As South Africa prepares to host UN climate talks at the end of the month, African farmers say they are struggling to access a key programme meant to help them take part in the fight against climate change.
The continent's farmers were meant to be among the main beneficiaries of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which lets industrialised countries and their companies fund green projects in the developing world in exchange for credits toward their emission-cutting targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
But as climate negotiators prepare for a tough round of talks on the future of Kyoto – the only deal to date with legally binding commitments to cut greenhouse gases – farmers in Africa complain the CDM's complicated paperwork puts the emissions trading programme out of their reach.
"Small-scale farmers do not have the knowledge to present projects," Effatah Jele of the Zambia National Farmers union told AFP.
"My major concern is that it affects the small farmer, who is usually a woman. I'm a dairy farmer and I want to know how to feed my cattle so they produce less gas."
Zanele Phiri, director of Swaziland's farmers union, said applying for CDM projects is too expensive for ordinary farmers.
"Why was it made in that way? It costs a lot of money," she said.
The women were speaking on the sidelines of a recent conference of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), which drafted a resolution calling for climate negotiators to simplify the CDM at the Durban talks, to be held November 28 to December 9.
The resolution said the programme's funding mechanisms should be revised "to make them accessible to farmers in developing countries."
China, India and Brazil have won the bulk of the 3,000 projects the CDM has financed since 2005 – initiatives like reforestation, solar panel use or generating energy from waste.
Africa enjoys only a fraction of the carbon credit market, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, which put the number of African projects at a mere four percent of the total in 2008.
South Africa hosted 14 of the continent's 18 projects, and only six of those were linked to agriculture, according to SACAU information from two years ago.
And little has changed, said farmers at the organisation's conference.
"The CDM aims to support sustainable development in Africa, but developing CDM projects in the region turns out to be a challenge," writes geographer Paul Desanker of Penn State University, in a paper that cites prohibitive start-up costs, lack of investors and complex project requirements as barriers.
Questions are now being asked about how farmers can access the carbon market or some dozen other initiatives like the Climate Change Adaptation Fund, which has given money to only two African projects in two years – an irrigation programme in Eritrea and coastal erosion prevention in Senegal.
Climate change is already hitting Africa's farmers at home, as sugar production falls in Mauritius and drought devastates Somalia, while increased flooding plagues Malawi, Zambia and other countries.
But administrative and technical challenges scare off many farmers, even those who worry about climate change and want to adapt.
"It is complicated and a long process," admitted the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Christina Seeberg-Elverfeldt.
"But it can be initiated by farmers if there is an idea. It should at least involve 50,000 farmers."
Projects on that scale are hard to put together without government involvement – something farmers complain has not been forthcoming.