Identifying secure and low carbon food production practices: A case study in Kenya and Ethiopia

Jessica Bellarby*, Clare Stirling, Sylvia Helga Vetter, Menale Kassie, Fred Kanampiu, Kai Sonder, Pete Smith, Jon Hillier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The world population is projected to increase to 9-10 billion by 2050, during which time it will be necessary to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. The particular challenge this places on agriculture is to identify practices which ensure stable and productive food supply that also have a low greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity. Maize is the principle staple crop in many parts of Africa with low and variable yields, averaging only 1.6 t/ha in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Food security and increasing crop yields are considered priorities in SSA over impacts of food production on GHG emissions. Here we describe an approach that can be used to inform a decision support tree for optimal interventions to obtain sufficient food production with low GHG intensity, and we demonstrate its applicability to SSA. We employed a derivative of the farm greenhouse gas calculator 'Cool Farm Tool' (CFT) on a large survey of Kenyan and Ethiopian smallholder maize-based systems in an assessment of GHG intensity. It was observed that GHG emissions are strongly correlated with nitrogen (N) input. Based on the relationship between yield and GHG emissions established in this study, a yield of 0.7 t/ha incurs the same emissions as those incurred for maize from newly exploited land for maize in the region. Thus, yields of at least 0.7 t/ha should be ensured to achieve GHG intensities lower than those for exploiting new land for production. Depending on family size, the maize yield required to support the average consumption of maize per household in these regions was determined to be between 0.3 and 2.0 t/ha, so that the desirable yield can be even higher from a food security perspective. Based on the response of the observed yield to increasing N application levels, average optimum N input levels were determined as 60 and 120 kg N/ha for Kenya and Ethiopia, respectively. Nitrogen balance calculations could be applied to other countries or scaled down to districts to quantify the trade-offs, and to optimise crop productivity and GHG emissions. Crown Copyright (C) 2014 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-146
Number of pages10
JournalAgriculture Ecosystems & Environment
Early online date9 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Article Accepted Date: 25 July 2014

We thank two anonymous reviewers for comments which considerably improved the manuscript. This research was conducted under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) with additional funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) for generation of the survey data under the ‘Sustainable Intensification of Maize–Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA)’ project. The work contributes to the University of Aberdeen Environment and Food Security theme and the Scottish Food Security Alliance-Crops. The scripting of the CFT tool into Matlab was funded by the Social and Environmental Economic Research (SEER) into Multi-Objective Land Use Decision Making project (which in turn is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Funder Ref: RES-060-25-0063).


  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • smallholder farming system
  • maize
  • food security
  • greenhouse-gas mitigation
  • nitrous-oxide emissions
  • sustainable intensification
  • arable crops
  • agriculture
  • fertilizer
  • climate
  • systems
  • impact


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