PlantVillage receives Cisco Foundation grant to help communities capture carbon

Pennsylvania State University

PlantVillage has been awarded $300,000 from the Cisco Foundation to promote regenerative agriculture on African farms to help them adapt to climate change. The PlantVillage team plans to plant 1 million trees across 12,500 farms in two counties in western Kenya, Bungoma and Busia. The team also plans to show that the well-documented climate change adaptation approach of tree planting on farm borders can occur at scale, create green jobs, and mitigate climate change.

PlantVillage has developed a unique system-change approach using technology from smartphone artificial intelligence and satellite data via cloud software coupled with the PlantVillage Dream Team of talented young people recruited from the African communities where PlantVillage is partnered. The youth, called the Dream Team, bring energy, ideas, ownership and trust to the project, which allows the technology to be used in ways that immediately benefit their communities.

“We plan to use this funding to scale our technology-empowered Dream Team, which supplies green jobs for local youth, to enable climate change mitigation and adaptation on Kenyan farms by planting border trees and promoting regenerative agriculture on farms. This approach is recognized to increase the resiliency of farms to climate shocks,” said David Hughes, founder of PlantVillage and Huck Chair in Global Food Security, professor of entomology and biology, and director of the USAID Current and Emerging Threats to Crops Innovation Lab at Penn State.

Planting these trees will help farms adapt to climate change in multiple ways, including reducing water loss from the soils, increasing nutrients in the soils, and increasing farm income and energy efficiency by reducing the distances women farmers must travel for firewood. Additionally, by planting these trees, the PlantVillage team estimates that each farm will draw down 3 to 5 tonnes of carbon per year, making the land more valuable for the farmers, as they could receive payments through the international carbon markets for the carbon the sequester and store.

“The carbon market offers a mechanism by which we could scale up climate change adaptation for African farms resulting in climate change mitigation at scale,” said Hughes. “Based on our initial estimates, which will be revisited during this project, we think we could ultimately scale to 200 million farmers pulling down 1 gigatonne of CO2 each year.”

“There is no better feeling than proactively engaging youths, local community and farmers,” said John Mayieka, a Dream Team member in Kenya leading the tree-planting efforts. “PlantVillage has managed to engage the community in its tree nursery operations, which provide labor in various aspects like potting, pricking out of seedlings, and security, among others. We have engaged three women on a full-time basis who work to remove weeds, water the seedlings, and report on progress to earn money to help support their families. So far, we have provided direct employment to more than 30 people from the community. The grant from the Cisco Foundation will see that we engage more people from the community.”

The grant is part of the Cisco Foundation’s commitment to help reverse the impact of climate change by funding projects focusing on technology-based solutions, greenhouse gas and carbon reduction, climate resilience, green jobs, and community education and activation.

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