Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

4 car donation case studies

December 1st, 2020

COTAP has partnered with CARS! Founded in 2003, CARS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and respected leader in the vehicle donation space that has supported over 3,500 nonprofits. Learn more on our car donation page here.

The below case studies reveal that, on average, a COTAP vehicle donation counteracts 234.13% of the vehicle’s “tailpipe emissions” while generating $1,698.77 for our projects. Because all COTAP projects are certified by the Plan Vivo carbon standard, which requires that projects share a minimum of 60% of carbon revenues with participating communities, it follows that the average COTAP car donation creates at least $1,019.26 in earnings for some of the world’s poorest communities.

Case Study #1

On December 31, 2020, a donor from Fairfax, Virginia used CARS’ online form to pledge a 2004 Toyota Matrix with 110,096 miles on it. This donor stipulated that the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly to all COTAP projects – in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. The car was picked up on January 9th and on January 13thit was sold at auction for $2,200. Selling expenses were $130 for auction fees and $2.78 in miscellaneous costs. That left $2,067.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On February 4th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $1,447.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, the donor is offsetting 96.47 tonnes to our partner projects, which will receive $217.06 each and $1,302.35 overall.

So, not only did this donor get rid of a car they no longer wanted/needed, they’ll also got a tax deduction (assuming they itemize!). Further, they’re addressing their unavoidable carbon emissions, helping to protect and restore landscapes all over the world, and creating income for rural communities.

Speaking of carbon emissions, the 96.47 tonnes offset compensates for 298.76% of the tailpipe carbon emissions generated by the donated car! Plugging the above 110,096 miles and 30 mpg (For mpg, we Google the model/year) into our calculator yielded 32.29 tonnes. In this example, the car donation is not only negating the tailpipe emissions for the original owner, but it’s also likely negating the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #2

On June 7th, 2020, a donor from Atlanta, Georgia called the above number and pledged to donate a 2013 Buick Encore with 190,879 miles on it. They stipulated that the net proceeds go towards offsetting with our Uganda partner project – Trees for Global Benefits. The car was picked up on June 10th and on June 18th it was sold at auction for $3,200. Selling expenses were $70 for towing, $50 for auction fees, and $2.78 misc. That left $3,077.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On July 2nd, COTAP received payment from CARS for $2,154.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, the donor is offsetting 143.603 tonnes to our partner project in Uganda, which will receive $1,938.65.

The 143.603 tonnes offset more than compensates for the carbon emissions generated by the donated car. Plugging the above 190,879 miles and 25 mpg into our calculator yielded 67.18 tonnes. Again, this donation is negating the original owner’s tailpipe emissions as well as the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #3

On May 31st, 2020, a donor from Glendale, Arizona pledged to donate a 2012 Ford Focus SE with 168,537 miles on it. They chose for the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly across all COTAP projects. The car was picked up on July 6th and on August 22nd it was sold at auction for $2,400. Selling expenses for towing, auction, and DMV fees etc. totaled $145.78, which left $2,254.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On September 17th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $1,577.95. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, this donor is evenly offsetting 105.197 tonnes across all of our partner projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. That’s 17.53 tonnes and $236.69 per project.

As in the first case study, the donor got rid of an unwanted car, got a tax deduction, and addressed their unavoidable emissions. What’s different this time is that they are not just protecting/restoring forests and empowering rural communities in Uganda… they’re creating those benefits all over the planet! Neither approach (one project vs. all projects) is better than the other, it’s just the donor’s preference on whether they want to focus their impacts in one region vs. “spreading the love.”

So, did this car donation offset fully compensate for 168,537 miles driven in a 2012 Ford Focus SE? We used 26 mpg, which is the lower end of the car’s fuel efficiency rating. The result? 57.03 tonnes. Similar to the first case study, this donation is not only compensating for the car’s tailpipe emissions for the original owner, but also for the tailpipe emissions for the remaining life of the car.

Case Study #4

On August 21st, 2020, a donor from Garden City, New York pledged to donate a 2005 Lexus RX 330 with 165,000 miles on it. They chose for the net proceeds go towards offsetting evenly across all COTAP projects. The car was picked up on August 25th and on October 27th it was sold at auction for $3,550. Selling expenses for towing, auction, and DMV fees etc. totaled $162.78, which left $3,387.22, 30% of which CARS charges as its fee.

