Amazon trees a niche market

2010-03-31 09:03
Santa Rosa - In a far-flung corner of the Peruvian Amazon, a multinational company aims to offset carbon dioxide emissions from its factories in France by planting thousands of trees which may also provide an income for local communities.

Amid accusations of greenwashing levelled at big firms trying to clean up their image, Nestle Waters France has hired French environmentalist Tristan Lecomte and his carbon management company, The Pure Project, to execute its plan.

Nestle wants to offset the equivalent of all the annual carbon emissions from its Vittel mineral water plants in France and Belgium - about 115 000 tons of carbon a year.

In order to do this, it is investing €409 000 to fund the planting of a total of 350 000 trees, mostly tropical hardwoods, in an existing project in the Bolivian Amazon and a new one in the jungle of Peru with a view to renewing the same number of trees every year.

For Lecomte it will be working with old friends - cocoa farmers in the remote village of Santa Ana and other communities who live in the dense, high forest alongside the deep brown Huayabamba river, near the town of Juanjui, in Peru's heavily deforested San Martin region, about 600km from Lima.

It's there where Lecomte already works with small cocoa farmers making fair trade and organic chocolate for Alter Eco, France's number one fair trade brand.

The lungs of the planet

"These farmers are organic, they benefit from fair trade and now they plant these trees so they also fight against global warming," he told AFP standing at dusk in the riverside village of Santa Rosa.

"They are at the forefront of the fight against climate change, they see the change in the weather and they want to fight against it for themselves and their children."

His company, The Pure Project, will pay them one Peruvian Sol (around 30 US cents) for every tree seedling they plant on their farmland which can be any number between 85 to 1 111 per hectare.

Once the trees reach the minimum legal diameter to be cut, they can be harvested by the farmer and sold.

Amid the intense green and the constant thrum of living creatures, the saplings grow at an accelerated rate with dinner-plate sized leaves reaching up to the sunlit cracks in the tree canopy.

Trees grow faster in the Amazon rainforest - the lungs of the planet - than anywhere else in the world, and can reach between six to 12 metres in just one year.

"Apart from reforesting we're doing business", said Ozwaldo del Castillo, a cocoa farmer with two adult sons and an 11-year old daughter who lives in Santa Ana.

"We may be old when those trees are ready to be cut down but if you think of the next generation, our children and their children will benefit in the future."

Effect on water resources

But as well as combating climate change and providing a kind of retirement fund for the farmers, the agro-forestry project is a form of sustainable development which can revitalise deforested and unproductive land - the result of slash and burn agriculture.

"Migrants coming from the highlands of Peru on arriving in the Amazon don't know how to cultivate without slashing and burning the plants and trees," Lecomte explained.

"This has a very bad effect on the water resources, on soil erosion, and on biodiversity of course. People's fields are slipping into the river because there are no big trees and their roots to maintain them."

Moreover, the bigger trees such as teak and cedar provide ideal conditions for the smaller cocoa trees which grow best in the shade, while the roots of the bigger trees oxygenate the soil.

The result is that these farmers can double their yield to up to 2 000kg of cocoa beans per hectare per year.

The Peruvian project is awaiting validation by the Voluntary Carbon Standard, or VCS, in July.

The Pure Project is running similar projects in 14 countries with a number of corporate clients including cosmetics firm Clarins, Hugo Boss and French retailer E Leclerc.

It's ambitious in its vision. It plans to plant up to four million trees in the next five years, which could capture 2.3 million tons of carbon over the next four decades. These could be sold on the voluntary carbon market by the company to fund further tree planting.

Niche market

Despite the despondency which followed December's Copenhagen climate change summit, idealists like Lecomte are undeterred.

He's convinced projects like this are the beginning of a much bigger trend and could also be an important niche market for developing nations like Peru.

"Sustainability is not an obstacle to the growth of big companies, quite the opposite it can be a strategic advantage," he maintains.

Projects like these, he says, work as a form of marketing for companies like Nestle but they also have a real impact on the farmers in the developing world.

Read more on:    peru  |  environment
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