The Antioquia Community Ecosystems Infrastructure REDD + Project in Colombia by The Ecotropics Group
A REDD+, community-based solution to benefit 2,500 Colombian farming families, climate and biodiversity in a context of territorial peace.
The recent Colombian peace agreement offers the opportunity to use biodiversity as development catalyzer for communities affected by more than six decades of war. The long war exposed biodiversity hotspots and priority conservation strongholds to higher rates of deforestation and degradation through illicit crops, illegal mining, and unplanned logging, while leading to biodiversity habitat loss, forest fragmentation, and human displacement (Hanson et al. 2009; Peral 2016). Communities were not only affected by war, but also by fluctuating commodity prices and the negative impacts of climate change exacerbating an already harsh economic situation, and putting even more pressure on them to shift to unsustainable or even illegal land uses or migrate to cities. To help alleviate their productivity shortcomings and live with dignity in their territories, 2500 farming families organized in two cooperatives called Teo-Occidente and Ademur partnered with Ecotropics to develop this REDD+ project.
Ecotropics estimates that halting deforestation on over 200,000 ha in the Chocó-Darién-Antioquia biogeographical region will reduce the emissions of about 30 million tons of CO2e. Negotiating verified carbon credits will foster biodiversity conservation; empowering farming communities; creating landscape connectivity between two national parks; enabling climate-resilient land use and farming certification; co-financing coffee, cocoa and avocado based value-added projects; and building a green school to educate all ages on both sustainability forestry and value-added production. Ecotropics believes that this project truly reconciles the entrepreneurial community potential with the wise biodiversity use and conservation needs in a context of territorial peace. All these benefits are obviously positive, but two – creating a wildlife and biodiversity corridor between two National Parks, and the establishment of a green school are unique in Colombia if not on the Western Hemisphere.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Our project is considered innovative, in disruptive conservation platforms, due to the fact that this assembled approach truly outstands between BAU REDD+ projects as the novel integration of community welfare, value-added products, and sustainable education by applying an Integrated Landscape Management fashion (Restrepo-Aristizabal, J.A. et al. 2012). Hence, the following strategies to be pursued under this project are:
1. Carbon baseline study for REDD+ :
The carbon baseline study, employing VCS (Voluntary Carbon Standards) and CCBA (Community, Climate and Biodiversity Alliance) standards, will be implemented by the farmers’ cooperatives with support on the ground from Ecotropics. This will involve the farmers’ training, land titles screening to establish land tenure permanence, selection of over 200 field trial sites representative of the 200,000 ha forests, using remote sensing data (i.e. drones, sensor webs, and big data science) to survey above and below ground biomass at the selected field sites, shade and sun coffee, avocado and cocoa farms. Although the project will develop a community driven mechanism to maintain carbon in shade trees, pilot areas have already been identified to conduct the baseline survey.
2. Streamlining an Ecological Corridor to enable Landscape Connectivity between Two National Parks and Choco-Darien biodiversity hotspot:
There is no doubt that ecological dynamics of forest ecosystems are directly linked to the continued health and extension of its plant community. The flora cover formed by different stratums of shrubs and trees acts as an ecological buffer for several geochemical and biophysical processes, at both the microsite and the landscape scales (Chen et al. 1999; Zimbres et al. 2017). For this reason, without the buffer effect of the forest, complex ecological dynamics are altered, causing strong and negative consequences for the stability and quality of the ecosystem services provided by forests ecosystems (Kormann et al. 2016; Rocha-Santos et al. 2016).
Forest fragmentation, forest edge effect, and its consequent habitat loss, is one of the main threats for the maintenance of tropical biodiversity (Foley et al. 2005; Zimbres et al. 2017). Indeed, due to the close relation between forest functioning and the integrity of its biotic network, the broad alterations produced by forest fragmentation have also a profound impact on the socioeconomic dynamics of rural communities (Southworth & Tucker 2001). A principle consequence of anthropic pressures is that forests ecosystems have suffered from systematic deforestation globally. However, in Colombia this situation appeared to be exacerbated by the complex social phenomena of the country (Alvarez 2003; Armenteras et al. 2006; Baptiste et al. 2017). The most recent forest report (2017) by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Colombia noted the alarming increasing rate of deforestation, approaching 170.000 ha per year nationally.
