|This August, Toni Robinson, compliance manager at Grundon Waste Management, will visit rural Uganda to see first-hand the reforestation projects being undertaken by local subsistence farmers with support from The International Small Group Tree Planting Programme (TIST).|
Vivian Frost, client relationship manager at The CarbonNeutral Company, and Toni Robinson, compliance manager at Grundon Waste Management, will visit reforestation projects in rural Uganda this August.
Their success stories are the tangible proof that Grundon’s decision last January to go CarbonNeutral® across its entire roadgoing vehicle fleet is more than just “hot air” and can make a real difference to the lives of local subsistence farmers and the wider climate change agenda.
To achieve its three-year environmental programme and offset vehicle emissions, Grundon has partnered with The CarbonNeutral Company, world leaders in providing carbon reduction solutions. In turn, it works with TIST which, since beginning with one project in Tanzania, has grown to include more than 70,000 farmers across T anzania, Kenya, Uganda and India.
Recently, Ben and Vannesa Henneke, co-founders of TIST, together with Vivian Frost, client relationship manager at The CarbonNeutral Company, visited Grundon’s Colnbrook offices to share their experiences and vision for the future.
Left to right: Ben Henneke, co-founder of TIST; Vivian Frost, client relationship manager at The CarbonNeutral Company; Neil Grundon, deputy chairman at Grundon Waste Management; Vanessa Henneke, co-founder of TIST; Bradley Smith, sales and marketing director at Grundon Waste Management; and Toni Robinson, compliance manager at Grundon Waste Management.
Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, and Toni Robinson, asked the questions:
NG: Tell us more about how TIST started.
When we went back a year later for another seminar, they set several goals for sustainable agriculture and tree planting. They kept telling us what they wanted to do and, although we listened, we felt a sense of personal powerlessness because their problems were so big. Yes, you could make donations to an NGO, but these places were so remote that the money never really reaches them because the roads were so bad.
The people had no feasible opportunities to change their situation, for all their hard work and effort, they couldn’t actually do anything to break the cycle, they couldn’t control the rains or the quality of the soil.
VH: We knew it wasn’t about putting in a short-term programme which would last for three-five years, create great excitement and then go away, this had to be about empowering the people themselves – something that would work for their culture.
BH: I went back to my ‘real job’ as president of Clean Air Action Corporation, working in emissions trading, and one day someone suggested I set up a scheme whereby the farmers could grow trees to restore the land and sell the carbon credits to companies that wanted to buy them. Later that year we started developing TIST.
Today, we see it as more of a movement that involves many people rather than a programme or project. It was a wonderful honour when we heard we were the first in the world to receive dual validation and verification from Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (CCB).
TR: What did you see that made you determined to do what you do today?
We didn’t have any money to give them but we could help and show them that if they achieved results, then we would make sure they received the carbon credit money.
TR: How does the programme actually operate?
As a farmer, if you choose to join TIST you need to buy into the values and understand what it means to be measured on your trees and carbon credits. People have to get results.
We pay nothing up front but we provide training. The group members collect the tree seeds and plant them, once the seedlings have survived for six months, we pay two US cents per live tree per year. That “small money” adds up and it can go a long way to empowering a family, for example by helping to educate their children or, in some cases, the difference between life and death because they can afford malaria medication.
All the trees are counted, monitored and the circumference measured by TIST quantifiers who go in every 12-18 months. From those measurements we can calculate how much carbon the tree has sequestered over, for example, a five to seven year period.
Everything is put into a sophisticated database which enables us to see how many trees have been planted, where they are, and how big they are. We can then multiply the figures to show how much carbon has been absorbed and we then give those statistics to the outside auditors who conduct detailed field audits and then approve the quantity of Verified Carbon Standard credits.
In turn, when carbon credits are sold, farmers receive 70% of the profits.
VH: We provide education on issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria and we have a rotating leadership structure so that all members’ interests are considered and we also encourage the empowerment of women.
TR: It must be quite difficult sometimes, what were some of the challenges?
Actually capturing the information was difficult at first, we tried laptops but they were heavy for the quantifiers to lug around and needed recharging with big batteries. The solution was when we introduced hand-held palm computers, they were easy to carry, and the users were trained and proud to be in charge of them. They submit information so we know where the quantifiers have gone and how much time they spend at different locations.
Our approach is that the groups themselves can educate each other on what works. Having access to mobile phones has totally changed the way the administration works. Everyone is connected by phone so some training is available via mobiles and text, other times it is web-based training and they can go to a cyber café to access information. The technology is getting better all the time.
TR: How do they decide which trees to plant?
NG: As a third generation, privately-owned company, we always like to take a long-term view on things. I believe unless we do something now about climate change, the future won’t be too rosy, which is why we wanted to be involved with a credible scheme which had some longevity to it. It’s important to us to know it won’t just fizzle out.
BH: I agree and that’s why getting the training right in the beginning was very valuable. When the farmers understand it is a business, and a 30 year business, they are motivated to make it successful. But we also want to make sure it doesn’t fizzle out in another way too. Increasingly, villagers have more and more access to Western goods and technologies but no waste disposal stream in place and no instructions to help them understand how they should deal with things. Fifteen years ago plastic bottles were nowhere to be seen, yet now they are everywhere and they are burned next to their houses, which creates fumes and is bad for the families and the environment. Longer term, I’d like to see them rewarded not just for the good things they are doing now, such as growing trees, but also with your help and using your knowledge, getting them started on other projects such as learning about waste streams.
NG: What are the benefits of reforestation?
Apart from that, as the trees are established the farmers earn money through the sale of carbon credits. For the women especially, that’s important, they will generally use the money to educate their children, which helps the next generation.
NG: What environmental difference does the project make?
NG: How much do the groups know about the carbon credit process?
VH: They are very aware of how the carbon process works. There are regular seminars and training and they know so much more working on the ground than those who are taught about it in university.
NG: How will Grundon’s money make a difference?
TR: This project means a lot to Grundon, we really want to bring it to life by seeing it at first-hand. What will our visit mean to the farmers?
Ben Henneke – biography
As President of Clean Air Action Corporation, Ben Henneke founded the TIST Programme, a GreenHouse Gas sequestration and sustainable development initiative that presently supports the efforts of over 70,000 subsistence farmers in India, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. He began working in energy and the environment in 1973. He creates new methods of improving environmental performance at reduced cost through voluntary, market-based and innovative approaches. Mr. Henneke was a long-term member of the US EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee and co-chaired the Economic Incentives and Regulatory Innovation Subcommittee.
For more information on TIST, please visit www.tist.org
For more information on The CarbonNeutral Company please visit www.carbonneutral.com
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