Southwestern Uganda's rural Bushenyi District features a pastoral patchwork of banana, corn, coffee, sugarcane and sweet potato plants. Missing, however, is much of the tropical vegetation that once provided habitat for local wildlife.
Thanks to a project developed by The Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST) and validated by the Rainforest Alliance, native vegetation is gradually returning to the region. This vegetation not only provides habitat for wildlife, but helps to absorb carbon gasses that lead to climate change.
Over its 20-year lifetime, the Trees for Global Benefit project is expected to sequester more than 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), providing significant economic and environmental benefits to the smallholder farmer community, local wildlife and ecosystems.
In an area once dedicated almost exclusively to subsistence farming, the 138 farmers participating in the project have begun planting native and naturalized trees on their land. In addition to sequestering carbon dioxide, the trees are helping to curb soil erosion and keep waterways free from siltation.
Participating farmers are organized and evaluated according to a standard called Plan Vivo, which is designed to encourage farmers in developing countries to manage their lands responsibly by paying them for the ecosystem services their farms provide.
Farmers are paid by ECOTRUST based on their progress toward individual goals, including the percentage of trees they have planted. [Here, project participants and a local auditor are checking the growth of new plantings.]
By measuring its diameter and recognizing its species, a farmer can estimate a tree's volume and, therefore, its carbon content. These measurements are crucial to determining the amount of carbon sequestered (or "offset") by a project.
Farmers cannot accurately estimate a tree's carbon sequestration capacity until it's about five years of age.
Farmers in the region rely on ecosystem service payments -- like those generated from the Trees for Global Benefit project -- to improve their quality of life. Many use the supplementary income to pay for their children's schooling.
Local communities are intimately involved in the process of establishing and executing forest carbon projects. During the validation of the Trees for Global Benefit project, the Rainforest Alliance and ECOTRUST teams met with local council members to discuss their roles and reasons for participating in the project.
Carbon forestry projects must be meticulous about accounting for all of their greenhouse gas emissions –- the vehicle emissions from the audit trip, for example, must be included in the total as well as emissions from machines used during tree harvest.