Population ecology teaches us that the probability of local extinction for any given species is inversely correlated with its size and health, and the degree of connectivity of the supporting habitat (Frankham et al. 2002). Both characteristics are maximized under continuous natural forests in the Neotropics. Nevertheless, in fragmented forests, a quick decay in the local species diversity is followed by the loss of its capacity to sustain basic biological processes like pollination, food web sustentation, productivity (i.e. carbon fixation) or species migration (Kormann et al. 2016; Zimbres et al. 2017). Under this scenario, the forest ecosystems that are maintained within national natural parks are legally armored against the negative effect of anthropic activities like illegal mining, deforestation, or illicit crops. However, since those forests are usually isolated from each other, their benefits are confined within their protected areas. For this reason, it is imperative to catalyze the treshold of connectivity between healthy and well-established forest components, like those present within national parks, and to promote its conservation with sustainable options for human communities (Porter-Bolland et al. 2012; Baptiste et al. 2017).
This project contemplates the design and implementation of an ecological corridor between two national parks - Parque Nacional Natural Las Orquideas and Parque Nacional Natural Paramillo. Ranging in altitudes from 3000 to 1200 m.a.s.l, these two protected areas and their buffer zones harbor a great diversity of Andean ecosystems. Hence, the reinforcement of a natural connectivity landscape will bridge the mobility of several species. Moreover, this corridor would prevent the isolation of the northern massif (PNN Paramillo) and its related species of flora and fauna of the western Andes of Colombia with Choco-Darien known as a global biodiversity hotspot. A deliberate process led Ecotropics to select this zone as a demonstration area to apply this connective methodology; one that can serve as a model for other regions in Colombia if not the Continent. Vegetation in between the two parks, while fragmented, still maintains an extensive forest cover, one sufficient to function as a viable corridor for elongating ecological communities. In this context, our objective is to converge with the conservation efforts of local communities to facilitate the connection of two massive protected areas in terms of ecosystems services, with the socioeconomic opportunities of a REDD+ by using VCS+CCB standards. This should increase the resilience of local ecosystems in the reality of the impacts of current climate change processes (IPCC 2014), thus helping local communities in developing nature tourism, orchids cultivation and sustainable development options while extending eight forests infrastructures ecosystems.
3. Carbon Exchanges Validation, Verification and Registry:
Certification is required to be registered as the project’s carbon exchanges originators through either IHS Markit or APX Registry. VCS and CCBA are the chosen standards and they will validate and verify the project baseline, biodiversity inventory and the socioeconomic analysis before certifying a given number of Verified Carbon Units (VCUs).
4. Exchange of Verified Carbon Units:
Ecotropics will use its network to encourage U.S. and Colombia based companies (i.e. hydros, aqueducts, power transmission lines, agribusiness, logging, gold, and coal extractives) operating in both the Andes and Appalachian regions (i.e. compensations on migratory birds through U.S Endangered Species Act), to purchase VCUs generated and discouraging the change from shade to sun coffee among Colombian farmers as well as continued deforestation and the associated losses to the goods and services which follow sustainable forest management (e.g. water provision, soil conservation and slopes stability, non-timber forest products marketing). There are existing exchanges for trading Verified Carbon Units in both the U.S.A and Europe. Consequently, Colombia has started a federal scheme where companies must buy national emissions reductions due to land use impact compensation or GHG offsets, benefiting the demand which is being reflected in average values between USD $5 - $15 per one MtCO2eq/ha. However, to achieve better market conditions, sales from our project would be allocated Over-The-Counter (OTC) and done directly with end-users or via resellers, brokers, or specialist REDD+ platforms.
5. Video Film and Outreach:
The program will be filmed, and a short documentary will be available through social networks along with a write-up that can be used by potential carbon investors, consumers, coffee and cocoa retailers, orchids lovers, and avocados growers’ associations, among others interested in this integrated landscape management business approach.
6. Community Development Programs:
Ecotropics, Teo-Occidente and Ademur will analyze the potential for a financial compensation (incentive) trust fund to help shade coffee, avocados and cocoa farmers who are under pressure shift production to other land uses in key areas for biodiversity conservation. Legal work will be conducted to establish a long-term alliance with the Fondo Acción, a national fiduciary endowment fund (i.e. in country second floor banking), with the exchanges of carbon units that can accept non-taxable Carbon funds, distribute and track such distributions to growers and monitor growers’ compliance. A system for the equitable distribution of incentives will be developed, with established community organizations so that growers under most pressure to shift production in the highest priority areas are the first to benefit. Funds will be exchanged and disbursed based on a co-created community development plan, and the system will be quarterly monitored by a third party auditor over the course of the project based on Teo-Occidente and Ademur thirty years community development plan.
