In 2020, Palladium announced a move to go carbon neutral by offsetting the organisation’s 2019 carbon emissions through an agro-forestry project in the Peruvian Amazon. The project, designed internally by Palladium’s Nature-Based Solutions Team aimed to offset the organisation’s global carbon emissions directly, rather than purchasing carbon offsets or credits via a third-party vendor.
The Peruvian Amazon is the fourth largest tropical forested area in the world and home to one of the largest indigenous populations across the tropical belt. Facing increasing pressure and threatened by extraction industries like petroleum, timber, and biopiracy, providing protection for this ecosystem is not only critical for local populations, but is critical to fighting climate change.
Communities along the Amazon River in northern Peru face a nearly impossible situation, as a lack of economic opportunities forces them to cut trees for timber, while the young and able (primarily men) migrate to urban areas in search of low-wage employment. The result is a weakened community, the loss of traditional knowledge, and a crucial forest left vulnerable.
In the Amazon basin, the areas along the major rivers tend to be the areas with the highest levels of deforestation, these forests which contain aguaje and other tree species, tend to be some of the most biodiverse in the amazon and contain some of the highest levels of carbon recorded in a terrestrial ecosystem.
“We’ve always aspired to reduce our carbon footprint as a company, particularly given the amount we typically travel,” says Palladium CEO Christopher Hirst. “With this approach, not only will we be removing the carbon dioxide that our business emitted in 2019 from the atmosphere; we’ll be delivering scalable social impact at the same time.”
In partnership with local NGO Acaté Amazon Conservation, Palladium set out to regenerate 40 hectares of critical forests in the Cocama community in the upper Amazon region of Peru.
Over a year later, the project is well underway.
According to Acaté CEO William Park, the offsetting project, which is working with 36 families to restore 40 hectares of land along the Marañón River, has numerous advantages for both the land and the communities involved. “The species we’re using are all native species, so the area will have high levels of biodiversity, and really can be considered an ecological restoration project,” he notes.
Federico Biadene, Palladium Program Manager and one of the architects of the project, added that Palladium’s funding has gone to build a state-of-the-art nursery where community members are propagating the species they’ll be planting in their parcels of land. “Through trial and error, they’ve actually improved propagation practices and for one of the plants have reduced the germination time by two weeks, which across from a three to four-month period is a lot,” Biadene says. “They’re essentially treating the nursery as a lab, and improving the technical side of the project, which is just amazing.”
As Biadene explains, each family can choose what they will plant in their parcel along with the aguaje trees, which will be sold for profit. Some have chosen to plant medicinal herbs, others timber that can be used by future generations for construction within the community. “Acaté engaged the community on planting a set of trees or plants that are tailored to each community member’s needs with a really human-centred design approach.”
Additionally, Acaté facilitates the sale of the community’s products through Eco Ola, the private business arm of Acaté, thus incentivising the community to plant new trees.
Nature-based solutions and restoration projects have long struggled with the misinformation that they cannot be profitable or that they don’t offer returns for investors or incentives for those working on the ground. While this has been proven to be untrue, the Acaté project is proof of how a nature-based project can provide financial incentives for local communities and investors, while still meeting offsetting goals.
Park adds that the species being planted in the area are also commercially valuable to the native community. “The project from the vantage point of the community has a strong commercial aspect,” he notes. “The ecological restoration and sequestration area will produce more income for the community than their current crops of corn, bananas, and cassava.”
Using seeds for native species gathered in the area and based on Acaté’s long experience working in the region in close collaboration with the community, the project is providing for the economic needs of the community while restoring deforested land. “Simply protecting the forests is not sufficient, we must regenerate degraded lands to avoid climate catastrophe” Park concludes.
Ecosystem and Commercial Production Site
Perhaps most importantly, the project area is an example of an intact ecosystem that is also a commercial production site. The project team has reported a nesting harpy eagle in the area, indicating that the biodiversity is not only intact but thriving. The chosen tracts of lands are representative of many of the deforested areas throughout the Amazon and the techniques and innovations utilised by Acaté will be invaluable for future projects and communities.
“You can’t protect these areas without indigenous voices and getting the community involved to really identify and scale solutions that work,” says Biadene. “Acaté is truly devoted to the community in the long term, they value and amplify indigenous voices and they’re protecting their knowledge and culture, which becomes an enabler for preserving this critical ecosystem.”
Biadene adds that there is a wealth of knowledge within the community, be it about the forests themselves or the medicinal properties of plants, and in the long term, the project with Acaté will also provide an ability to pass that knowledge down to future generation. The community has already set aside a parcel of land to act as an educational farm where they’ve planted a variety of species to be used as a school to teach their children about the trees and animals.
The community engagement and economic incentives make for a durable solution to our growing ecological crisis and is the perfect proving ground for a natural capital model.
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