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FAO helps Tanzania monitor carbon stocks

Soil carbon assessment is key to reducing emissions

Photo: ©FAO/Simon Maina
Forest rangers taking soil samples at Megeni Kitasha in the Rombo District in Moshi, Tanzania.

16 May, 2012, Rome - FAO is helping scientists and policymakers in Tanzania evaluate how much carbon is stored in forests and forests soils, which will enable them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Forest soils contain huge carbon stocks. Deforestation, forest degradation, and changes in forest management practices can all release carbon from soil into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. For these reasons reliable estimates of soil carbon stocks and stock changes are important.

The FAO soil survey project for Tanzania was presented today at the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Bonn, Germany.

"The forest soil survey, the first of its kind in Tanzania, was designed to provide unbiased estimates of the soil carbon stock in the country," said FAO Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen. "It will also help experts to further develop a methodology for assessing changes in carbon stocks. The project will allow the government to make informed decisions which will result in an increase rather than a loss of carbon stocks."

Modelling method

Implemented by the Tanzanian government and FAO and funded by Tanzania and Finland, the $5.6 million project involves 16 field teams which have been working for two years, collecting field data from 3,400 sites in Tanzania. Soil sampling is being carried on 25 percent of these sites.

The soil samples are being analyzed in a local laboratory by Tanzanian scientists.

The results of the sampling will be used in computer modelling which allows scientists to estimate changes in soil carbon stocks over time. Dynamic modelling is a less expensive and laborious approach to monitoring changes in soil carbon stocks than repeated soil surveys conducted every 5 to 10 years.

"Soil carbon models are widely available and currently used for soil carbon monitoring and greenhouse gas reporting in Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan. Tanzanian soil survey data enable testing and calibration of dynamic soil carbon models, which can be used for soil carbon monitoring also in developing countries," said Raisa Mäkipää, a scientist from the Finnish Forest Research Institute involved in the project.

Benefits  from increasing carbon stocks

More than a third of Tanzania is forested, but almost one percent of the country's forest is lost each year.

It is estimated that deforestation and degradation in developing countries account for nearly 20 percent of global carbon emissions. This is why the UN is calling for countries to take action under its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative (REDD).

If these monitoring systems demonstrate an increase in the carbon stocks, it will allow countries to benefit from the REDD initiative

"We hope that the project will serve as an example to other developing countries and encourage them to apply similar approaches to monitor their carbon stocks," Pekkarinen said.