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Green Old Deal: Why Carbon Offsets Matter More Than Ever

March 29th, 2019

This story first appeared on The Hill and is also cross-posted on Ecosystem Marketplace.

March 29, 2019

The Green New Deal is a bold and controversial legislative resolution that seeks to simultaneously tackle both climate change and economic inequality.  Since 2011, we’ve been empowering individuals and organizations to address their unavoidable carbon emissions through certified forestry projects which create income for rural communities in areas where earnings are typically less than $2/day.

So, we decided to write an op-ed to chime in on the public discussion of the Green New Deal in order to emphasize that its core concept is not new and, more importantly, to explain how what we do fits in.  Our piece below was published by The Hill, one of Washington’s most respected and influential news outlets.

The Green New Deal was voted down in the Senate, but lives on in a changed conversation about climate policy, including among its critics. Many floated policy ideas they thought would work better or be more enactable. Others focused on what they think a deal should exclude. A big target of their fire has been carbon market mechanisms, especially carbon offsets. But offsets are a necessary part of any comprehensive approach to fighting climate change.

They have been around since the 1990s. Recently demand for offsets has risen fast, and could rise faster if federal or state climate legislation created compliance markets for them. Voluntary carbon markets are relatively small, and voluntary carbon offsets cut less than two tenths of a percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions — but in a larger compliance market, where offsets help meet climate policy requirements, they could cut orders of magnitude more.

Some argued offsets should be off the table in a Green New Deal, claiming they are a license to pollute, don’t offer tangible emissions reduction, and can be exploitative toward developing countries.

The reality is complex — suffice to say the critics in many cases have been right. But they should not prevail, because excluding offsets won’t help the climate, whereas scaling up high-quality offsets will. We’ll make faster progress on emissions with them than without them.

Disney, Microsoft, Lyft and other major companies rely on offsets to cut net emissions. Etsy just became the first global e-commerce company to announce it will offset all its emissions from shipping. Cynics view offsetting corporate emissions as a cop-out. Offsets don’t stop GHG emissions at their source, so they don’t counteract giant companies’ emissions, they claim.

But there’s evidence that companies that use offsets aren’t trying to buy their way out of reducing emissions, they’re buying in. Studies show they consistently do more to reduce emissions than companies that don’t offset. There’s also evidence offsets really do counteract purchasers’ emissions. California got blowback for including forest offsets in its GHG reduction program, yet a Stanford study found they worked, cutting carbon emissions more than 25 million tons.

Globally, preserving and restoring forests could cut GHG more than eliminating all cars on earth. The UN climate process has stressed the need for carbon-negative strategies that effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to draw emissions down faster. High-tech interventions like carbon capture and storage need decades and massive investment to scale up — but forests are nature’s original carbon-negative strategy, inexpensive, here and now. Offsets are the key to financing more of them.

Also, many types of GHG emissions — like air travel — can’t be stopped at the source. Plane exhaust is a big part of companies’ carbon footprints and there’s currently no way to fly without spewing it. Aviation emissions account for 5 percent of atmospheric warming, and are rising fast along with demand for air travel.

The Green New Deal FAQ mentioned scaling up high-speed rail so flying wasn’t necessary. When opponents seized on that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scrambled to deny she wanted to ground planes or outlaw private jets. But short of that, offsets are currently about the only way to mitigate growing aviation emissions.

That’s why Bernie Sanders just pledged to offset his air travel on the campaign trail, and why the International Civil Aviation Organization requires airlines to buy offsets.

A group of climate scientists wrote recently that unless the offsets support other GHG reduction that wouldn’t happen otherwise, offsets won’t compensate for rising aviation emissions — but the scientists also said offsets with “robust criteria” would work and would compensate for rising emissions.

Some offsets are more robust than others. To be effective, they must be “additional” (i.e., enable GHG reduction that wouldn’t have happened without them), quantifiable and verified by accredited third parties. Some offer other valuable benefits besides cutting emissions: reducing non-GHG pollution, alleviating poverty, or improving water and soil quality, biodiversity, food security and human health. Today, plenty of reputable offset providers meet these tests.

