Colombia's Tolo River People collectively own 32,000 acres of rainforest, and that forest feeds the river on which they depend. But ownership means nothing if you can't protect it. Four years ago, they began harnessing carbon finance to save the forest and preserve their way of life. This series takes us into their thinking and their strategy. It has been adapted from "Modern day forest conservation: A Colombian community protecting its rainforest one carbon credit at a time," by Tanya Dimitrova.
Part One: How The Tolo River People Of Colombia Harnessed Carbon Finance To Save Their Rainforest provides an overview of the project.
Part Two: The Forest, The Farms, And The Finance: Why The Tolo River People Turned To Carbon Finance examines the drivers of deforestation in and around the Tolo River Community.
Part Three: The Tolo River Community Project: The Importance of Inclusion follows the development of the project itself - its conception, its implementation, and its challenges.
Part Four: Getting Down To Business: The Tolo River People Shift From Building Their Carbon Project To Selling The Offsets tells the surprisingly challenging story of finding and cultivating offset buyers.
You can also find the REDD Desk Project summary of this project here.
This is the first of a four-part series that initially appeared on Ecosystem Marketplace. Click here to view the original.
18 March 2015 | Five young men are cutting their way through dense rainforest vegetation in the northernmost part of Colombia - forest that was already old-growth when the conquistadors first set foot on the continent five centuries ago. The silence is interrupted only by the sound of running water from the many streams dissecting the hilly terrain. It is midday, and the heat is intolerable even for the mosquitoes. Frazier Guisao, an ex-logger, heads the single-file line, slicing through the thick undergrowth with a machete to carve out a narrow tunnel. The crew is patrolling the forest to protect it from illicit clearing.
Old trees in this pristine forest reach as high as 10-story buildings, emerging well above the thick canopy, and the men sit for a rest at the buttress roots of a giant centennial almendro tree. Guisao examines the trunk and makes a quick calculation in his head.
"This wood is worth around three million pesos," he says. That's about $1,500 USD. As a former commercial logger, he knows it would have taken him about two hours to fell it with the chainsaw. The work they're doing now isn't nearly as lucrative in the short-term, but it's much more rewarding.
Preserving the Forest; Protecting the Future
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Frazier Guisao, member of the Tolo River forest patrol
sitting at the edge of the community forest.
From Logger to Ranger
To save the forest, the Tolo River people needed to wean themselves off the logging that paid their bills and find a way to pay for patrols that would keep outsiders from chopping down their trees.
A Global Challenge
Traditionally, there has been little funding for conservation, but this may be changing, and the Tolo River people are at the forefront of that change.
The Carbon Content of Trees
Fortunately for the community, many companies and governments around the world volunteer to fund forest conservation projects as an attempt to offset part of their own carbon emissions. This international initiative is named Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). The principle is simple: a company striving to be 'carbon neutral' would first try to reduce its own carbon emissions as much as possible through more energy-efficient equipment and strict monitoring of its supply chain. Whatever emissions it could not reduce, it would 'offset' by paying a forest community to protect the trees from clearing.
Measuring the Carbon
Ferney Caicedo (right) and another forest patrol member resting at the buttress roots of a giant almendro tree. >(Photograph: Tanya Dimitrova)
COCOMASUR and its partners then began the arduous process of protecting the forest by raising awareness of collective identity and rights, demarcating territorial boundaries, establishing regular community patrols and developing sustainable agricultural and silvopastoral practices.
Verifying the Results
While the first tranche went largely to cover the cost of launching the project, future sales will be used to pay the forest patrol salaries, improve the community health care services, send young people to universities, and strengthen the community organization. The community uses this revenue to pay the forest patrol salaries, improve the community health care services, send young people to universities, and strengthen the community organization.
A Big Year for REDD
The Innovator's Dillemma
Still, the Tolo River people were determined to succeed and remain so to this day: "Our community will always continue trying to protect our forest with or without the project. But having the project gives us the resources to do that," says community leader Aureliano Córdoba.
It is crucially important to learn from mistakes and look for successful models - for the sake of the forest, the people who live in it and the global climate.
This is the story of one community that found a way to do this right.