Bogota (AlertNet) – More than 1,000 families in the municipality of Acandi, on the Panama border, are aiming to become one of the first Colombian communities to sell carbon credits generated by their forest conservation activities on the international voluntary market.
The initiative, led by North American anthropologist Brodie Ferguson, aims to cut 50,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually, while protecting the rainforests of the Serrania del Darien. At the same time, it hopes to provide education, employment and direct financial rewards to participating families, who own half the project.
The Acandí effort is part of the Choco-Darien Conservation Corridor, a regional initiative that seeks to protect 5 million hectares of forest in the Colombian Pacific, and prevent up to 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year through strengthening resource management by local communities.
In the course of his doctoral research which began in 2005, Ferguson experienced firsthand the beauty of the Choco, as well as the subsistence lifestyle of the Afro-Colombian, indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) people in this remote region, who survive mainly from agriculture and cutting down trees.
He also got to know the communities of Curvarado, whose collective land rights had been recently restored by the Constitutional Court, and spent time in Cacarica and Pedeguita, where selective logging and cattle ranching have changed the natural landscape.
The Acandi landholders he met wanted better living conditions, but without altering their habitat or clearing their forests for ranching or palm oil cultivation.
Ferguson began to explore the possibilities of the carbon market, which he recognised as an opportunity to generate resources for the community while conserving the area’s natural wealth.
He says deforestation in the region has not yet reached a critical level, but in 50 years’ time, without action, the region’s forests are likely to end up like the Caribbean Coast, where only 10 percent of the natural ecosystem remains.
PRESERVING LIFESTYLES AND IDENTITIES
Working with researchers at the National University of Colombia in Bogota and the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, where he studied, Ferguson began working on an economic and social development project that would conserve the region’s forests while preserving the lifestyles and identities of traditional communities.
The process has benefited from the Acandi people’s legal basis of collective land ownership, together with strong interest among local community landholders.
The project will invest in local governance and community integration. It builds on traditional walks to monitor areas of primary forest, and proposes fundamental changes to the way timber is harvested and sold.
Work cooperatives will help regenerate degraded areas by planting native species, and there will be investment in other forest products, such as cacao, used to make chocolate.
“My hopes in this project are many, because I think it is the most direct way we have as collective landholding communities to access resources,” said Everildys Cordoba Borja, a community leader who serves as local coordinator for the initiative.
“We have territorial autonomy, and financial independence is what we need to begin to achieve community development and strengthen ourselves as an organisation.”
The project has applied for certification under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Alliance’s REDD standard, a voluntary market scheme to reduce planet-warming emissions from deforestation while protecting threatened ecosystems and the local communities that inhabit them.
After gaining CCB approval, it will begin the first of two validations by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) - the final step needed to register carbon credits for sale on the international voluntary market.
The Acandi initiative will be among the first forest carbon projects in Colombia to be certified for the voluntary carbon market, and could later qualify under the U.N.-backed framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
U.N. climate negotiators will consider the inclusion of REDD in the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) at talks in South Africa in December. Last year, a reforestation scheme called Procuenca was the first Colombian forest project to be registered under the CDM, but it does not generate carbon offsets through REDD.
Meanwhile, Anthrotect Ltd – the company set up to manage the Acandi initiative, which has offices in Medellin, Colombia, and Palo Alto, California - is in talks with individuals, U.S. companies and even foreign governments that might be interested in buying the carbon credits, which could be available for sale early next year.
To ensure proper oversight and transparency in the administration of funds, Anthrotect has developed an alliance with the Fund for Environmental Action, a Bogota-based non-profit organisation that administers the Enterprise for the Americas initiative in Colombia, as well as funds for other initiatives such as Malpelo National Park.
Juana Camacho, the fund’s environmental coordinator, says the Anthrotect project is unusual because it places strong emphasis on participation and ownership by the local community.
"The community is very motivated and has high expectations regarding the certification (of the project) in order to advance to the next stage of project development, especially to begin organising associations and work cooperatives," Cordoba said.
With the project expected to last as long as 30 to 40 years, the plan is for communities to take ownership over time, Ferguson says. To that end, they are being trained to develop their own administrative and financial systems, and receive a regular stream of information to help them make decisions.
Local people hope to invest the cash they get from selling their carbon credits in five main areas: strengthening local governance; promoting income-generating projects such as ecotourism and organic cacao; monitoring forests; reforesting with native species; and improving logging practices.
“We believe that through the conservation and restoration activities associated with this project, and especially by providing an example to other communities, we are taking a big step to gradually halting the expansion of cattle ranching and other practices that destroy forests,” Cordoba said.
Colombian writer Maria Luz Ayala is director and chief editor of Revista Ecoguia, a monthly environmental magazine, based in Bogota. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.