Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pondering Pollination

We all know that bees are an important part of our landscape. They provide pollination services to our agricultural sector worth billions of dollars each year; a study by the University of California, Berkeley calculated that the economic value of pollination from wild, free-living bees in California alone is $937 million to $2.4 billion per year[1].
However, crisis looms as bee colony numbers are dropping due to habitat loss, disease and pesticide use. Intensive, monoculture agriculture tends to reduce bee numbers due to the removal of natural habitats where bees would normally feed and nest. For example, pollen from wild flowers found in forests and grasslands provides the proteins and nutrients that bees need to grow and develop[2]. Further, beehive colonies, which farmers introduce for their pollination services, have been experiencing extremely high losses worldwide[3] and in some cases, beekeepers have reported losing 30 – 90 % of their hives. The most likely cause of this so-called ‘colony collapse disorder’ is a virus which is spread by parasitic Varroa mites, originally native to Asia. The mites pass deformed wing virus (DWV) on when they feed on honey bees, but a particularly deadly strain of DWV appears to have become dominant, causing it to become “one of the most widely distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet”[4].
So what can farmers do to improve the number of pollinating bees on their land? One answer lies in the protection of native bee habitats, such as trees within neighboring forest patches and agroforestry systems. Tropical forests provide habitat to a diverse range of native pollinator species including bees, yet they are being destroyed at an alarming rate; figures from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) estimate that from 2000 to 2005, 10.4 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year[5]. Furthermore the FAO deforestation estimates are in fact lower than actuality due to the fact that forest degradation is not accurately estimated. So, in truth, the loss of forest habitat is significantly higher. Research has shown that plantation forests, which often contain non-native tree species and tend to be low in biodiversity, do not provide the same variety or abundance of native bee species, and therefore have a far weaker effect on crop production than do native forests[6].
As well as the protection of native forests that surround agricultural lands, maintaining diverse agroforestry systems can provide a solution to pollinator problems for crops such as cacao and coffee, which flourish under a canopy of shade trees. The main pollinators of cacao are midges, which need a wide range of plant species and decaying matter on the ground as well as a humid environment, in order to flourish[7]. Cacao is strictly dependent on insects for pollination, so maintaining a good habitat for its pollinating midges is extremely important for ensuring good yields. Leaving leaf litter and rotting fruit on the ground provides the necessary breeding ground for midges, but if farmers remove this litter layer, then having diverse forest remnants close to cacao farms helps to support their populations[8].
For coffee, bees are the main pollinator, and have been found to increase in abundance (the number of bees) and species richness (the number of different bee species) the closer a farm is to native forest[9] as well as when coffee is grown under a canopy of shade. Of further benefit to farmers, research has shown that when coffee farms are located close to native forest patches they can have higher coffee quality and quantity[10]. In addition, shade coffee farms have been found to support native bee populations which then pollinate native trees in surrounding forest patches, thereby preserving the genetic diversity of these forest remnants[11].
The California native bee species Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-faced bumble bee, forages on almond flowers that are located right next to rangelands habitat. (Alexandra Maria-Klein photo)
    It is clear that in today’s industrialized agricultural landscape, the preservation of a diverse matrix of native forest and grassland habitats is essential for the conservation of our important pollinator species, which provide such a valuable ecosystem service. Crops such as cacao and coffee, which flourish under a canopy of shade, can therefore enhance pollinator numbers by being grown as diverse agroforestry systems. Aside from providing pollinator habitat, the benefits of agroforestry systems are numerous, including watershed protection, reduced soil erosion and maintenance of soil fertility. For these and many other reasons, agroforestry is promoted as a more sustainable method of production.

Martin Noponen, International Forest Carbon Project Manager

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Community Forestry: The concept and its importance worldwide

Deeply rooted throughout human history, indigenous communities have shaped and laid the groundwork for Community Forests. As environmental pressures have exponentially increased over the past few decades, so has the evolution of resource management through local populations. Consisting of various levels and forms of community involvement, the key tenets of Community Forests are: participatory forest management, social forestry, and community-based forest management. 

The value of this connection between forests and rural communities is now being recognized at the global level. A broader awareness is developing which understands the importance that forests play in the everyday lives of these community members. The aim of community-based management and planning of forest resources, is the maximization of benefits for the stakeholders to reduce poverty while applying sustainable and fair practices for the local community. In many cases of public governance of forestry systems mismanagement and degradation of the forest resources have greatly diminished the economic, social and ecological values of the forests, which has been typically referred to as the tragedy of the commons.

