. Appropriate training, software updating and technical quality monitoring framework are currently in place. Initiated for being used at project and program level, the tool is also now used in national sector strategies and policies (e.g. to compute the carbon balance of aggregated agriculture sector strategies and policy options) or for regional initiatives. Initially elaborated in English, EX-ACT has presently been translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese.

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* TCS: Policy and Programme Development Support Division; TCI: Investment Centre Division; ESA: Agricultural Development Economics Division

Further resources

How to get the tool?

Are you novice in using the EX-ACT Tool?

Learn how to fill in the different modules in the Excel sheets of the tool with the user guidelines developed by FAO.

Examples of EX-ACT applications in Climate-Smart Agriculture projects:

EX-ACT applications in projects: further case studies