During the Green New Deal debate, some vehemently rejected carbon offsets as climate colonialism exploiting indigenous and rural communities. It’s true — and reprehensible — that some forest offset projects have threatened residents with relocation or disrupted livelihoods. Other projects that tout “net positive community impacts” like “well-being” or “capacity building” or “expanding knowledge” can be squishy and unimpressive when it comes to showing how much cash they put into local residents’ pockets.

But these failings don’t typify the field. Offsets — when done right — genuinely enhance lives and livelihoods in rural communities. For example, Plan Vivo certifies offsets in parts of the world where incomes are under $2 a day. It requires that rural communities own their own offset projects and local residents receive at least 60 percent of all carbon revenues, so the money goes where it’s needed most.

A Plan Vivo forest offset project in Nicaragua generates direct payments to local farmers of about $300,000 a year. Another in Uganda, Trees for Global Benefits (full disclosure: my organization sells carbon offsets that fund it) has paid local households $2.5 million — the only cash income some of them have.

The money translates to improved human as well as forest health. Cash enables households to install running water and purification systems or qualify for loans to pay for medical care they wouldn’t otherwise get. TGB also protects medicinal tree species, including the African cherry Prunus africana, an active ingredient in prostate treatments.

Climate scientists and economists know that well designed, accountable forest offsets work. They also know that they have a perception problem. A group of them studied it, and found people see forest offsets more positively once they learn they’re cost-efficient at sequestering carbon. But their view of offsets doesn’t improve when shown how they also reliably cut emissions and confer other benefits like health outcomes.

Public perception should catch up to the reality. Our policy discourse is getting clearer about the imperative to connect climate action to social and economic justice. Our views on carbon offsets should, too.

They aren’t a panacea, or a substitute for stopping emissions at the source, and they’re not immune to abuses, but carbon offsets are still indispensable for cutting emissions and empowering people.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to clarify the medical use of Prunus africana.

Tim Whitley is the founder and CEO of Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (COTAP), a 501(c)3 public charity that sells offsets from certified forestry projects in least-developed regions which create transparent and accountable earnings for rural farming communities where income levels are less than $2 per day.

About The Hill

The Hill, which is known among those who influence policy as a “must read” in print and online, serves to connect the political players, define the issues, and influence the way Washington’s decision-makers view the debate.  Since its launch in 1994, The Hill has been the newspaper for and about Congress, breaking stories from Capitol Hill, K Street and the White House.  The Hill stands alone in signaling the important issues of the moment by delivering solid, non-partisan and objective reporting on the business of Washington, covering the inner-workings of Congress, as well as the nexus between politics and business.

COTAP featured on OZY

April 20th, 2018

OZY media covers COTAP April 2018

An OZY piece titled “Americans on Climate Change: All Talk, Little Action” includes a candid interview with COTAP founder Tim Whitley about some of the challenges individuals face when seeking to reduce their carbon emissions. The article also includes highlights from an OZY & SurveyMonkey poll of nearly 4,000 American adults about their climate actions.

COTAP and Expedia covered by GreenBiz & Sustainable Brands

August 15th, 2017

GreenBiz and Sustainable Brands cover COTAP's partnership with Expedia

On August 2, COTAP issued a press release about working with Expedia, which became the first Fortune 500 company to choose carbon offsets which directly share 60% of revenues with people who live on less than $2/day.  The news was covered by both GreenBiz and Sustainable Brands, two of the longest-standing and most respected news organizations covering (you guessed it!) green and sustainable business.

Sustainable Brands’ August 3rd coverage was titled “Expedia Combating Poverty, Climate Change with Revenue-Sharing Carbon Offset Program.”

GreenBiz Editorial Director Heather Clancy interviewed COTAP founder Tim Whitley about how we can make carbon offsets go miles further. The 35 minute interview appeared in the GreenBiz 350 Podcast on August 11th. On Monday August 14th, we were the GreenBiz’ lead story titled “Why travel giant Expedia paid a premium for these carbon offsets.”

Press Release – With Carbon Offsets To Alleviate Poverty, Expedia combats economic inequality and climate change together

August 2nd, 2017

Becomes the first Fortune 500 company to choose carbon offsets which directly share 60% of revenues with people who live on less than $2/day.

