How Grundon is helping turn Uganda green again

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.
BH: It was 18 years ago, and we were on our first Anglican Church mission trip to Tanzania. There was an initiative to organise people into self-supporting, small co-operative groups and we were inspired by them. They were living in a non-cash economy after a famine and one of the things they wanted to do, especially the women, was to plant trees. The elders remembered what the land was like before it was deforested and these women wanted to replant trees so they didn’t have to walk so far to get wood and water.

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?
BH: The levels of interest and commitment, a willingness to work matched with social riches but levels of material poverty. We ran a seminar for farmers and they came up with the ideas, we underestimated how much they knew about planting trees, our role was encouraging them to share information and doing things in the right way for their culture.

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?
BH: We are unusual that we don’t have a single vehicle in any of these countries and we only have one small office in Uganda. We work with small groups who organise themselves in a ‘loose tight’ management way. For us it was important that they were not reliant on us apart from the training, measurement and marketing elements, instead the emphasis is on them developing and sharing best practice.

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?
BH: In the Swahili language there is no future tense, so the envisioning process was very difficult to talk about. Also, we knew we would need to do things like count the numbers of trees planted, and in Tanzanian culture it’s considered very rude to ask such things, so that was an education process. They are very clear that to be successful in TIST they had to adhere to the principles they helped develop.

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?
BH: They will plant native or exotic trees which grow well in the area, if some trees self-seed, then that’s fine, as long as they are being actively managed then we will include them in our figures. At the monthly meetings there will be training on ideas such as keeping fruit or nut trees, or even bees, to provide an additional crop or income. The decisions are always left to the farmers to choose what they want to grow, we just measure the results.

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?
BH: Reforestation improves and restores all the things that deforestation has taken away. There is more water because the trees slow down water run-off from the land, more grass grows because it is shaded from the sun, the leaves of the trees can be used to feed cattle during times of drought, and of course the trees themselves can be thinned for firewood if they are properly managed.

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?
BH: TIST has grown from 75 farmers in Tanzania to over 70,000 in four countries. Worldwide, there are some 700 million small farmers like our TIST farmers and, when you aggregate that figure, because of the deforestation they create and the bad choices they are making, they have more impact on climate change around the world than all the transport or all the electricity. They can go on being part of the problem or, with help from programmes such as TIST, they can become part of the solution.

NG: How much do the groups know about the carbon credit process?
BH: TIST members are increasingly aware that they are on the edge of economic success. For them to know that they are helping Grundon take care of a problem it can’t fix itself is really important to them, it gives them a real sense of their own self-importance.

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?
BH: It provides the support for the small groups to have community meetings and send out newsletters on an ongoing basis. The more farmers who become involved, the bigger the movement can grow and the more money they receive. Rather than being in the investment phase, your money will help pay for important operational activities, including the quantifiers going out on their visits.

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?
VH: Everyone is thrilled to have Grundon as a customer via The CarbonNeutral Company.
They like to receive encouragement on a regular basis. They would love to know they are in Grundon’s house magazine and to know their work is being shared and talked about. It is very rare that a farmer gets to meet a buyer, which is why Toni’s visit is such a wonderful opportunity. Usually there are so many different layers in between.

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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