There are two main community programs that Ecotropics will deploy: the Ecoindustrial Farmhouses and a Green School. With the Ecoindustrial Farmhouses, Ecotropics aims to raise the levels of agribusiness efficiency, add value to products, and develop new farming methods; especially those affecting domestic and social wellness of the coffee, cocoa and avocados growers. With the implementation of rainforest conservation and landscape connectivity practices through REDD+, Ecotropics seeks to maximize shade-grown farming. The latter has been demonstrated to be the best climate resilient agro-ecosystem infrastructure, adapting farming activities, to climate change in a landscape with severe drought and high precipitation periods. Additionally, the ecoindustrial facilities will allow farmers to export their own roasted coffee, signature chocolate, orchids and avocado oils and guac. All in all, building and developing a green school will ensure that stakeholders from farming communities receive culturally-appropriate education about sustainability to develop agro-ecological projects coherent with their landscape context and contributing to maintain a sustainable supply of coffee, cocoa, orchids and avocados to the global commodities consumption rates and organic market demands.
7. Marketing and Certification Research, Innovation, and Product Development:
The Ecotropics Group will contact major value-added products distributors, retail and marketing stores, along with groups involved in certification programs to determine how “climate-resilient coffee, cocoa and avocado” could be best introduced to the market ecosystems overseas and how benefits could most effectively improve growers’ livelihood.
8. Documentation of Commodities/Carbon Protocol :
Ecotropics, Teo-Occidente and Ademur will document the steps and calculations undertaken during this project to facilitate application of this integrated approach in other communities wanting to undertake similar projects. These steps will be included in a protocol, which overtime could form the basis for a climate-resilient certification scheme for public dissemination.
Who will take these actions?
Overall project coordination: Applied Ecology for Tropical Resources Program Inc a.k.a The Ecotropics Group 501c3 will be leading the forest reference baseline, organization and consultation, technology transfer, creative design thinking workflows, growers co-creation, social and biodiversity safeguards, benefit sharing mechanism, landscape forest monitoring, education and planning. To learn more: http://ecotropics.org/en
Implementation will be undertaken by two not-for-profit farmers’ associations in Colombia:
Asociación Teo-Occidente: They are 1500 farming families in the Northwest side of the project who will be in charge of controlling deforestation and adding value to their products based on the Ecotropics delivery partner and Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCBA) standards.
Asociación de Campesinos de Urrao, Ademur: They are 1000 farming families in the Southwest side of the project who will be in charge of controlling deforestation and adding value to their products based on the Ecotropics delivery partner and Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCBA) standard.
Where will these actions be taken?
The project area comprises 200,000 ha. of fragmented forest over six municipalities in the Department (State) of Antioquia in Colombia, South America. The municipalities are: Abriaquí, Cañasgordas, Dabeiba, Frontino, Uramita and Urrao, located in the Colombian Western Andes highlands.
The project area is surrounded by the Chocó-Darién Biodiversity Hotspot and two National Natural Parks, Las Orquídeas and Paramillo, hence the tremendous opportunity to develop an ecological corridor for connecting a deforested and fragmented landscape by using umbrella species, while increasing productivity on participating farms and protecting the goods and services offered by forests ecosystems infrastructures.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
This project will reduce CO2 emissions by avoiding forest deforestation and degradation in an area of 200,000 ha. The biomass baseline is being surveyed by Ecotropics/Teo-Occidente/Ademur and will be validated and verified by the VCS/CCBA. While the carbon sampling is performed, the emissions reduction potential is correlated with time-series deforestation rates estimated using four methodologies.
The first approach uses published carbon stocks NASA maps where the existing biomass is mapped at 1-km pixel resolution with +/- 40-50% uncertainty for the project area (Saatchi et al. 2011). According to the maps, the carbon content in the project area ranges between 150 and 200 t/ha. Multiplying these values for the project area gives a carbon content between 0.03 and 0.04 GtC. Then, multiplying these values for 3.66 (molecular weight ratio) and assuming a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario where the whole area will be deforested in 30 years, the emissions are between 0.110 and 0.146 GtCO2e.
The second approach is the DST toolbox developed by GOFC-GOLD Wageningen University (The Netherlands). It combines maps, measurements and published data to offer a more detailed reference levels. The tool was developed by the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and is available at www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/dst. According to this method, the BAU deforestation and degradation in the project area will lead to release 0.0012 GtCO2e per year which is equivalent to 0.037 GtCO2e in 30 years.
