Working together in chiapas
The Forest for the Trees
CI Connection AMBIO, a local NGO, is carrying out a forest carbon project with support from CI and funding from Starbucks. Projects like these are creating a worldwide market where farmers make more by protecting trees than they do by cutting them down.
September 30, 2011
Imagine a global system in which the carbon dioxide emitted by one entity — be it individual, corporation or country — is offset by the absorption of that same amount of carbon by a tropical forest half a world away. While relatively new, this system already exists in Chiapas — and it's improving the livelihoods of farmers while connecting them to carbon credit buyers around the world.
In the buffer zone of La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve, Dimas Corzo and other farmers are being paid to plant trees, often in areas previously destroyed by fire, overgrazing and hurricanes. Now in his seventies, Corzo has noticed significant changes in the climate during his lifetime. "Now you have to wash yourself with cold water, and put fans on just to sleep," he says. "With more trees, our climate will stay fresh."
Coffee farmer Efraín Orantes discusses the impact of illegal logging in the region around El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve and Dimas Corzo describes the benefits of participating in the carbon program AMBIO in more detail.
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video: Plant and Protect
Around the world, tropical forests are being cleared at an astronomical rate to make way for cropland, cattle ranching and development. Not only does this destruction eliminate crucial forest resources, but it also emits tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Fortunately, some of this damage is reversible. Just as trees that are cut down and burned release carbon, planting new trees will help capture more carbon from the atmosphere as the trees grow.
The carbon program is implemented by local NGO AMBIO, with financial and technical support from CI and additional funding from Starbucks. The coffee sector is a major component of this program; when planted among coffee bushes, these carbon-storing trees double as shade trees for the coffee. Growers receive payments as the trees grow — usually after one, two, three, five and eight years — from a variety of buyers around the world, including the World Bank, auto racing giant Formula One and global agribusiness Bunge.
Deforestation releases more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world's cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes — combined.
AMBIO is working in more than 100 communities with almost 2,000 producers in Chiapas and Oaxaca. The project provides a rare opportunity for smallholders to access the global voluntary carbon market. Farmers with as little as a quarter-hectare (0.6 acres) of land are eligible to participate in the program.
Sandie Fournier, AMBIO's sales manager, acknowledges that current profits for farmers through the carbon market "aren't going to make anyone rich." The larger benefit, she stresses, is the training that farmers receive on sustainable land-use practices, which, in addition to their environmental benefits, promote diversified incomes by helping them grow a variety of crops on their land.
Establishing and regulating a global carbon market is no easy task — the reality requires complicated scientific calculations, informed participants and rigorous monitoring. Still, these communities are making great strides toward building this framework — and the lessons learned in Chiapas are already inspiring replication in other areas of Mexico, as described in the two stories that follow.
Next: learn why CI is collecting scientific data in Chiapas Sowing the Seeds »
In the mountains of Chiapas, there is always at least one fire in the distance. Sometimes it's just one plume of smoke; other times the smoke blocks out the sun and makes it hard to breathe.
"Two years ago, I produced 20 bags of coffee … this year, only four." One farmer's words joined many similar stories in a crowded classroom at the May 2011 Coffee Forum meeting in Motozintla, Chiapas. Forum participants have experienced the impacts of climate change firsthand in their daily lives, and most of them are acutely aware of the toll that rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns will continue to take on coffee cultivation across the region.
photo gallery: Coffee Production