Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Did you know that you can earn money from your forest without cutting the trees? GERALD TENYWA recently went to Bushenyi district in Uganda and narrates how local farmers are earning handsomely by contributing to a global effort to reduce carbondioxide

Her life began to change for the better about a decade ago, when she built a school. Beatrice Ahimbisibwe, a resident of Bitereko in Bushenyi district, says she built the school with her partner, brick by brick. She attributes her success to planting trees, which has been overlooked as a money-maker for many decades.

Previously, it sounded far-fetched that people could earn money from trees without cutting them.
Today, Ahimbisibwe belongs to a well-knit global network that rewards people who own trees, also known as carbon sinks, which absorb waste gases such as carbon-dioxide. Experts say this reduces waste gases, which are blamed for global warming.

“As the money trickled in over the years, I put it to good use by buying materials for the school that I could not get within the village,” says Ahimbisibwe. “I have created wealth out of selling emissions, without cutting down the trees.”

There are several replicas of Ahimbisibwe’s idea in Bushenyi. Hilary Baseka, who has invested in apiary, says he earns six times more than he used to get. The apiary, sheltered by beautiful native trees, was set up with money from selling emissions trapped by the trees, thanks to the intervention of carbon offsetting started a decade ago by Eco-trust, an environmental non-governmental organisation.

As developed countries pollute the environment, global regulatory mechanisms, such as the Kyoto Protocol, have created opportunities for local actors like Ahimbisibwe and Baseka to earn money by planting trees. The polluters pay for the carbon sinks that absorb and store the waste gases like carbondioxide, which is blamed for global warming.

“What each farmer earns depends on the prevailing market prices of carbon, the species of trees planted and how the farmers have planned their land,” says Pauline Nantongo, the executive director of Eco-trust. She adds that the money is paid at the beginning, upon signing an agreement with the farmers.

Apart from contributing to improved livelihoods, the trade in selling emission has turned planting of hardwood trees that are shunned elsewhere into an attractive venture.

In Bitereko village, sturdy trees such as maesopsis emnii (musizi) that matures within two decades stand on the landscape, making a bold statement about carbon trade. This, according to Nantongo, is an agro-forestry species, which contributes to food security and shelters the soil against erosion. They also plant medicinal trees such as Ugandensis and Prunus Africana. Others are fruit trees such as avocado. Eco-trust mobilised farmers

Under the UN debates on curbing climate change, carbon revenue streams are touted as part of the solution to global warming. Bushenyi has gone a step further, demonstrating how carbon money can improve livelihoods, restore degraded bare hills and contribute to food security.

Nantongo says their success lies in mobilising the local people, especially those interested in planting trees. Asked about critics who say no country has developed its economy due to tree planting or environmental protection, Nantongo says carbon trade is an additional environmental benefit.

“The scheme on its own would not help farmers even in the long term to break even,” says Nantongo “It is not wise to promote the scheme in isolation. Its design has environmental and livelihood benefits attached to it.”

Impact of the carbon money on Bitereko village

Over $2m (sh5.2b) accruing from global carbon revenue streams has ended up in the pockets of Bushenyi’s tree farmers within the last decade. The tree farmers also pool their money in a village bank, run by Bitereko Peoples SACCO, a tree farmers’ initiative. The group, which started with five farmers about a decade ago, now has over 400 members.

“The carbon trade keeps this village alive,” says Edida Ninsiima, the manager of the SACCO, adding that more than half of the members are farmers engaged in the carbon revenue stream. Money from the carbon buyers is channelled to the farmers through the village bank.”

Ninsiima added: “The certificates for carbon act as security against which the village bank gives loans to farmers.”

Their clients who take loans use for other businesses, such as coffee or brewing local gin. The bank offers loans of up to sh3m.

“We keep some of the money and use it as revolving fund,” says Ahimbisibwe.

Ahimbisibwe, who has built a permanent house, on the slopes of the hilly terrain of Bitereko, says she used her carbon credit as collateral to get a loan from the bank. This is how she built a school, which is one of the best performing in Bushenyi.

At Bitereko Infant School, Johnson Tugumisirize, the headmaster, says most of the parents are carbon farmers.

