Earning payments from tree planting
Farmers living in deforested and degraded land in Uganda have begun earning carbon credit payments by planting indigenous trees. The payments are made by companies in Europe and America who want to reduce their environmental impact by compensating for their carbon dioxide emissions. Local NGO, Ecotrust Uganda, provides technical support to the farmers, and calculates the payments they are entitled to – according to how much carbon is stored in the trees over their life span. Pauline Nantongo, Executive Director of Ecotrust Uganda, explains more about this valuable new opportunity, which is creating income for local farmers, restoring the degraded land and also helping to tackle global warming.
Nantongo Trees for Global Benefits started in 2003 with just about 33 farmers in Bushenyi. But it has now grown, extended to about seven districts in Uganda. Annually right now we recruit about 500 farmers; from just 33 farmers in one year to now 500 farmers annually.
Wambi Let's look at the communities in Bushenyi. What was the situation of the communities before this project began?
Nantongo These are communities that are neighbouring protected areas, and there is a very hard edge boundary between the forest and the communities. The lands were totally bare, devoid of trees but then there were trees in the national parks. So we sat down and discussed with the communities and they said, they agreed to grow these trees on their land. So we agreed with them and worked out a scheme whereby we work out how much carbon dioxide will be stored in the trees, if they grow it on their land and also discussed with some of our clients in Europe how much carbon dioxide do they contribute to the atmosphere as a result of their activities. So on an annual basis our European and American clients work out how much they have contributed and they would like to clean it up, and then we recruit as many farmers that can grow trees to clean it up. So we create a balance for everybody.
Wambi I seem not to be seeing an immediate motivation. What motivated these people?
Nantongo The trees that they are selecting are multi-purpose trees. They have multiple benefits at different stages of their development. But also in the beginning you can grow the trees at the same time with the crops. So the same labour that you use to do the crops is the same labour that you use to do the trees. So you have access to finance that will enable you not to do only the trees but also go about your usual gardening activities. And also these farmers are also interested in long term investments. It is just that they do not usually have ready finances to do those investments. But they also think about the future, they think about retirement, they think about the generations to come. So it's an incentive, it's an opportunity for them. But also, in the past we have not been growing our own native trees we have been growing Eucalyptus, Pine. So people were not quite clear on how to go about the growing of indigenous trees, but because we were willing to provide the technical assistance and the farmers in Uganda they love experimenting. So this was an opportunity for a demonstration on how Ugandan indigenous trees can be grown.
Wambi Can you explain to us this carbon credit payment system, how does it work?
Nantongo Well there are very many different systems but we use a system that is called the Plan Vivo system. The carbon trading schemes can be quite complicated. So this is a system that was created to address the barriers that prevent local communities' access to the carbon market, and it's operating in Mozambique, in Kenya, in Tanzania plus other developing countries. If each individual farmer was to access the carbon market on their own, the amounts that come from those small-scale land holdings would not make it economically viable. So what happens is that the carbon credits that are produced across multiple land holdings is put together in a project and marketed as one project. Also the system recognises that what prevents farmers from investing in trees is mainly finances. So this system sells your carbon credits before you generate them. But then the payments are given to you in instalments. So up front you have the investment to use for tree planting activities. But then also every farmer must have a management objective for their trees. You might be growing trees for timber; I am growing mine for building poles; the other person is growing for fodder or for fruits. So everybody must have their own management objective because it is that management objective that will guarantee the sustainability of the wood lot that you are establishing, for those trees to be able to last a long while to sequester the carbon dioxide that is intended to sequester.
Wambi You said you sell carbon; how is this calculated?
Nantongo If you remember photosynthesis, when a tree is making its food it uses carbon dioxide. So as the tree absorbs carbon dioxide it grows in biomass, in weight. So it's the biomass that is stored in the tree that helps you work out how much carbon dioxide is in the tree.
Wambi It looks a very complicated issue to understand for my listeners?
Nantongo It is a complicated subject and that is what makes it very interesting, the interactions that we usually have with the communities. For example, one of the gentlemen one time asked us, OK, so now I know you do not want to take away my land and the trees will remain mine. At what stage and in what form will you come for your carbon dioxide? Will you siphon it out of the tree? So we had to explain that no, what you are doing is a service. Just like I can hire you to come and clean up my house. You clean, you take the rubbish. I do not come back to you and say, Hey, give me back my rubbish. So this is what you are doing, you are cleaning up the environment by growing the trees. You are sucking up the dirty air and storing it in the tree. You, you have a use for it; you are turning it into biomass and turning it into timber. That is none of my concern. Me, I am just paying you for the service of cleaning up the environment or the buyer is just paying you for the service of cleaning up the environment.
Wambi Thank you very much and any advice to farmers out there listening in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and elsewhere?
Nantongo Farmers should understand that they have a lot more skill than they even seem to have noticed. Very many people, technical foresters and what have you, had for a very long time failed to grow Uganda's indigenous trees. But these farmers, through their little farm-based experiments, they have been able to come up with the best ways of growing these trees. So farmers have a lot more skill than they probably even know. They should be brave enough and try out these things. They will be able to do amazing things with their land. End of track.
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