[Oakland, California – August 2, 2017] To reduce global economic inequality along with greenhouse gas emissions from its corporate travel, global travel industry leader Expedia, Inc. has invested in four community-owned carbon offset projects from the global non-profit Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (

COTAP’s carbon offset projects counteract emissions through tree planting, agroforestry and forest protection. They are all located in areas where income levels are less than $2 per day, and are certified under Plan Vivo, the world’s longest-standing voluntary standard for forest carbon. Plan Vivo stipulates not only that rural communities actually own their projects, but also that they receive at least 60% of all carbon revenues.

“One of Expedia’s core Corporate Social Responsibility values is climate action, so there was really was no question about whether or not working with COTAP made sense. Travel is a large contributor to carbon emissions and given that we are in the business of travel anything we can do to help alleviate the impact we’re on board. We are very excited to be working with COTAP and look forward to what we can accomplish together,” said Tony Donohoe, SVP and CTO, Expedia Worldwide Engineering at Expedia, Inc.

The Paris climate agreement included provisions designed to boost carbon trading markets and carbon offsets. Yet US withdrawal from Paris may not slow carbon offset use by US companies. Many are using them to meet state emissions reductions obligations, and there’s a global trend toward leading companies adopting carbon net-zero or carbon net-positive emissions policies that seek to mitigate direct and even indirect GHG emissions through clean energy and carbon offsets.

Corporate travel often accounts for a large part of a company’s emissions, which carbon offsets can counteract.  Major companies which have recently announced initiatives to use carbon offsets for corporate travel include retailer, business software giant SAP and car rental leader Hertz, to name a few. But Expedia, whose 2016 revenues exceeded $8.7 billion, is the first Fortune 500 company to work with COTAP to offset its corporate travel, ensuring that the majority of its payment goes directly to those who need it most.

“By offsetting through COTAP, Expedia is creating over $5.00 per tonne in direct, life-changing income for the world’s poorest people,” said Tim Whitley, COTAP founder. “This unsurpassed level of direct carbon revenue sharing is made possible by the combination of Plan Vivo’s 60% community revenue sharing requirement, the premium price of $9 per tonne COTAP pays projects, and our modest and transparent margin of 9.1%. Our projects create other indirect co-benefits like improved food security, biodiversity, soil quality, and reduced erosion.  But income is the ultimate benefit because beneficiaries can use it to pay for income-generating assets, medical treatment, food, or their children’s school fees.”

Through donations to COTAP, Expedia offset 1,010 tonnes worth of carbon emissions, which it is using to address air travel emissions from a large meeting involving leaders from many of Expedia’s locations around the world. The donated funds will be distributed evenly among COTAP’s partner projects in India, Malawi, Nicaragua and Uganda, with cash payments directly shared with smallholder farmers and forest communities there.

There’s vast potential for major companies to leverage their sustainability programs to fight poverty and climate change together as Expedia is doing, aligning their interests with smallholders, communities and local environments in developing countries. By working with COTAP, Expedia is leading on that front and demonstrating a transparent, scalable way forward.

The total volume of voluntary offset emissions reductions is still small compared to the scale of emissions reductions needed to combat climate change, but according to a recent Ecosystem Marketplace report, voluntary markets leverage an outsized impact on compliance markets and on emissions reductions activities in general. The total market value of carbon offsets fluctuates with prices. Last year it was nearly $200 million, but using premium offsets such as COTAP’s would drive it higher, and vulnerable communities would capture a lot more of that value.

“We are pleased that Expedia has decided to support Plan Vivo projects in giving rural communities the tools to shape their own sustainable futures,” said Plan Vivo Foundation Programme Manager Eva Schoof. “To date these projects have channeled about $10 million and counting to rural communities, funding long-term sustainable livelihood activities that have an impact beyond carbon payments.”

“Offsets from our program result in direct cash payments and long-term income opportunities for farmers in the poorest parts of the world who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” said Kahlil Baker, co-founder and executive director of CommuniTree, COTAP’s project partner in Nicaragua. “There is a strong multiplier effect from those payments because farmers regularly reinvest that money back into their farms to grow their incomes even further.”

“Expedia’s carbon offset purchases will help fund small community development grants to over 60 villages,” said Mark Poffenberger, head of the Technical Advisory Committee to the Khasi Hills India Community REDD+ Project, COTAP’s project partner in India, and a trustee of the Plan Vivo Foundation. “Most villages use their payment for protecting and restoring their forests to improve the village drinking water system.  The funds also support community forest fire control and replanting that results in improved watershed health and more secure drinking water supplies.”