As a result of this inept management  Community Forest groups have risen to action around the globe. Through the empowerment of indigenous people via structured community entities the goal was for Community Forest groups to provide long-term sustainable solutions to forest stewardship,. “Forestry for community development must therefore be forestry for the people and involving the people. It must be forestry which starts at the 'grass roots’” (FAO 1978).

In the early years of the movement, the primary issues that were addressed were generally related to shortages of forest resources in developing countries, mainly fuelwood. To address this need  overseas development aid (ODA) agencies established fuelwood lots oriented to the production of biomass for energy consumption. Through this process the creation of new resource plots arose dedicated exclusively to the production of scarce or high-demand forest products. Initially, environmental sustainability and fair practices were not key considerations, however this soon evolved as a main focus. 

Community Forestry has flourished at a grassroots level spreading across the globe with thousands of cases embracing all continents. A semi-successful example of this is in Nepal where several decades of government mismanagement has led to a significant decrease in forest cover. With the transition to local community management great improvements have been achieved in forest resource stewardship and the deforestation rate has been decreased. The complex socio-political situation of Nepal and its extreme poverty demonstrates how critical the success of such projects are and underlines their importance in positively impacting lives in rural populations. 

The structure in Nepal is based on communities participating through Forest Group Units.  The units are composed of community members living in the areas surrounding the forests, and these members are entrusted with  conserving and managing forest resources.  As part of the project structure even if the land remains fully owned by the state, 100% of the benefits derived from the forest are allocated to the Forest Group Units. The initial results were inconsistent, however slowly over time the primary goals and objectives of the project were achieved. Through this organic process best practices were established thus creating a framework for the expansion of Community Forests throughout the country. 

As the project matured, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) was created to promote the involvement of forest user groups in local and national discussions and decision-making processes (here the website: FECOFUN). Despite it’s initial success benefitting all community members, FECOFUN is now under scrutiny for corrupt practices. It has recently been reported that cases of bribery, illegal logging and unfair distribution of the benefits derived from the selling of timber and secondary products has proliferated. Sadly this is a common challenge for established Community Forestry projects, but with proper oversight and management this issue can be resolved. 

GGC is currently working on several projects in collaboration with community groups. This innovative approach to the Community Forest concept is a critical component in GGC’s reforestation-agroforestry projects in the Rio San Juan of Nicaragua, the Dja REDD+ project in Cameroon and Misahualli in Ecuador (for detailed information on these project please visit: projects). In Cameroon, in the Dja biosphere reserve and it’s buffer zone, GGC is currently creating an inclusive framework for all forest stakeholders which incorporates community forest groups, regional groups, government agencies, NGO’s and commercial operations . The goal of this project is to achieve maximum benefits and full representation of the local population in alignment and collaboration with other actors who lay claim to land and resources in and around the reserve. Ultimately the goal is to create long-term sustainability and resilience, supporting biodiversity and the conservation of these threatened forests.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Insetting C emissions in the cacao supply chain – an opportunity?

With increasing consumer pressure on companies to reduce their environmental impact, developing an environmentally-­‐‑sound supply chain is increasingly an integrated part of many companies’ strategies in becoming more transparent in their operations and their commitment to help fight climate change. As for any agricultural entity, for the cocoa industry this is doubly important as integrating sustainable practices is essential to securing the long-­‐‑term supply of cocoa.

Traditionally, sustainability efforts have focused on improving farming practices, increasing cacao volumes and helping farmers to improve their livelihoods – focusing on the production side of the supply chain in isolation. A new approach, being adopted by innovative companies looking to integrate production sustainability within a wider climate change strategy, is the reduction of whole supply chain environmental impacts. Chocolate production for example is based on many production stages (see text box) which are dependent on intensive usage of natural resources, material resources and energy, all which generate emissions of green house gases that contribute to global warming. The main way to estimate this effect is by calculating the carbon footprint. Through the calculation of this carbon footprint, the major emission sources or emission hotspots can be identified and mitigating opportunities can then be put in place along the supply chain. For some companies, their commitment to sustainability ends here, but others go on to offset their remaining emissions by engaging in energy efficiency, renewable energy or afforestation and reforestation projects that reduce GHG emissions outside of the company’s corporate boundaries.

