Growing a Greener Grain in Ghana

How Switzerland, Ghana and the UN Development Programme are revolutionizing rice cultivation through carbon finance

September 28, 2023



In a time where sustainable development is vital, Switzerland, Ghana, and the UNDP are pioneering climate-smart agriculture through their Carbon Payments for Development (CP4D) Facility. Using carbon finance, they're not just farming rice but transforming its cultivation with Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) technology. This initiative aims to slash methane emissions from Ghana's rice fields, turning rice farming from an environmental concern to an innovative, eco-friendly approach. With the potential to cut 1.1 million tCO2eq of carbon emissions, this is the first project approved under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, underscoring its significance in global climate change mitigation.


Why rice?

Rice cultivation, a staple livelihood and source of sustenance for billions across the globe, has an unexpectedly significant and damaging role in climate change. This is primarily due to methane emissions - a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential that is 28 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

The paddy fields where rice is grown are typically flooded, creating an anaerobic environment where methanogenic microorganisms thrive. These microbes decompose the organic matter in the soil, releasing methane in the process. It is estimated that rice cultivation contributes to roughly 10 percent of global methane emissions annually.

Daniel Benefor, Head of Ghana’s Article 6 Office, stresses the potent warming effect of methane, especially in its first decade after release. “Reducing methane emissions immediately can notably mitigate global warming impacts in the near future, offering a concrete step to curb climate change,” he said. Rice cultivation, a major global methane contributor, involves flooded fields that foster methane-producing microbes. These microbes degrade organic soil matter, releasing methane.

Benefor highlighted that in Ghana, where rice is essential, the methane from paddies creates a notable carbon footprint. "We're addressing these environmental concerns by promoting sustainable farming," he said. "Adopting eco-friendly techniques strengthens the agriculture sector against future climatic challenges."


Awed by the AWD method

The Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) method offers a sustainable solution to the environmental concerns of traditional rice farming. Unlike conventional methods that maintain continuous flooding, AWD alternates between flooding and drying the paddy fields. Once rice plants are established, the water recedes until it's about 15 cm below the soil surface, after which the field is re-flooded. This cycle continues throughout the growing season.

The AWD method brings multiple benefits to rice cultivation. Noah Gyimah, Chief Investment Officer of Jospong Group notes that AWD curtails methane-producing bacteria, cutting methane emissions. Moreover, it saves up to 30 percent water, which reduces water-pumping expenses and the fossil fuel consumption of pumps. The method also improves water management, aligning with changing rainfall patterns due to climate change.

Highlighting AWD's primary advantage, Gyimah said it ensures consistent rice cultivation amidst unpredictable weather. “In an era of erratic rainfall and limited water, AWD stands out,” he said. “It's more than water conservation—it signifies resilience. Even in drier conditions, rice cultivation remains possible, essential for numerous global communities. As climate changes, adopting AWD promotes sustainability and food security, underscoring our ability to prosper amidst change."


The ITMO Programme and the UNDP CP4D Facility

Carbon markets offer an economic motivation for reducing emissions. This was chiefly enabled by Article 6, which was appended to the Paris Agreement during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021. More precisely, Article 6.2 promotes voluntary cooperation between or among nations to achieve the emission reduction goals outlined in their climate commitments. 

Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) are a cornerstone of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, and provide a way for nations to collaborate, enabling a country to finance climate change mitigation in another country and then claim the mitigation outcomes reduced or removed.

Switzerland, for example, is leveraging this provision to support the implementation of the AWD method in Ghana. The resultant reductions in methane emissions from rice cultivation are quantified and will be transferred as ITMOs under the Paris Agreement. 

The Carbon Payments for Development (CP4D) Facility, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), plays a critical role in promoting and facilitating Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The Facility assists developing countries in building their capacity to fully participate in cooperative approaches. 


Impacting lives, improving livelihoods

The switch to the AWD method is not just about mitigating climate change; it's also about changing lives, says UNDP Resident Representative, Angela Lusigi. “For Ghanaian farmers, both large-scale and smallholders, this shift promises significant socio-economic benefits,” she said. "Adopting the AWD method in rice cultivation represents an intersection of environmental stewardship and economic empowerment.”

Ms. Lusigi also said that by reducing water usage, we decrease the greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation and empower Ghanaian farmers to be more resilient in the face of climate change. “The savings on water and fuel costs translate to higher profit margins for both small and large scale farmers,” she said. “This is a tangible change that improves the livelihoods of the very people who feed the people of Ghana."

For many farmers, adopting the AWD method is already making a difference. Smallholder farmer Martin Pwayidi said with the changing climate, yields have been generally low. “But I can count my lucky stars that with this {AWD}, there is an improvement and that is why I wanted to start early this year with it,” he said. “Because farmers are getting less than 10 bags per acre and I am getting 15 bags— that is an achievement.”


Stakeholder Engagement and Replication/upscaling of the initiative 

This initiative goes beyond the borders of Ghana, involving a diverse set of stakeholders, including international organizations, national governments, NGOs, and the farming community itself. It is a collaborative effort combining science, policy, and practice to address the dual challenges of food security and climate change.


Adherence to robust monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems, as prescribed by UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, is paramount to the success of the programme. In a pioneering move, UNDP is testing an advanced MRV model that uses satellites to monitor irrigation and verify AWD adoption by farmers each season. Monitoring farming practices and emissions reductions transparently builds confidence in these markets, encouraging more participation. Satellite surveillance is thus central to ensuring our emissions reduction endeavours are genuine and trusted by stakeholders.

Stephen Kansuk, Head of Environment and Climate at UNDP Ghana, believes that both the AWD method and the MRV system are scalable and can be adopted in regions or countries with analogous agricultural conditions. "This initiative isn't exclusive to Ghana; it sets a precedent for other nations,” he said. “It aims for a broader impact across various regions and countries. The potential benefits for farmers and the environment are clear, and we see its potential for other rice-growing countries."

Kansuk also champions Ghana's role in spearheading this approach through South-South collaborations. “Collaborative efforts, sharing knowledge and resources, accelerate our journey towards climate action and sustainable development,” he remarked. “Ghana's AWD success demonstrates the profound change possible when we collaborate. Addressing climate change and food security challenges isn't just an option; it's imperative."

Through the implementation of the Alternate Wetting and Drying method, Kansuk sees a tangible example of a systemic response to the climate crisis. The AWD method addresses a key source of greenhouse gas emissions, improves water management, and provides economic benefits to farmers. It's a clear testament to the fact that our fight against climate change can be strategically aligned with socioeconomic development.

“The path towards a greener and more sustainable future is paved with innovation, collaboration, and determination,” adds UNDP Resident Representative Angela Lusigi. “Let us step boldly and confidently into this future, fostering change not just in the fields of Ghana, but in every corner of the world where our actions can make a difference.”