Another group has started an apiary and they are doing group marketing at Bunyaruguru, near Queen Elizabeth National Park. Such alternative sources of income are replacing destructive use of the environment like cutting down trees for timber and charcoal.

The farmers have rehabilitated the degraded bare hills and the agricultural productivity of the land is increasing. On the farms, they have constructed ridges to trap soil from erosion. As the farmers engage in tree planting, wildlife, such as monkeys, are returning.

Given that the population is increasing, the tree cover is also declining in many parts of the country. But where people have adopted agro-forestry, which is being driven by Eco-trust, the tree cover is increasing.

Although Ahimbisibwe and her colleagues have contributed little to the growing global carbon footprint, they are taking action at the grass roots to shield their area from poverty and environmental disasters such as landslides.
How can people benefit from carbon credits?

Geoffrey Kamese, National Association of Professional Environmentalists, a member of Climate Action Network

Some rural people have been benefitting, particularly where Eco-trust has been operating in western Uganda. However, the people engaged in tree planting are not getting what they should be earning. Government officials in a recent meeting complained that the prices are so low because there are so many middlemen.
So, the local people should not look at it as something to benefit them. If the market was left to operate freely, the farmers would benefit better.

Onesmus Mugyenyi, deputy director of Advocates, Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)

Climate change is getting out of hand, the environment crisis is growing and the people meant to benefit from the carbon trade are sinking deeper into poverty. This means the carbon trade is not addressing the goals it was intended to achieve.

Richard Kimbowa, the head of Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

As a country, we have not benefited yet we have a lot of potential. There are so many challenges in the trade. It is a market driven by those who are buying and not those who are selling. So we get little money.

Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, the director, National Planning Authority

It is benefiting Ugandans, but we can benefit more. People have established some acreage under the scheme, but in Uganda, people have not yet understood the concept. It has also contributed to the restoration of some parts of the degraded forests. Planting trees contributes to the rain making process.

Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director of NEMA

There is no fairness in trade. It is trade which you (Ugandans) do not control.

Chebet Maikut, the deputy coordinator, Climate Change Unit, Ministry of Water ad Environment

The carbon prices are still low, but efforts globally are being taken to revamp the process of carbon trade.

How can people benefit?

There are two existing markets for carbon, namely the voluntary scheme and the regulated market by the UN secretariat on climate change, according to Chebet. The regulated markets ensure that the investments in carbon have social benefits, such as construction of health facilities, where they are located and evidence that they reduce carbon.
They also have to undertake environmental impact assessments to ensure that they address social and environmental implications.

How can emissions be reduced?

The carbon market is a concept based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which is at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol. The emitters buy an offset, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon offsets are a form of trade that might restore forests, build power plants, increase energy efficiency of buildings and transportation.
Carbon offsets let you to pay to reduce greenhouse gases, total without radical or impossible reductions of your own. Most carbon offsets are voluntary and people buy them to reduce their carbon footprints or build up their green image.
Carbon offsets can counteract specific activities like air travel or driving or events like weddings or conferences. In addition to the popular trading carbon schemes (voluntary), the Kyoto Protocol provides the biggest window of trade in carbon, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The polluters are given emission targets and if they emit below that target, they can sell the remainder (or its right to pollute) to another company (buyer) that is emitting above the set target.
The carbon trade operates like a stock exchange, with brokers who connect sellers and buyers. It also has verifiers to ensure better quality of carbon sinks.
Players in Uganda's carbon trade
Eco-trust, Ministry of Water and Environment, National Environment Management Authority and UN Climate Change Secretariat assist in the trade. Also, the Regional Collaboration Centre, under the UN Secretariat on Climate Change, has been set up for that purpose.
Uganda is ranked third in carbon trade in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Chebet Maikut, the deputy coordinator, Climate Change Unit in the Ministry of Water and Environment.
Beneficiaries in the carbon trade
Uganda has 13 projects, including hydro power schemes like Nyagak, Bujagali, Ishasha and Bugoye that benefit from the trade. Others are makers of cooking stoves and solid waste management in eight municipalities to be expanded by NEMA and afforestation investments by the National Forestry Authority


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