Insetting however makes the process of engaging in GHG emission reduction more ‘personal’ as it identifies emission reduction activities that are of benefit to its wider supply chain and stakeholders. The benefits of this are multivariate and will show in overall increased supply chain efficiency, costumer loyalty and a reduction of GHG emissions along the supply chain. With increasing emphasis put on low carbon economies and cap and trade schemes this will give businesses that invest in a sustainable supply chain a cutting edge over those without such a strategy. The cacao sector is currently facing many challenges. Cacao trees in some of the major producing countries are aging and low farmer investments mean that their corresponding yields are dwindling. Sustainability is therefore becoming a key element of cocoa supply chains, to ensure that future supply will be able to keep up with global demand. This has opened up a unique opportunity for insetting its supply chain emissions. Sustainable production and sustainable supply can be linked through increasing farming standards, increasing cocoa bean quality through farmer training programs, improving harvesting and post-­‐‑harvest techniques, and working with farming communities to build standards of education and health care. At the same time, this allows for the re-­‐‑introduction of suitable levels of farm shade from trees which if managed correctly will help not only the sustainable production of cocoa but also to offset, or in this case, inset the remaining GHG emissions from along the supply chain. By engaging in the sustainable ‘upgrade’ of farms or the establishment of new farming entities that favor the insetting approach, the entire supply chain could fruit from the long-­‐‑ term benefits. GGC is currently working on a number of projects in Nicaragua and Cameroon that will allow companies in the cocoa industry to become truly sustainable. We recognize the challenges of rapidly changing weather patterns and the fast moving degradation of vast ecosystems that add pressure to an already stretched production systems. But by developing sustainable farming solutions that address these threats as a whole, the inherent risk related to supplies can be reduced. As such insetting is fast being considered a mechanism that could help secure the sustainable supply of quantity and quality within the cocoa supply chain.

Martin Noponen, International Forest Carbon Project Manager

Friday, June 8, 2012

African Great Green Wall

The Sahara Desert has been advancing at an alarming rate over the past few decades. Fueled by wide spread drought that has been intensified by climate change and deforestation throughout North Africa, the Sahara’s advancement is becoming a life and death struggle for it’s local communities. The challenge is easy to see; stop the spread of the world’s largest desert. The reality; the almost insurmountable task of asking some of the most poverty-stricken and technologically-challenged regions of the world to fight a battle so large that it can be seen from space.
Yacouba Sawadogo
There is a solution: Creating a Great Green Wall.  Yacouba Sawadogo, the “Man who stopped the desert”; started to conduct experiments back in 1980 using traditional farming techniques to restore degraded soils.  Through using restorative nature to combat destructive nature a goal was set to plant a barrier of trees that stretched over 7000 km long and 15 km wide.  The communities were challenged to work together to establish a trans-boundary forest, over multiple nations, which would serve as fortification from the desertification of their homelands.
The project was launched in 2005 and has faced many challenges: Completing planning efforts; securing project funding; agreeing upon a long-term perspective; and ensuring the continuous interest of all governments involved, has taken many years. Adding to the already great efforts needed for a project of this scale, the political instability throughout the different countries continued to threaten to undermine the project.
Fast forward to 2012, the initiative is thriving! Consisting of thousands of small projects, the natural barrier is strong and well articulated along the length of the boundary. The implementation of agroforestry and diversified practices, instead of the planting of monocultures, has allowed incredible enhancements in biodiversity, watershed management, mitigation of soil erosion, and food security for each region. These re-greening actions have not only managed to change the perception of environmental issues faced among the population, they have also made great improvements in the living conditions and income levels of local communities.
Thanks to the efforts of Yacouba Sawadogo, the re-discovered technique he applied is now widely used across Burkina Faso and has made possible the recovery of thousands of hectares of degraded land. The Great Green Wall has created a buffer zone from encroaching desert while providing the communities with sustainable resources to harvest for generations.
Global Green Carbon’s  REDD+ project in Cameroon,  is also working on establishing a 15 km buffer zone around the Dja Biosphere Reserve.  The buffer will be focused on innovative agroforestry and enrichment initiatives to alleviate the pressure of illegal logging, land conversion to agriculture and hunting practices throughout the Dja Biosphere Reserve.  Similarly to the threat of desertification,  the buffer is being created to deter the encroachment of commercial interests and unsustainable practices in the Dja.
The positive attitude and the great results obtained for this undertaking has boosted the creation of a more coordinated movement. Initially operating under the name of Sahel Re-Greening Initiative (2007), they have since re-named the movement The African Re-Greening Initiatives. If you like to discover more on the activities of the African Re-greening Activities I invite you to have a look at the following websites:
and to watch the trailer of the 1 hour documentary on the activities and achievement of Yacouba Sawadogo:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Global Green Carbon Announces First REDD+ Project in Cameroon