“Expedia’s support will fund performance-based payments that have been structured to allow farmers to consider long-term investment horizons, using part of their land to develop carbon offsets as an asset,” said Pauline Nantongo Kalunda, executive director of Ecotrust, COTAP’s project partner in Uganda. “That not only provides short-term cash and needed livelihood inputs but also long-term benefits from materials and income that can be enjoyed in the future. By channeling the funds through Village Savings & Loans Associations, funds are available for all community members to access loans.  Moreover, the carbon farmers are able to use their purchase agreements as collateral for loans and use the subsequent payments to offset the loans.”

COTAP community-owned carbon offset projects serve and connect key UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 1, ending poverty, and Goal 13, taking action on climate change, as well as enhancing food security, fighting deforestation, boosting sustainable growth and employment, and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity. They’re also examples of how the private sector and communities in developing countries can work together to help meet global emissions reduction goals. Expanding voluntary carbon markets and using carbon offsets were topics discussed in a recent UN intersessional meeting in Bonn, Germany on implementing the Paris climate agreement.

Companies of any size, and individuals anywhere in the world, can follow Expedia’s example by working with COTAP to offset as little as 1 tonne of carbon emissions.  In the U.S., individuals can deduct COTAP offsetting on their income taxes. Expedia, Inc.’s donation also gives its more than 20,000 employees worldwide access to COTAP’s Employee Offset Matching Program, via Expedia’s philanthropic arm Expedia Cares. The program enables participating employees to double the amount of carbon emissions they can offset and halve their effective rate to a tax-deductible $4.95 per tonne, while still maintain the $9 per tonne premium which COTAP projects receive. At, employees can calculate their carbon footprint, learn how to reduce it, and offset any dollar amount or tonnage quantity.

COTAP visits Taking Root’s CommuniTree Project in Nicaragua

June 17th, 2016

(Information on how to offset your CO2 emissions through this specific project can be found at the end of this blog post!)

From May 31 to June 3, I (Tim Whitley) visited our partner Taking Root’s CommuniTree project in Somoto and Limay Nicaragua. For two and half days, I toured a wide variety of project activities like planting, monitoring, and farmer payments.  And I also got a to see all the different types of tree planting methods and at all stages – from hole digging and seedling development to 5-year-old tree plantations.

Kahlil Baker, Taking Root’s Executive Director, picked me up and on the 3+ hour ride from Managua to Somoto with our driver Oscar… it RAINED! That’s a huge deal for both the CommuniTree project and Nicaragua in general. Both have experienced devastating droughts for the past two years. The specifics of the droughts, their impact on the project, and how Taking Root is addressing those impacts – can all be found in their 2015 annual report on COTAP’s Transparency page.


After a stop in Estelí for a local McDonald’s-esque meal at Tip Top, we arrived in Somoto, which is about 120 miles north of Managua and near the Honduran border. There I met Elvin Castellón, the head of APRODEIN (Associación Profesionales para el Desarrollo Integral de Nicaragua), which is Taking Root’s on-the-ground partner organization that oversees day-to-day operations. Taking Root and APRODEIN’s offices are above Elvin’s home. Pictured below is Kahlil and Elvin’s trusty Mahindra 4×4 which is how we got around, including rain-swollen creeks…


That same afternoon, Elvin, Kahlil, and staff got right to work and took me to meet Roger (pronounced RO-HAIR), a program participant. Here’s Kahlil, Roger, Tim, and around 10,000 of Roger’s seedlings. Roger’s growing four different species including Bombacopsis quinata (spiny cedar) and Swietenia humilis (Pacific Coast Mahogany).



Next we walked over to one of Roger’s fields where some of the seedlings had already been planted.

For the Plan Vivo and forestry geeks, this particular plot was being planted according to Taking Root’s Silvopastoral Planting Technical Specification, or “Tech Spec” which entails a mix of reforestation alongside cattle-supporting pasture improvement.