On November 5th, COTAP received payment from CARS for $2,371.05. At our offsetting rate of $15/tonne, this donor is evenly offsetting 158.07 tonnes across all of our partner projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Mexico. That’s 26.345 tonnes and $355.66 per project! Using the car’s average mpg rating of 22 miles per gallon, this car’s tailpipe emissions (from the original owner’s 165,000 miles) were 65.99 tonnes of CO2. By donating this car, the original owner compensated for 239.5% of the tailpipe emissions generated by driving it 165k miles.

In Summary…

The donor, CARS, COTAP, and our partner projects all come out ahead significantly and in ways that would not be possible without this very unique, meaningful, and symbiotic partnership!

Trees for Global Benefits 2018 Year in Review

January 18th, 2019

Part 3 of Our Interview with Pauline Nantongo Kalunda

Kicking off our 2018 Trees for Global Benefits (TGB) highlights is the final installment of our 3-part discussion about the project, one of about 20 video interviews we conducted during our visit in March (more on that below). It begins with a discussion about “additionality,” or how the project wouldn’t be occurring as a result of government policy or without sales of its certified carbon credits. You’ll also learn about Uganda’s Constitution Amendment Bill of 2017, how the project helps participants obtain formal recognition of their land rights (a topic often referred to as “land tenure”), and how TGB facilitates participation by individuals with extremely small landholdings. We also cover the Community Carbon Fund (CCF), TGB’s large waitlist of future beneficiary farmers, and how Ecotrust manages supply and demand.



Celebrating 15 Years of TGB

Started in 2003 with 33 farmers in the Rubirizi and Mitooma districts, TGB has now expanded to over 12 districts and nearly 7,000 farmer participants, making it the largest agroforestry carbon scheme in the world! To celebrate, Ecotrust published this cool and informative ‘story map’ which charts TGB’s growth (click image to open):


2018 also marked 10 years of TGB support from Max Burgers, a climate-conscious Swedish hamburger chain which, among other things, lists each food item’s CO2 emissions on its menus. Ecotrust marked this milestone with another story map focusing on environmental and social impacts created by Max’s support.

Jane Goodall Recognizes Ecotrust as part of HWC Resilience Fund

At the Jane Goodall Institute Uganda (JGI) Annual Event in June, Ecotrust was among several implementing partners  recognized by Jane Goodall herself for their role in the implementation of the Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) Resilience Fund. JGI, Ecotrust, and Chimp Trust are implementing an 18-month conservation project which aims to enhance community resilience to losses from wildlife incursions in the in the Albertine Rift, which ranks first out of the 119 distinct terrestrial eco-regions of continental Africa in terms of endemic animal species. The project aims to enhance wildlife protection by mitigating negative HWC livelihood impacts for communities living in and around the vital wildlife migratory corridors which connect forest reserves protected under the jurisdiction of the National Forestry Authority (NFA).

Multiple Appearances on NTV Uganda

In 2018, Ecotrust had two high-profile appearances on NTV Uganda which can be viewed below. The first is a general feature of TGB as part of the NTVGREEN series, and the second is Pauline discussing the conservation of Uganda’s big cats with WWF country director David Duli and Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities.

Additional Ecotrust/TGB Updates

Here’s a roundup of selected items straight from Ecotrust’s news page:

  • In Q1, the project announced grants of UGX 15 million (about US$ 4,042) to four community groups. One grantee, the Mubuku Integrated Farmers Association (MIFA), received solar lamps worth UGX 4,053,000 for their project “Kick Kerosene lamps out of Mubuku landscape,” an initiative for empowering MIFA members by simultaneously improving health and literacy.
  • In March, the project endured a weeklong visit by COTAP! We spent 7 days learning about farmers’s TGB experiences by talking to about 16 participants in the Kasese and Rubirizi districts. In addition, we spoke with Ecotrust ED Pauline Nantongo Kalunda in Kampala, field staff like Winnie Namwirya, and Richard Akora, owner of a nursery which supplies seedlings to TGB farmers.
  • Ecotrust participated in conservation events across the country, inncluding a World Wildlife Day festival in Kasese, Water and Environment Week in Entebbe, and World Wetlands Day in Arua district, as well as various government policy/planning/training workshops and meetings which are too numerous to list!