The team at Global Green Carbon (GGC) is very excited to announce that in partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Center for Tropical Research (CTR), the consortium, has received official approval from the Cameroon government to implement the first ever REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation)  project within the country. The project will cover lands in and around the Dja Bioshpere Reserve. Check out GGC’s Press Release here:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ilegal Logging in Cameroon

Determining the rate of tropical deforestation is notoriously difficult with estimates varying wildly depending on their source. For example, rates can be calculated from the volume of logs and sawn timber exported, forest concessions awarded, the change in forest area (observed from the ground or from satellites), national and sub-national statistics from government and independent bodies, and from the scaling up of detailed small-scale studies. All typically give very different results.
What is thought to be almost certain is that the rates based on national statistics, used to build up the widely-used FAO “State of the World’s Forests” reports, are underestimates. This is partly because in many tropical countries corruption, weak governments and limited resources combine to enable profligate illegal logging and land clearance for agriculture to take place. It is also due to a process called degradation, sometimes known as cryptic deforestation, whereby small numbers of trees are removed from an area of forest without total clearance taking place. The resulting logs are often used for local construction purposes or for fuel, but are sometimes sold as timber too. Degradation is exceedingly hard to estimate, as it is largely invisible to satellite data. Increasingly also the boundary between the two is becoming blurred, with increasing prices for tropical timber allowing small illegal logging companies to take out the most valuable logs from a forest at a small scale, resulting in no clear-felling but a significant loss of timber and carbon from the forest, and significant disturbance.
During a recent research trip to southern Cameroon in partnership with scientists from UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, members of Global Green Carbon team saw this process first hand. There were brazen examples of illegal logging activities, including large roads (not on any maps) built by the illegal logging companies, in the forests around the Dja Reserve.
These roads, and many other roads going through the forests in this area, have clear logging side roads branching off. In our 48-hours in the area we identified over 30 such paths in one general region.

Travelling along such logging paths one can find stumps of large timber trees, as well as large piles of sawn planks and clearings for creating temporary sawmills.

Local communities told us that trucks came to pick up these planks at night in order to avoid checkpoints, but in general this activity appears very open. The local communities do not like this theft of their principle asset, but are powerless to stop it. If allowed to continue unchecked, it will threaten their traditional way of life.

Despite this there is still incredible biodiversity and large expanses of forest left in Cameroon; but the current rate of forest loss is unsustainable, and charismatic species like the threatened Black-Cast Hornbill will be lost.
Photo: Denise Hardesty
The worry is that continued logging activities will soon encroach on this Dja reserve itself, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Already the increased access roads built by loggers into the forests around the reserve are providing access for hunters, who are depleting the large mammals living in the park dramatically.
The government of Cameroon, like that of many other tropical countries, does not have the resources to prevent such deforestation or poaching. Even if the government were able to truly prevent forest loss it is necessary to create new, sustainable livelihood opportunities for the local communities. The initial training and continued support for such efforts should be provided by a “payment for ecosystem services” system (PES), where members of the rich world can transfer money to these communities in return for the services of carbon storage, ecosystem function, climate stabilization and biodiversity conservation provided for the whole world. Such a system is REDD+: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, now a policy priority in negotiations in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Competition for land in the Rio San Juan area

Global Green Carbon has been working in the Rio San Juan region of Nicaragua since 2009. Our Project Development Forester has recently spent 6 weeks in the region, and the below is his account of the pressures on local farmers to convert their landholdings to unsustainable monocultures of exotic species, and our unique solution to this problem.

Farmers in El Castillo district along the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua, bordering the Indio Maíz Biosphere Reserve, have historically been faced with a lack of infrastructure and political instability. Over the years this lack of accessibility and stability has worked to reduce farmers’ choices in how to use their land, as there was little access to capital, and transport to markets was difficult. In the past, land use decisions were easy, deforestation followed by cattle or grain crops were the only options. Due to this productivity was low, and the area has remained among the poorest in Nicaragua, with few opportunities for the local population. Recently, as the land base shrinks and families grow, pressure on farmers to make more money per hectare has been increasing. Another recent development is the improvement of infrastructure, thereby creating easier market access, which in turn has increased the interest of foreign companies. This all cycles back as additional motivating factors of deforestation on the remaining tracts of forest in and around the Indio-Maíz Reserve. Farmers in the area now have more choices on how to use their land, and the region is facing a critical turning point.

