In 2010, the Nicaforest reforestation program and local landowners planted 360,000 teak trees in the southeastern part of Nicaragua. This month, the landowners celebrated after receiving their first check for the sale of carbon credits from the plantations.
In Nicaragua, cattle farming has put significant pressure on Central America’s largest remaining rainforest. When the cattle farming industry needs more land, it often leads to more forest being sacrificed. This worries Øyvind Berg, the manager of Across Nature and one of the founders of the Nicaforest reforestation program.
“The needs of the cattle farming industry often take precedence over the need to preserve the rainforest. The authorities and landowners need the income from cattle farming, so areas of forest are burned down to create more grazing land,” says Berg.
Greater value creation in forests
Along with other Norwegian investors, he has commenced a collaboration with landowners in the Chontales region and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur. Deforested and over-grazed areas here have been transformed into fertile plantations for sustainable teak production. The vision of this project is to develop profitable and sustainable forestry production that reduces the large-scale deforestation that has accelerated in recent decades.
“In order to preserve the forest, we must put a system in place to ensure the values derived from forestry are higher than the values derived from cattle farming. The added value from forestry, based on the Nicaforest reforestation program, is significantly higher than the value creation from cattle farming, but you do not get the money until 20 years after the trees are planted. The local landowners cannot afford to wait that long,” says Berg.
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Plantations create new value for degraded land
Back in 2010, the Nicaforest reforestation program invited local landowners as co-investors in four plantations established on deforested land owned by these landowners.
“This meant they could continue to own the land, while at the same time securing income from the sale of carbon credits and timber. Suddenly, over-grazed fallow land gained new value in the form of fertile plantations that were of great value to the environment and the landowners. The advantage was that the landowners retained ownership of their land and we avoided investing in land. This made it easier to finance the project,” says Berg.
Long-term plan paying off
In the pilot phase of the Nicaforest reforestation program, there was little focus on the income from the sale of carbon credits and timber. It is now 10 years since the first trees were planted and the landowners are starting to see that the long-term plan is yielding results.
“When you start a project like this, the value creation is not so important because it is so far in the future. To begin with, you create jobs and a considerable amount of pride among those involved. The results eventually come in the form of the sale of wood from thinning as well as carbon credits that will be approved for sale. The landowners recently received a check from the sale of the first carbon credits. It was fantastic! More landowners are now starting to see that this is something they should also have been involved in,” says Berg.
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Earning money from air!
For the landowners, the income from the plantations helps with their overall financial situation.
“The first income from the sale of carbon credits is an exciting and proud moment for the landowners. One landowner said to me on the phone; ‘Think, we are earning money from air!’. We are talking about people who own their own land but are by no means wealthy by European standards. For them, the sale of carbon credits and timber represent an important part of their family income. This money also enables them to develop their farms and local communities.”
The Nicaforest reforestation program is now starting to see signs of increased understanding that forestry is good for the environment, climate, and value creation on the local farms.
“I think the Nicaforest reforestation program has enabled the landowners to gain a different understanding of sustainable forestry. This is also reflected in practical actions. For instance, we see that some of the landowners have planted trees instead of erecting fence posts to fence in their cattle. This way, they get a fence that captures carbon dioxide from the air. Perhaps this is the beginning,” says Berg with a smile.
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