Food Forest Program: Carbon Offsetting with an Impact

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We have an important mission to achieve through the Food Forest Program. Our mission is to reverse poverty, climate change and biodiversity loss in an integrated manner through the restoration of degraded lands.

How do we plan on achieving this?

  1. By converting degraded land into productive food forests that capture and store carbon;
  2. By training communities in Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) techniques and in building forest enterprise cooperatives;
  3. By improving community incomes through wider market access, profit-sharing of carbon credit sales and trading of sustainably sourced food forest products.

Outcomes so far

165 hectares of degraded land are restored, and this number keeps rising.
Roughly 1600 people (over 500 families) from the villages of the Solok and Agam districts already benefit from program. A total of 140 families participate in the rehabilitation work directly; each family manages around one hectare of land from which they get a decent livelihood. There is a waiting list of over 100 families eager to join the Food Forests Program. And lastly, our application to the Plan Vivo carbon certification scheme is currently being finalized.

Assisted Natural Regeneration with the Food Forest Program

In West Sumatra, degraded village lands situated on the forest buffer zones are covered with Imperata grasslands, ferns and/or shrubby vegetation. They are not only unproductive but are also highly susceptible to wildfires which can spread rapidly to the surrounding forests. The grasses compete for survival with the seeds of indigenous tree species that are dispersed by wind, birds or other animals.

To regenerate the land, local communities flatten the grass with a simple but very effective method – by applying a lodging board or plank. This allows the small tree seedlings to grow easily as competition from the surrounding vegetation is reduced. As the Imperata grasses slowly decay, they add significant amounts of moisture and carbon to the soil. This builds up soil fertility, soil water retention capacity, and overall ecosystem resilience to extreme weather conditions.

In just two years, the growing indigenous trees create the micro-climatic conditions needed for planting other trees and crops of high economic value (e.g. fruit, timber and spice trees). A productive food forest develops in just 5 years after the initial application of the lodging boards.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services are then restored, paving the way for sustainable agricultural production. Rural livelihoods are improved and people are not forced to encroach into the forest any more. Above- and below-ground carbon fixation is increased considerably, achieving a triple win for climate change mitigation, biodiversity and rural livelihoods.

The birth of CO₂ Operate B.V.

“Roughly 11 years ago, I was living and working in Indonesia for the World Agroforestry Centre, Bogor. I was conducting long term research on nature-inclusive agriculture in the buffer zones of the Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra. At that time, the local people repeatedly asked me what I planned to do with all the information and knowledge they were sharing with me. They wanted to know if I will come back to help them lift out of poverty.

When I moved back to the Netherlands and finished my PhD based on the research in Indonesia, I felt a growing need to answer the question of the communities with a yes. I wanted to develop a sustainable and profitable forest restoration system that would not only restore degraded lands but also link local communities with innovative businesses interested in advancing sustainable commodities and trade. I wanted to help the communities become self-sufficient without having to leave their land or look for continuous external funding. The opportunities coming from the private sector’s increasing willingness to participate in grassroot-level carbon offsetting projects gave us the financial means to implement this plan. CO₂ Operate B.V. was thus born.”

Paul Burgers, founder of CO₂ Operate B.V.