Farm Workers Turn Carbon Credits into Cash

Farm Workers Turn Carbon Credits into Cash

A game-changer in Western Cape agriculture has seen farm workers benefiting from carbon credits earned through a climate change mitigation initiative by an organically certified estate which practices regenerative farming.

27 workers on the Spier estate in Stellenbosch are to share half the R204 000 paid out from carbon credits – derived from practicing regenerative farming on a section of the organically certified wine farm.  An average of R4 000 was given to each worker, with those managing the cattle component receiving a larger portion of the credits. 

“The farm has acquired the credits for sequestering 6 493 tons of carbon dioxide in its soil, which is cultivated in as natural way as possible by using regenerative farming practices like high density grazing,” says Spier Wine Farm’s livestock farm manager, Angus McIntosh. “This is a technique that involves frequent stock rotations aimed at using livestock to mimic nature by restoring carbon and nitrogen contained in livestock and poultry urine into the soil profile.”

Globally, the conversion of grass- and forest land to crop and grazing lands has resulted in losses of soil carbon, explains the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Organic carbon accumulates in soils through photosynthesis as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon escapes into the atmosphere if land loses its cover of natural vegetation and becomes denuded and degraded through practices such as intensive agriculture and monoculture, and use of inorganic pesticides and herbicides.

The credits were bought by a South African bank, brokered by Credible Carbon, a business dedicated for making carbon work for the poor as it facilitates carbon trading through credits earned for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and global warming.

Among institutions that have bought credits is the office of the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille.

“We now have a sixth revenue stream from carbon credits in addition to our other five – from sales of beef, chicken, eggs, pork and lamb, says Spier Sustainability Director Heidi Newton-King.

Livestock farming on the Spier Wine Farm practices high-density rotational grazing alongside the vineyards.  74 hectares of pastureland supports about 300 cattle, 4 500 laying hens, 1 200 broiler chickens, pigs and sheep.

Soil samples from the livestock farm were tested over an 18-month period by a leading US laboratory. “They confirm a significant and rapid enhancement of soil organic carbon over this period,” shared Credible Carbon.

“The presence of a great many animals in a confined space for a short period of time deposits enormous amounts of manure and urine on the land leading to healthy, vigorous pasture growth without the need of fertilizer,“ says McIntosh. “No inorganic fertilisers nor grains are used as animal feed, thereby disassociating the farming practice with industrial agriculture.” 

FAO estimates that carbon released from soil sinks is responsible for about one third of GHG emissions. However, says the FAO, “there is major potential for increasing soil carbon through restoration of degraded soils and widespread adoption of soil conservation practices”.

This is the second tranche of carbon credits earned by the farm following a smaller previous payout bringing it to a total of 7 852.”

“This initiative adds to the farm’s sustainability and underlines that regenerative farming is not only good for the environment but makes good business sense,” shares Newton-King.