The third approach used the methodology developed by Winrock Inc. It calculates the potential avoided biomass losses from the annual deforestation rate and then calculates the carbon and CO2 emission reductions using standard conversion factors. Considering the deforestation rate varies near the project area, four rates were used for the BAU scenario which are: 0.61%, 2%, 4%, and 15% per year. Using these rates, the BAU CO2 emissions in 30 years will be: 0.0021, 0.0058, 0.0089, or 0.0126 GtCO2e.
The last approach used data from five analog REDD+ projects developed near the project area, validated and verified by VCS. From the analogs information, it was computed the number of verified carbon units per hectare. Then, the ratios were multiplied by 200,000 ha (the area of this project), obtaining that possible BAU emissions in 30 years are: 0.042, 0.039, 0.042, 0.023, or 0.055 GtCO2e (Anthrotect 2016; Rainforest Alliance 2015; VCS 2015a; VCS 2015b; VCS 2014).
The application of the described methodologies resulted in 12 possible BAU emissions. Despite the project aims to prevent all the BAU emissions, the deforestation risk is between 15 and 25% according to the VCS’ assessment for the neighbor projects. Then, the 12 BAU values were multiplied by 75% and 85%, resulting in 24 possible emission reduction values. After organizing these values in percentiles, the P10 is 0.0045 GtCO2e, the P50 is 0.030 GtCO2e and the P90 0.090 GtCO2e. The financial analysis is based on the P50 value.
What are other key benefits?
The overarching goal is to halt deforestation on 200,000 ha of forest in the Chocó-Darién biogeographical region. This undertaking will reduce emissions by up to 30 million tons of MtCO2e to the atmosphere, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. The Colombian government is committed to reduce between 20-30% projected GHG emissions by 2030. This is equivalent to reducing between 67 and 100 MtCO2e (Colombian Minambiente (MADS); 2017). Considering the current project emission reduction estimations, the project could effectively contribute between 30 and 45% of the Colombian emissions reduction target.
Safeguarding forest ecosystems as water, carbon and biodiversity infrastructures and protect an approximate of 190 fauna species and 80 flora species. The project area hosts a myriad of eight infrastructure types ecosystems being the most extensive Tropical Rainforest, Tropical Montane Cloud Forest, Sub-Andean, and Pacific Forest among four others (Kateman 2011; Villegas et al. 2006). For such ecosystem variety, conservation is a priority from the climate change perspective since tree diversity enhances the forest ability for carbon capture and sink storage, water interception/filtering, and temperature regulation (Castro-Izaguirre et al. 2016). These ecosystems are also the habitat of several endangered or critically endangered species, but in the highest level of threat, there are two critically endangered species existing only in the municipalities of the project area (IUCN 2016). These unique plant species are the Masdevallia apparitio (orchid) and the Zamia wallisii (Ministerio de Ambiente & Universidad de Antioquia 2015; Ministerio de Ambiente & Universidad Nacional de Colombia 2015; Cárdenas L. & R. Salinas 2007).
The project area also includes habitat of umbrella and flagship charismatic species such as the Puma concolor and Tremarctos ornatus (Andean spectacled bear), that will help us to build environmental stewardship between farming families when communicating to project’s stakeholders the paramount importance of landscape connectivity among farmers’ forest patches and shade-grown cocoa, avocado and coffee farms. In addition, these ecosystems safeguard major wintering grounds for dozens of neotropical migratory bird species from North America including several declining species such as Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers (USFWS, 2007).
The proposed project will enable water pumping powered by photovoltaics and climate resilient farming technology through value-added and shade-grown reforestation to reduce chemicals inputs and minimize the existing extreme weather events affectation over people and plantations. This will improve the farmers’ socioeconomics and will catalyze obtaining especial certifications like organic, fair-trade or bird-friendly production recognition. Thus, the carbon exchanges will allow building an EcoIndustrial Farmhouse facility, powered with renewable energy, likewise a Green School with biotecture design.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
The project cost includes administrative capex/opex; outreach activities; equipment (hardware and software); salaries; legal expenses; market study; design of a connectivity landscape corridor; biodiversity inventory and monitoring; carbon baseline study to submit a Project Design Document (PDD), VCS/CCBA verification & validation; IHS Markit/APX register; GIS and remote sensing monitoring system; PDD – Editorial review peers; carbon mapping Team on the ground; materials (i.e. forestry supplies, GPS, remote sensing data, sensor webs and drones); operational expenses (production, marketing, business plans, general or project maintenance); miscellaneous investments, organizational development, and meetings; farmers’ training; and travel/vehicles expenses. The VCS/CCBA costs depend on the number of VCUs to be issued per vintage year. The total project cost for the P50 VCU scenario is estimated at US$ 765,446.