Not visible in the below picture, and challenging to see in person, are the planted seedlings. This is where the Tech Spec comes into play. Farmers like Roger systematically plant seedlings 1.5 meters apart and in rows which are 3 meters apart. Once one knows this, and hence where the seedlings are supposed to be, they become a lot easier to see. In person, at least. This systematic approach is also extremely useful when it’s time for project staff to verify plantings and monitor progress before farmers receive their payments for ecosystem services (PES), i.e. sequestering the carbon dioxide emissions of those who buy carbon offsets from the project. That includes YOU, Cotappers!


Here’s Kahlil, Roger, and Marcel, who is head of APRODEIN operations for the Somoto region:


As we left Roger, he noted that he had planted these trees the year before:


They had to be 20 feet high! I’d heard it before, and had no reason to disbelieve it, that trees can grow around 10 times faster in this part of the world, but seeing is definitely believing.

Then we headed over dirt roads and through the bucolic Somoto countryside…


Then we visited another newly planted area, and Kahlil explained why there were burned areas.  Over time, and as the land gets deforested, cattle roam in and graze on ground vegetation. But there’s one type of thorny brush they don’t eat, and over time that stuff gets huge (technical term!) and dominates the moisture, soil nutrients, and sun light that new saplings need in order to… take root. So what farmers do is round it up and burn it before planting seedlings, hence the scorched earth in the picture below. The carbon dioxide released from burning is part of the project’s pre-planting, above-ground biomass calculations and is thus factored into each plot’s, and the project’s overall, net projected carbon sequestration calculations.


I looked down and there was a seedling, looking rather pitiful. What about the cows? Wouldn’t they just come along and eat it? That’s where the Silvopastoral (and other) Tech Specs come in. A major piece of the project’s design, requirements, and management centers on fencing. Taking Root requires that Silvopastoral plots, where livestock will eventually return, be fenced off and that cattle are not allowed in for the first three years after planting. After that, their foliage is safely out of the reach of hungry cow lips. It should be noted here that fencing is as paramount as seedling development, and that Taking Root takes a very active role in buying and distributing both barbed wire and fence posts.


The next day, after a spectacular breakfast (and dinner the night before) from Elvin’s wife Fanny, I took a tour of the Somoto office upstairs. I was pleased to see Kahlil had added his brand new COTAP t-shirt to his Spring collection. Here’s their whiteboard with the Somoto staff’s workplans listed out for the week. By the way, the lettering above used to say “APRODEIN – TAKING ROOT.”


I told Kahlil that it was good to see a contact and feedback poster (below) by the front door of the office. One would assume such a thing of a community-focused carbon project, but I found it interesting when Kahlil explained that, while they’d likely do this sort of thing anyway, it’s actually something that the Plan Vivo Foundation requires of the carbon projects it certifies.


Inside, Elvin with one of his staff.


Next we went out to visit new planting areas, and arrived at the one pictured below that’s being planted according to the Mixed Species Plantation Tech Spec. Note the post and barbed wire fencing on the right behind Elvin, and that’s more of that thorny shrub stuff on the other side of it.


At the end of this field were two guys taking a break in the shade from digging holes for saplings. It was 9:30 in the morning and already getting hot. They were also experimenting with a new gas-powered hole digging auger like this one, which Taking Root bought to explore whether was a sufficient cost-benefit, specifically whether the increased number of tree planting holes per day was sufficient to merit the project formally making augers more available to project participants.

Their initial thinking was probably not. Part of the reason is that, so far at least, with two guys digging holes they were now doing around 300 holes per day with the auger, whereas they averged around 200/day with traditional manual tools. That’s promising, but probably insufficient because the other factor is the very high cost of construction equipment in Nicaragua. While you can pick up an auger at your local Home Depot for about $250, they cost four times that in Nicaragua!

I wondered whether some sort of loan or lease finance (or some other solution) would make a difference in this situation and, if fixed, if it theoretically has the potential to increase the project’s annual plantings by 50%. The thing is, as of June 15th – one month into this year’s first planting season – the project has already planted 500,000 new trees (!!!). So, it seems like the more important bottleneck holding back the project’s reach and scale is the quantity of pre-orders for carbon credits to be created by the upcoming planting seasons’. That’s is the big problem that COTAP’s been trying to crack – getting the word out, making the case, and making it easier for ordinary people and organizations to do business with wonderful, multi-faceted projects like CommuniTree.

Next we went to another plantation that was established last year, and here I witnessed instances newly-planted saplings alongside year-old ones.


