How can incentives for soil carbon management contribute to food security and biodiversity conservation?

Management of soil carbon may offer potential for improving agricultural practice and productivity whilst providing co-benefits in terms of climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Agricultural productivity in Africa has remained stagnant over recent decades, and this is generally attributed to a loss of soil fertility and of soil carbon. Increasing soil carbon is thought to increase water retention capacity, suitability for agriculture and soil biodiversity. But a better understanding is needed of the relative roles of rights and responsibilities of landholders and incentives measures to drive management changes. Incentive measures that encourage sequestration of soil carbon are less developed than for forest carbon with outstanding questions on methodology and long-term biodiversity benefits.

Further investigation of the potential of payments for soil carbon is warranted as the agricultural community seeks to capture carbon finance by advocating a programme of work on agriculture in the decisions of the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) at Cancun. Similarly, soil carbon and related payments for ecosystem services have featured in a recent global conference on agriculture and in several of the top 100 questions on agriculture. A range of aspects merit further research, for example: to explore cost-effective methods for soil carbon measurement and verification; to explore the value of payments for soil carbon services in terms of enhancing provisioning services at different spatio-temporal scales, e.g., crop productivity and contributions to rural development for small-holder farmers, as well as contributions to the conservation of biodiversity, including both wild and domestic agrobiodiversity.

This project was funded by the CCI Strategic Initiative Workshop Fund. This fund provides seed grants for participatory workshops that contribute to the understanding and conservation of biodiversity.

Project Aims

The aim of the workshop was to improve the biodiversity contributions of agricultural areas by increasing understanding of the potential of payments for soil carbon services (PSCS) by:

  • Compiling a review of the potential for extending the Payments for Environmental Services into the realm of payments for soil carbon services
  • Examining whether payments for soil carbon in an agricultural context can contribute to biodiversity conservation, climate mitigation and provide other co-benefits such as reversing land degradation , increasing crop productivity and contributing to food security and rural development
  • Determining what Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems would be required
  • Examining the potential applicability of bundled PSCS incentive structures that can deliver desired additionality in term of enhanced soil carbon sequestration and biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, also taking into account livelihood impacts of such reward incentives for poor farmers

Key Activities

  • A workshop, hosted by UNEP-WCMC: "How can incentives for soil carbon management contribute to food security and biodiversity conservation?" (12th - 13th May 2011).


  1. A workshop report that includes recommendations of future strategic research priorities; and policy recommendations.
  2. A policy brief to inform decision-makers about potential synergies between soil carbon management and biodiversity.
  3. A University/ NGO partnership has been developed and submitted a research proposal to investigate the biodiversity impacts of using BIOCHAR.

CCI partners Involved

The Department of Plant Sciences' research spans plant and microbial sciences. Conservation-related work in the department includes forest ecology and conservation, tropical ecology, mathematical...
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...
The Department of Zoology carries out wide-ranging work in ecology and conservation including conservation science, aquatic ecology, pathogen evolution and evolutionary ecology. Research of the...
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an independent scientific research trust specialising in impartial evidence-based knowledge and advice about populations, movements and ecology of birds and...
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental...
The Department of Land Economy's core research in economics, law and planning focuses on policies and regulations for the management of land and natural resources. There is particular expertise in...

Other Organisations Involved

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
CCI workshop report: How can incentives for soil carbon management contribute to food security and biodiversity conservation? This workshop explored how payments for soil carbon management might contribute to food production and biodiversity conservation. Workshop discussions were informed by a background paper and five... Workshop proceedings
Policy brief: Incentives for soil carbon management - how can they impact biodiversity and food production? This policy brief was developed through an international CCI Strategic Initiative Workshop that brought together: soil scientists, land economists, agriculturalists, plant scientists and biodiversity... Policy briefs