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Front. Environ. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2019.00146

Energy and Climate Change Mitigation Benefits of Faidherbia albida Agroforestry in Ethiopia

  • 1School of Advanced International Studies, Energy Resources and Environment Program, Johns Hopkins University, United States
  • 2College of Development Studies, Center for Environment and Development, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Agriculture must raise productivity while addressing climate change in order to ensure the food security of a growing population. Adding fossil fuel energy to the agricultural system can increase productivity through the use of manufactured fertilizer but creates greenhouse gas emissions. This study quantifies an alternative in which energy is added to the agricultural system through a substitution of solar energy for fossil fuel energy by the tree species Faidherbia albida. This substitution can be quantified as an avoided emission of greenhouse gas, a climate benefit. Faidherbia albida trees have unusual phenology, leafing out during the dry season and shedding leaves in the rainy season. In agroforestry systems, Faidherbia albida adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil through leaf drop, and these are beneficial to the crop growing under the tree canopy. Dormant during the cropping season, they do not compete for light, water or nutrients and contribute nitrogen to the soil under their canopy. This nitrogen benefit is analyzed in relation to an equivalent quantity of urea fertilizer. This is a substitution of solar energy that the trees use to obtain nitrogen from the atmosphere, for the fossil fuels used in the manufacture and transport of urea fertilizer. This energy contribution by the tree, within the food energy and water system, enhances the food production, and resilience of the system, as soil organic matter increases available water for the plants. This energy contribution to the Ethiopian farming system is estimated as 3.48 GJ ha-1 year-1, based on the nitrogen contribution. Greenhouse gas emissions are avoided by the substitution of solar energy for fossil fuel energy, a climate change mitigation benefit estimated as 0.116 tons CO2 ha-1 year-1. This mitigation is fundamentally different from sequestration of carbon in biomass or soil organic matter. It is a permanently avoided emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, associated with a particular cropping year, and is not reversible, unlike carbon stored in biomass or soil organic matter that could return to the atmosphere. The potential extent of Faidherbia albida agroforestry is substantial and its potential climate change mitigation benefits are great.

Keywords: agroforestry, Climate change mitigation and adaptation, Ethiopia agriculture, Nitrogen fertilisation, Avoided emissions, Food security

Received: 31 Aug 2018; Accepted: 17 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Haskett, Simane and Smith. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jonathan D. Haskett, Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, Energy Resources and Environment Program, Baltimore, United States, jhaskett2008@gmail.com