Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, but this was preceded by years of extensive violence and destruction to much of the nation’s infrastructure and landscape. Today, at less than 15 years old, Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest countries – and after years of conflict, this South Pacific nation is continually rebuilding. This young country is reaping environmental and social benefits from its first ever community-based forest carbon sequestration project. This is a ground-breaking endeavour supported by Australia’s Xpand Foundation’s WithOneSeed Program, and the collective effort is bringing new life to forests and future hope to the indigenous communities who rely on it.
Today in Baguia, the land mainly consists of remnant patches of forests alongside agricultural lands and grasslands. Low fruition rates of agriculture mean that the majority of the local population supplements their incomes through exploiting what is left of the forest’s resources. Many of the current practices are unsustainable and are leading to severe degradation, due to over-farming, grazing and burning. The vast majority of farmers in Baguia, Timor Leste are currently living at a subsistence level, planting crops in degraded soils – on lands that were once surrounded by forests. Yet now, farms in Baguia are being reforested through the WithOneSeed Program, which has achieved Gold Standard certification for carbon sequestration.
The Rainforest Alliance’s team of RA-Cert carbon auditors recently travelled to Baguia to conduct the Gold Standard Initial Certification audit of the WithOneSeed’s reforestation project. The audit involved a comprehensive review of the project’s design, conformance to rigorous standards, and projected carbon sequestration levels. After achieving certification to the Gold Standard, projects must continue along the path towards Performance Certification (verification), which will determine whether a particular project’s activities are generating the levels of carbon sequestration that were originally aimed for in its beginning stages. After attaining Gold Standard certification, verification audits are required at least every five years to confirm the actual amount of emission reductions achieved by projects.
RA-Cert’s Initial Certification audit confirmed the projected levels of carbon sequestration expected to be achieved by the project. Due to the amount of time it takes individual trees to sequester measureable amounts of carbon, Performance Certification (verification) typically does not occur until several years after trees are planted. The initial stages leading to WithOneSeed’s Gold Standard certification began in 2009 in the Baguia community, and the first plantings of mahogany seedlings were in the ground the following year.
RA-Cert’s carbon auditors met with WithOneSeed’s project managers and the local field team to discuss the evaluation and actions necessary for the audit. The audit itself included an inspection of the planting sites, the project’s seedling nurseries, and interviews with participating farmers and community members. The field audit was followed by development of the audit report and associated quality reviews. Gold Standard carbon projects must also adhere to sustainability requirements and prepare a ‘Do No Harm’ assessment and conduct local stakeholder consultations.
The project area is susceptible to an increased drought period, high groundwater vulnerability, and has a population that has an unsustainable dependence on unprotected water sources. The reforestation activities introduced by WithOneSeed’s project should help to reduce runoff and overflows and retain subsurface water. The total eligible planting area of the project is 4,996 hectares (ha), and through 2015, a total of 29 ha were planted. This amount is expected to increase to 142 ha by 2040.
As a whole, carbon projects seek to combat climate change and improve land-use techniques, management, and execution. Some of the key aims for the endeavour include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, refurbishing soil quality, restoring local waterways back to health, and protection against erosion. This project will likely also lead to employment for local staff, and the project managers also hope it will deliver a range of social benefits, in particular direct payment for individual landholders in return for planting and maintaining trees. Reforestation projects are also beneficial opportunities for smallholder farmers to gain access to carbon markets.
Learn about the positive impacts of carbon sequestration already experienced by communities in the Philippines: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/multimedia/climate-penablanca-reforestation