We also met Julio, the son of landowner…


Then on to another plot, pictured below, where there was a lot of active clearing and planting going on. This is where I got a sense of the indirect employment created by the project. For example, through 2015 the project had cumulatively contracted with 296 smallholder families. But it creates employment many times that for seasonal participants paid by the families for performing services like developing seedlings, digging holes, and and planting. The project estimates that during 2014 and 2015 it created 2,645 such jobs, 662 of them for women and 1,982 for men.


At this point Kahlil said, “Hey Tim, want to plant a tree?” Me: “I thought you’d never ask!” So then one of the planters came over with a seedling.  It was a quite a process! First, you have to remove the plastic wrapper the seedling is born in. Then you hold it from the side and the bottom so it doesn’t come apart while you put it in the hole. You have to adjust the amount of dirt at the bottom of the hole a little bit because they’re not all the same depth and you want the bottom of the seedling’s little teeny tiny baby tree trunk to be level with the ground.  Then you hold it in place while you fill in the rest of the hole with the dirt. There needs to be a little layer of dirt on top of the root system to seal it so that moisture doesn’t get lost. You also need to pack the dirt around it enough so that it’s sturdy, but not too compact because that prevents needed air from getting to the roots. Whoah!


On the way back to the truck, I got a picture of this local seedling delivery vehicle..


Next we went to a year-old plot owned by a fellow named Alberto. One interesting thing seen below is the substantial variability in growth that can occur between two trees of the exact same species and planted at the exact same time. Here, the super tall tree is the exception, kind of like a teenager that hit their growth spurt before the others. Sometimes it’s just that, but it can also be because it had better genes than the other saplings, or because it was planted in an above-average piece of soil, or both.


Then we drove about an hour and a half on dirt roads and through the rain to Limay, where the project started back in 2010. Taking Root’s Limay office also serves as a hostel for guests. The middle of nowhere and then some, yet fantastic hi-speed internet/wifi, fantastic Nicaraguan coffee always on tap, and a bar across the street serving up ice-cold Toña beers. Here’s my room for the next two nights. Great mattress and pillow plus a fan. Luckily mosquitoes weren’t an issue, but unfortunately a rooster lived about 2 inches on the other side of the window. That wasn’t an issue either… until about 4:15am. Kahlil said to bring ear plugs, and I didn’t ask him why. That was why! Good call!


The next morning about 9:30 was another first for me: witnessing project participants coming into the Limay office to collect their “pagos por servicios ambientales” or payments for ecosystem services (PES). For planting and maintaining trees that will sequester the carbon dioxide emissions that have been emitted by those who buy carbon credits from the project (aka YOU the Cotappers!). Below is a participant signing for his check, overseen by Elsa. She manages operations for the Limay portion of the project.

I didn’t ask the guy his name or how the payments were benefiting him, I felt it was intrusive enough to be taking a picture. I did explain to him why I was there – visiting the project on behalf of COTAP, which helps people and businesses address their unavoidable CO2 emissions through this and other projects. I also thought it was cool his boots had spurs on them – he’d come in to pick up his check… on a horse!

Even though this part of the process is the core of why I do what I do – climate change is a historic opportunity to correct global economic inequality – I’d never seen it in person and it brought things full circle for me. Not long before this guy got his check, a Cotapper from Edinburgh, Scotland offset $100 and 10.10 tonnes through COTAP’s four projects. That means 2.53 tonnes $22.73 for this project, 60% of which gets paid out to people like this guy. And not long after this picture, another Cotapper in Arlington Heights, Illinois offset 4 tonnes overall, 1 of them to this project, and $5.40 to people like him. Last year, the average PES check was $211.78 (annual report Appendix 5).


Later that morning we hit the road to meet more farmers and see more trees.  We arrived at Cesar’s place. I assumed this was his house but didn’t confirm it…


We kept on the trail past the house. Either shortly before or after the below picture was taken, we came upon a mango tree that had… mangos in it. And a bees nest. Elvin decided to harvest a couple of mangos with a stick. As part of that process, he disturbed the bees nest and within 5 seconds I believe I was stung in the back of the head by a bee and bitten on my big toe by some sort of ant (Kahlil had, multiple times, urged me to wear shoes instead of my sport sandals). Upon further inspection, I believe the toe was also a bee sting because I pulled out what appeared to be a stinger. In any event, I was thankful that it wasn’t a bullet ant, known to exist in Nicaragua and so-called because when it bites you the pain is as if you’ve been SHOT, and it lasts for 24 HOURS!


