A Look Inside: Enabling Forest Protection and Education through Microsoft’s Offset Investments

 |   TJ DiCaprio

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to carbon neutrality, we have selected a carbon offset portfolio which enables us to not only reduce our direct carbon emissions, but also delivers a range of benefits from biodiversity protection, to health and well-being improvements for families, to food security and job creation.  In this blog we consider how forest protection and reforestation projects in our portfolio are working with local communities to deliver impact.

Deforestation is estimated to account for approximately 18 percent of global carbon emissions. Subsistence farming, using slash-and-burn techniques and intensive cattle grazing, plays a significant part in the deforestation that occurs throughout the world.  We have worked with The CarbonNeutral Company to provide carbon finance for projects in Brazil, Kenya and Cambodia which are working with local communities to create more productive and sustainable models of economic development: models which reduce negative impacts on local forests and biodiversity, while simultaneously strengthening the community’s economy and well-being.

Meru and Nanyki Community Reforestation Project (Kenya)

At the turn of the 20th century, Kenya had a forest cover of more than 10 percent. Today, the forest cover is less than two percent due to deforestation, commercial agriculture, charcoal burning, and forest cultivation. Farmers clear trees for available agricultural land, which has resulted in exposed and eroding land by removing nutrients from the soil. This, in addition to the population growth of 2.5 percent annually, has added pressure on the remaining forest cover.

The Meru and Nanyuki Community Reforestation project works with local communities to support them in local tree planting activities. The project provides structure and training so that communities can learn from each other, share best practices, and make decisions that work for their particular circumstances.  Education is essential to the project’s success:  enabling farmers to develop new sources of food and income and benefit from their reforestation activities.  A participant survey conducted for the project’s Gold Level Community Benefits Certification by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), estimated that participants who plant fruit and nut trees and use tree trimmings for fuel wood  can benefit on average $95 per year from both selling their products and saving money on purchasing food and fuel themselves.

Improving crop yields for farmers is also an important part of the programme, achieved through teaching conservation farming techniques to the participants.  This creates a virtuous circle of increasing fodder availability, enabling farmers to raise livestock and poultry, benefit from the sale and use of animal products such as meat, eggs and milk, increase compost availability to use on the crops, and further improve yields. The CCBA report estimates all these benefits to value on average $340 to the farmers who use the new techniques each year.

With 82% of people in the project area estimated to have an annual income of $160 to $800, the educational activities of the project can have a significant impact on their financial security.  Participants report that the additional income is primarily spent on food, school fees and educational materials. Esther Muthoni is one community member who joined the Meru and Nanyuki Community Reforestation Project and has since used the opportunities it gave her to increase education in the area: five years ago, she started Saint Annmona School, a primary school for children in the community. Esther believes that “if you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”

In addition to her school, Esther believes that trees are a part of who she is. She passes on her love of planting to the children, and educates them about the importance of trees to the community and global environment. She takes 20 of the older students to a nearby field to plant seedlings along the perimeter, teaching that the value of a tree is not just for firewood or for home building but also for cleaning the air, reducing soil erosion and building a sense of community values.                                                                      

Through the project—which now includes almost 58,000 members across the region— over six million trees have already been planted, and over 350,000 bear fruit or nuts. The farmers receive annual payments for each planted tree and will collect future revenues as the trees grow and sequester carbon.

Acre Amazonian Rainforest Conservation (Brazil and Cambodia)

In Brazil and Cambodia, forest protection projects also rely heavily on local communities to preserve the biodiversity that requires a standing forest to thrive. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests; with more than a third of all species in the world living there. Acre, a small state in western Brazil, is currently 90 percent forested but at the current rates of deforestation, that is predicted to drop to only 65 percent by 2030.

The Acre project is working to prevent that from happening through the conservation of nearly 35,000 hectares of rainforest.  At least two endangered flora species have been identified in the project area and camera traps have spotted many near threatened and vulnerable mammals, including the short-eared dog, jaguar, giant anteater and lowland tapir.

Farmers such as Benedito Silva, along with his wife and sons, are offered courses on improved banana production, rotational and sustainable cattle pasturing, raising chickens, rural property management, and the sustainable use of legumes. The goal is to help the farmers learn new techniques so they can remain in one area and farm productively, reducing the need to repeatedly move and cut down more trees.

In Cambodia, community action is equally important to a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) in Oddar Meanchey Province.  The project there protects a critical tropical forest that provides the habitat for 26 mammal species, including the endangered tiger population, and 174 bird species, many of which are classified as endangered or threatened.

Since 2002, Oddar Meanchey has lost 2.5% of its forests annually as migrant farmers and concessionaires cleared land by felling and burning tree cover.

The Oddar Meanchey project totals 56,000 hectares. Working with local community forest protection groups the project is designed to protect against further outside threats and enhance the sustainability of the communities’ livelihoods through education on improving agricultural yields, assistance in community-based water resource development, and reinforcement of land ownership and protection for communities.

We are using the carbon offset program to ensure we use our carbon finance spend to deliver long term sustainable value to communities and areas that are particularly vulnerable.  As the battle to halt forest destruction continues, education and engagement with the communities who live with the trees every day are essential to making these projects a success.

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