How we’re helping farmers on climate change

For those who rely on the land for the little money they earn, climate change presents a new set of increasingly volatile risks.

According to the World Bank, three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas, and nearly two-thirds of that population works in agriculture. These communities already exist in a constant state of vulnerability. Living below the international poverty line at $1.90 a day is not just a matter of income, it is an indicator of one's level of access to essentials like education, housing, healthcare, sanitation and nutrition to name a few.

As temperatures rise, there will be more rain in some places and less in others. In both cases, crop yields will suffer, leaving poor farmers with less to eat and less to sell.

Prince Albert II of Monaco
Thierry Orban | Getty Images
Prince Albert II of Monaco

This urgent challenge raises the question: What can be done to secure both the earning potential of the world's poor farmers and the wellbeing of the land they till?

Together, our two organizations, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and FXB International, are working to develop an answer. Through investment in innovative technologies, we believe it is possible to help the world's poor farmers increase their yields and productivity, while simultaneously offsetting carbon emissions. In fact, in a 2015 study, the World Bank found that by simply improving soil-management techniques, around 20 percent of greenhouse gases could be offset each year.

Our shared belief in integrated solutions led us to join forces this September to expand FXB's poverty-eradication program in Rwanda using biochar, a carbon byproduct that can be deployed to sequester carbon while simultaneously enriching the soil.

Biochar is produced when plant matter or other organic materials left behind from farming activities are heated in a low-oxygen environment. If left to decompose naturally, this agricultural waste will emit carbon into the atmosphere. But with biochar, the carbon is sequestered into a solid mass, which when inserted into the soil, effectively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it underground, where it will not contribute to global warming for hundreds of years. In the short term, biochar has been shown to improve soil fertility and increase crop yields, thus providing an economic boon to the farmers using it.

Following a successful pilot program conducted in an FXB village in Rwanda in 2013, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is now underwriting the introduction of biochar in 80 gardens run by FXB Village program participants in Rwanda and is providing training in its use to 1,200 farmers from nearby cooperatives.

With this program, we believe we can not only strengthen economic opportunities for these communities, but also create a replicable model for tackling urgent environmental challenge while building the foundation for climate-friendly economic development in other countries in which FXB operates.

Poultry farmer Josh Frye churns out biochar from chicken waste and wood chips, turning it into a valuable fertilizing substance which is also environmentally clean on November 26, 2008 in Wardensville, West Virginia.
Jeff Hutchens | Getty Images
Poultry farmer Josh Frye churns out biochar from chicken waste and wood chips, turning it into a valuable fertilizing substance which is also environmentally clean on November 26, 2008 in Wardensville, West Virginia.

In January 2016, farmers in Rubona, Rwanda, will be able to use a kiln provided by FXB to produce up to 100 kg of biochar a day, without shouldering the prohibitive costs of obtaining equipment. As we have seen in the pilot program, they will increase their crop yields, resulting in more to eat and more to sell at market. In addition to their surplus vegetables, farmers will be encouraged to sell biochar itself. This will be an additional source of income and community-led way of encouraging climate-friendly, agricultural practices in nearby villages.

The local production and sale of biochar also fulfills the FXB program goal of providing funding for an income-generating activity, a key element of FXB's successful methodology that has lifted more than 82,000 people out of extreme poverty over the past 26 years.

While FXB International empowers the extreme poor and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation dedicates itself to the protection of the environment, our work is inextricably linked: We must preserve the earth to protect the people who inhabit it.

The global challenges we face rarely present themselves in discreet silos. They are often cyclical and build in momentum in proportion to one another. Fortunately, the same can be said for the world's solutions. It is our job, our responsibility to find these links.

Commentary by Prince Albert II of Monaco and Albina du Boisrouvray. Prince Albert is the sovereign of Monaco. The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is dedicated to the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development on a global scale. Du Boisrouvray is the founder and president emerita of FXB International, an international development organization that works to eradicate extreme poverty and uplift children around the world.