Anyway, after I got over that I truly marveled at what an established and maturing reforestation plantation looked like. Roaming the plantation, machete in hand, was Cesar Lopez:


As with the other smallholders I met, I did my best to introduce myself and explain why I was there… capping it all off with a disarming “Diacachimba!” to smooth over any awkwardness. “Diacachimba!” is a super-Nicaraguan and exuberant saying that means many things to many people, but (and especially for folks who know me from business school) it’s basically the equivalent of saying “BOOM!” It was pretty much always well-received and elicited a smile.

It turns out that Cesar is one of several unofficial spokespersons for the project, and recently did this interview (Spanish only) with Randolph:

Among other things, Cesar shared that he had planted about 6,000 trees as part of the program. Without hiring available seasonal labor. Amazing! I had fun explaining to Cesar that I had two trees, one in the front yard and one in the back. Moving on, I decided to mix things up and ride in the back of the Mahindra with Elsa and Randolph of the Limay team. Along the way, I saw lots of fencing and boundary plantings (another Tech Spec that is exactly what it sounds like) which included some new replacement saplings.


Then we stopped again at the plot below. It was time for a demonstration of Taking Root’s monitoring platform, which it refers to as its Smallholder Carbon Project Information Management System (SCPIMS). Last Fall, Taking Root’S SCPIMS actually won an award for best monitoring from the Rainforest Alliance’s Eco-Index.


When it’s time to monitor a plantation, monitoring staff pull it up using Taking Root’s proprietary smartphone app:


The app shows them how the plot is doing based on the previous monitoring, with 5 different plot quality rating levels. The system randomly selects a set of sample plots within the plantation to check up on. For each random sample plot, two technicians record the progress of every tree within a 10 meter radius of that given plot’s central tree, which they locate using GPS. Sometimes those central trees have paint markings. One technician does the measuring and calls out the results to the other, who inputs it on their smartphone. Species and diameter a breast height (dbh) are recorded and uploaded to Taking Root’s central cloud-based database for analysis, and their system allows for many technicians to be remotely uploading data at once.  Here’s Randolph entering the data:


And Kahlil doing the measuring.  Also note the paint marking on the tree…


Then it was time for lunch back at the office in Limay…


Then it rained. A LOT! Yay!


Mural on the side of the office, with themes of working, dancing, studying, playing, and having a good time…


Also at the Limay office was a woodshop where they’re experimenting with various wood products that will eventually be made from periodically-harvested trees harvested. Right now they’re doing cutting boards and other kitchen-related items. You can read more about Taking Root’s efforts around wood products and charcoal on their blog, and its also important to note here how this fits in with long-term net CO2 sequestration, which you can learn more about through their blog post here.


After the rain, the Mahindra rolled to the final plantation, one of the first from the project’s humble beginnings in 2010. Here it is shortly after pulling a Toyota out of a swollen creek.


On the way we passed a field that wasn’t part of the project:


…that empty field served as the “before” picture of the 2010 Taking Root plantation we arrived at next:


Something I noticed for the first time was that, in this older plantation, you can see young saplings growing. But they weren’t planted by the farmer participating in the CommuniTree project… they had been planted by the trees themselves!  Here I could see something Kahlil shared earlier in the trip, a quote he loves, something like: “A good forester never needs to replant.”

In this new forest was the occasional freak tree which was growing bigger and faster than the rest, here’s one of them.


The look on Kahlil’s face was priceless, as if he was wondering “Did we really do this?”


Transfixed and awestruck! It was pretty much my same reaction, not only to that one tree but also to every aspect of my entire CommuniTree project visit!

Last but not least, you can offset some or all of your annual CO2 emissions specifically through through Taking Root’s CommuniTree project in Nicaragua (as opposed to all 4 COTAP projects) by donating any dollar amount through the PayPal button immediately below. It’s $9.90 per tonne and tax-deductible for U.S. residents.

If you prefer to calculate your footprint and/or offset by the tonne, you can do so here.