The project has a risk of leakage since deforestation can occur in surrounding areas adjacent to the project and because deforestation drivers move. This risk is mitigated by the accession contractual rights for private landowners (i.e. safeguarded by Civil Law Code since 1873) and the fact that farmers will be able to intensify their livelihood activities of shade-grown coffee, cocoa agriculture and continuing to access protected forests for other benefits such as water provision, fruit and orchids, and nuts. The other significant risk is the government stakeholders’ misalignment. The current executive rulings could likely be a game changer to match peace agreements regarding land use. This is the highest risk and the only mitigation option is keeping the project politically impartial, educating Congress members through climate solution Caucus, and support the Government’s climate change commitments to UNFCCC and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Best of all, Colombia is a country with a long tradition of respecting the rule of law, ratifying international accords, and a Judiciary system which is independent from legislative and executive decrees.
After building understanding and commitment between farmers, local cooperatives and Ecotropics, the screening phase of land ownership titles was completed in December 2016. In January 2017, after being instructed by Ecotropics, Teo-Occidente and Ademur staff are co-performing the biomass sampling according to VCS and CCBA standard VM0006. The baseline development will be concluded at the end of 2017 and the certification process initiated in 2018. VCS and CCBA have independent scheduling calendars however, based on their institutional histories it is expected that verification, validation and registry will take one year. According to this assumption, the Carbon Units trading will be initiated in 2019, some resources will be administrated by an established fiduciary endowment fund to ensure growers sharing benefits mechanism, social and environmental safeguards, redress and grievance feedback instruments, forest monitoring online system, pro-community development in sustainable productive and value-added sub-projects like climate-resilience agro-farming, torrefaction coffee, guac exports, chocolate and the developing of a green school.
From 2019 onward, the farmers’ benefits will be allocated fairly in debt alleviation, farmers’ social and health security, sustainable and climate-resilient farming projects, value-added marketing, nature tourism, community forest patrols, and Teo-Occidente/Ademur administrative costs. In the same way, Ecotropics’ benefits will be reinvested to the community chiefly through earmarking a leakage buffer endowment fund, the building of Ecoindustrial Farmhouses and the Green School. The carbon exchanges generated should finance the above-mentioned projects from 2019 to 2048, the medium term. However, projects like climate-resilient farming and nature tourism should be self-sustainable and its duration will depend on the community commitment, expected to extend beyond the formal project closing date (2048). On the other hand, the improvement of farmers’ socioeconomic conditions and the implementation of self-sustainable projects should effectively be incentivized through the next growers generation to sustain farming in these lands, extending the project benefits for an undetermined timeline into the future.
About the author(s)
Veronica Uribe – Program officer
Veronica holds a BSc in Petroleum Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Colombia and a MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures from Imperial College London. Raised in a rural village, she participated in sustainability campaigns as part of her youth leader volunteer role. After receiving the BSc in Petroleum Engineering, she worked for BP and Equión Energía developing production incremental projects for twelve years. Working in the hydrocarbon industry, she realized the Colombian energy challenges. This awareness along with her youth memories motivated her to do the master in Sustainable Energy. In the research project, she analyzed the impact of renewables on energy resilience and sustainability. Veronica found in Ecotropics the ideal organization to transform her passion about sustainability and resilience in tangible actions for the common and greater good.
Arturo Restrepo Aristizabal – CEO
CEO and Ecotropics Founder, with 15 years experience on earth science and knowledge management systems for international development; where he budgeted portfolios over USD 100M. Arturo received a BSc in Ecology from Universidad Javeriana and a Master of Environmental Science and Water Technology from IHE Delft, The Netherlands. Arturo worked for three years as the Ecological Informatics Coordinator at NASA Global Change Data Center in Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was trained in Sensor Webs, Semantic Web, metadata and data science systems for remote sensing architecture. He also advised Colombia's Ministry of Environment, Multilaterals, NPOs, and Corporations for Sustainability Assessments. Recently, he advises the Associate Expert Roster on Climate and Forests for UNREDD / UNDP.
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