When climate change experts report on melting glaciers, many of us may think of polar ice caps in remote places, far from cities. However, for the residents of the Colombian city of Manizales and its surrounding communities, the consequences of glacial melt are something they face every day.
The PROCUENCA project aims to restore the regional watershed, slow the effects of climate change and improve conditions for local people. All of these benefits can be achieved through a fairly simple action: hiring farmers to restore degraded ecosystems with non-invasive trees.
Scientists have estimated that the region’s Nevado del Ruiz tropical glacier has lost more than a third of its ice cap since 1970–a change which, combined with land degradation from agricultural practices, is threatening water availability and food production in the historically abundant area.
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Fortunately, change is on the way. This week, a collaborative reforestation project called PROCUENCA was officially registered with the Clean Development Mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)–the first project of its kind in Colombia, and 14th worldwide. Reforestation will help reduce land degradation, helping communities step up their efforts to fight and adapt to climate change while simultaneously restoring vital ecosystems and creating new economic opportunities.
Coffee, Cows + Climate
From snowy mountaintops to humid tropical forests, the steep slopes of the Colombian Andes house a remarkable number of unique species–from the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) to the yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis).
These regional ecosystems also form the backbone of Colombia’s economy. For more than a century the rich, volcanic soils of the Chinchiná River basin have produced globally-renowned coffee which has sustained the livelihoods of local farmers. In addition to coffee, cattle ranching has long been a prominent source of income. However, in recent years a decline in coffee prices has led to much more extensive clearing of land for cattle, causing biodiversity loss, soil erosion and a decline in water quality throughout the basin–an especially serious threat given the current rate of water loss from the nearby glacier.
As ecosystem degradation makes it more difficult for farmers to make a living, many are looking for new sources of income.
More Trees, Better Results
Organized by the municipality of Manizales and financed by the Institute for Financing, Promotion and Development of Manizales (with CI-Colombia, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and other partners), the PROCUENCA project aims to restore the regional watershed, slow the effects of climate change and improve conditions for local people. All of these benefits can be achieved through a fairly simple action: hiring farmers to restore degraded ecosystems with non-invasive trees.
DISCOVER: The role of forests in mitigating climate change.
Through the implementation of a variety of forestry models–including plantations and systems which combine sustainable forestry with farming or livestock raising–the restoration of forest ecosystems will have a range of positive impacts, such as:
- Connecting existing forest fragments through newly reforested areas, which will increase habitat for many species. CI-Colombia is working with local partner PROAVES to establish a biodiversity monitoring program and track the project’s success.
- The prevention of erosion and sedimentation–a change that will improve water quality and conserve the basin’s water supply as the glacier melts.
- Increasing the region’s carbon storage capacity, which will mitigate global climate change while directly compensating local landowners.
To date, more than 4,000 hectares (almost 9,900 acres) of forest have been replanted. The forest’s carbon storage capacity is evaluated every five years as the trees grow, and landowners are paid accordingly. But these new-growth forests do more than just store carbon; PROCUENCA is the first Clean Development Mechanism project to ensure that biodiversity benefits are incorporated into project design. Through the sale of credits known as Bio-CERs, twenty percent of the revenue generated by the sale of carbon credits will go towards a biodiversity conservation fund.
PROCUENCA is already expanding employment opportunities in the region; so far, the project has created 1,500 permanent and 2,500 seasonal jobs within the reforestation project. By training people in new career skills, the program helps them increase household income while improving ecosystem health.
In order to manage the generated carbon credits and give a voice to the landowners who have invested in the project, PROCUENCA has organized the Association of Agroforestry Producers, or AGROFORESTAL. Members are adamant that the project is playing a substantial role in re-shaping their economy and community for the better.
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“When the Board of Directors was first elected, we decided to hold our meetings at each of the members’ rural properties,” said Angela Arango, president of AGROFORESTAL. “Through this decision, we came to understand that the immediate challenge was to better understand our own farm and the needs of the community, and we realized that if we wanted to achieve our goals, we had to start by changing our own attitudes on the management of our natural surroundings.”
A Landmark Achievement
Registration of the project under the UNFCCC means that once the emissions reductions are verified in 2011, landowners will be able to begin selling carbon credits on the global carbon market. Several developed countries have already expressed interest in purchasing the credits generated by PROCUENCA in order to meet their emissions reductions commitments under the Kyoto protocol.
The PROCUENCA project is already serving as a model for other carbon projects in Colombia and around the world, demonstrating the new opportunities carbon markets provide for communities to include ecosystem benefits in their development plans.
READ MORE: Forest Carbon Plan Pays Off