The high annual rains and tropical climate of the region are perfect for perennial crops of which currently a few dominate; Palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), Gmelina (Gmelina arborea), and various fruiting trees such as cacao and timber trees of both native and exotic origin. Palm oil corporations generally buy land from people, and then offer factory work after the land is purchased. This is especially attractive to farmers with large plots of land, which when sold pays out well. But typically the one-off payments they receive are not well spent, and the farmers may follow on by creating a new farm in virgin forest, near or in the Indio Maíz Reserve, the further advances the “agricultural frontier”. The problem of palm oil is not only the promotion of a monoculture (a biological desert) but the drainage and deforestation also involved. It is not easy to get permission to deforest land as a palm oil company, but it is easy to stipulate that the farmer clears his/her land before the final transaction. This leads to expanding palm oil plantations taking the place of primary and secondary forest bordering the Indio Maíz Reserve.

The issue of drainage especially affects the farmers who do not sell out to the palm oil plantations. It is common practice of palm oil plantations to dig large trenches and allow water to flow out of the plantation reducing flood damage to the palms, however this is not beneficial to the areas hydrology and detrimental to neighboring farmers. The farmers who remain owners of their land surrounded by Palm oil plantations are often left with an impossible task of dealing with the erosion and flooding from the plantations. In one case witnessed by GGC a farmer’s access to his fields was severely limited by waist deep floodwaters which, before the palm oil plantations were drained, only measured a few inches deep. This further promotes expansion of the plantations and single ownership of large tracts of land by large corporations, with little regard for biodiversity, ecological value or sustainability.

As well as Palm oil often farmers are approached with the choice to plant Gmelina, a fast growing tropical tree from India. Plantations just a few years old can be seen throughout the district where there is good road access. Currently there are few mature stands in the region but farmers’ acceptance of the crop is growing along with the trees. Though the sale of the land is not required in the case of Gmelina farmers, they are persuaded into planting an unsustainable mono-culture of an exotic species to maximize short-term profitability, leaving the land all but barren of pre-existing biological diversity. The fast growth of the tree and the relatively quick profits (for trees) also persuades many farmers into deforesting existing forest cover on their land and converting it to this plantation. Indeed, despite this being illegal for a company to promote in Nicaragua, this does seem to be positively encouraged (it is not illegal for farmers to clear their own land of trees). The rapid growth of the tree with a turn-around of as little as 10 years is very attractive when viewed in the short-term. Though the Gmelina offers reforestation and can be argued as being beneficial to protecting forest resources in some cases, we believe the negative effects of it being grown as a monoculture outweigh its benefit, but the difficulty is providing the funds and expertise to the local communities so they can earn more money from a sustainable land-use.

African Palm Oil and Gmelina crops are expanding the spread of deforestation in the area and threatening the isolation of the Indio-Maiz Biosphere Reserve. Many farmers have portions of their land set aside as forest, but this has been decreasing as the years continue and families grow. In spite of growing families and economic pressure some farmers have opted not to sell their land, and are planting native tree species. When asked why, farmers often quote biodiversity as a key factor in their decision, along with erosion and water protection as additional reasons. Allowing more farmers to make this choice comes down to short-term economics and returns from crops. As in most places people in El Castillo can’t afford to make the 25 yr investment needed with native hardwoods on their land without returns in the midterm. That is why short-term profits need to be integrated with long-term goals. Agroforestry systems and plantations mimicking natural forest are some of the best options for farmers in the region looking to maintain ecosystem services without sacrificing economically.

Global Green Carbon is pioneering an innovative model in the area with its Rio San Juan Project, which will create more profit for farmers while also increasing biodiversity and tree cover with overall local and global environment benefits. This is based around plantations combining a mix of native precious hardwood species with agroforestry crops such as cacao, with the vision that these timber plantations will be managed in perpetuity. Mixed native timber plantation, managed according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), have been shown to support almost as much biodiversity as natural forest, while additionally providing a constant long-term income to the local farmers and a sustainable timber supply. GGC’s method of combating deforestation is to make the current degraded land and deforested land of farmers more profitable while supplying the logging industry with quality ethically sourced timber. This ultimately reduces the pressure on natural forests.

Farmers, in partnership with Global Green Carbon, are now using green investments to develop a win-win option combining agroforestry with sustainable native timber plantations which generate not only timber revenues but also carbon revenues. The farmers acceptance of this new view of land-use is the key to protecting the Indio Maíz biosphere reserve, the largest tract of primary forest in Nicaragua.