Get Future Updates Directly from Ecotrust

You can get caught up on Ecotrust’s news through their website’s archive here and sign up here to get future TGB updates directly and as soon as they’re announced.



When you donate to TGB, you’re not only offsetting your unavoidable CO2 emissions, you’re also restoring landscapes and supporting farmers like Beatrice Tubamwenda, pictured below. She is earning a total of $610.40 for planting and maintaining 400 trees which are capturing and sequestering 203.4 tonnes of CO2!

Spotlight on Nicaragua

November 27th, 2018

Update on Political Unrest

In April, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest the policies of president Daniel Ortega and demand that he step down. Our partner Taking Root issued an initial update on this situation in April, and then another in June.  These updates explained how CommuniTree’s operations have been largely unaffected and emphasized how community reforestation – a long term bet on livelihoods, the planet, and the future – is now more important than ever.  Although things have settled down somewhat since June, these political issues remain unresolved and so tensions and anxiety remain.



Improving outcomes by analyzing data from Outer Space

In October, the project announced that it partnered with Belgian data scientist Pello Múgica Gonzalez (pictured) to analyze satellite reforestation data combined with data collected on-the-ground through the project’s pioneering Farm Trace system.  Gonzalez’ work will help CommuniTree optimize its data-driven and cost-effective approach to ensuring tree survival in the remote regions where the project operates, including the creation of predictive algorithms which identify problems and recommend fixes… before the problems even arise! To learn more about CommuniTree’s application of technology to smallholder reforestation, go here.

Presenting Taking Root’s Model to the United Nations

Dr. Kahlil Baker and Elvin Castellon, Taking Root’s Canadian and Nicaraguan directors, presented CommuniTree’s smallholder reforestation model to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy. FAO invited Taking Root to present how the project generates millions of dollars of farmer income and utilizes a sophisticated and data-driven approach to manage its activities.

Additional Updates

  • Photo albums of this year’s planting season can be found here for Q3, here for Q2, and here for Q1. In case you missed them, all photos from 2017 are here.
  • This month, Taking Root’s co-founders were presented with the Meritorious Service Cross from Julie Payette, the Governor General of Canada. They were recognized alongside 36 other Canadians – including community volunteers to scientists, actors, members of the military, scholars, and everyday citizens – as individuals who have performed exceptional accomplishments which set an example for others to follow while bringing honor to Canada as a whole.
  • The project has partnered with Peter Schleifenbaumn, founder of one of Canada’s largest and most sustainably-managed private forests. Peter is supporting Taking Root’s model through a new form of conservation finance, where funds invested into the launch of the project’s woodcrafts business will be re-invested into sustainable forest management and expansion.  Check out the project’s woodcrafts for sale here.

Get Future Updates Directly from Taking Root

You can sign up here to get updates about CommuniTree, Nicaragua directly and as soon as they’re announced by our partner Taking Root.



When you donate to CommuniTree, you’re not only offsetting your unavoidable CO2 emissions, you’re also restoring landscapes and supporting farmers like Doroteo Benavidez Cruz and Elba Catalina, pictured below. They’ve earned $1,798.04 for planting and maintaining 3,355 trees which are capturing and sequestering 744 tonnes of CO2!

COTAP’s Summer 2016 Newsletter

August 10th, 2016

Nicaragua Project Visit and Trip Report

From May 31 to June 3, COTAP visited our partner Taking Root’s CommuniTree project in Somoto and Limay Nicaragua. Check out the full trip report and picture gallery on the COTAP blog.


Additional Nicaragua Updates

  • By mid-June, the project announced it had already planted 500,000 trees… this season!rainforest-alliance-verified
  • Also in June, the project announced that it had successfully completed its first third-party verification by the Rainforest Alliance. You can read their full verification report here.
  • Read Taking Root’s recent blog posts about their charcoal pilot and how reforestation projects help farmers adapt to climate change.
  • Our prior newsletter failed to mention (Taking Root Executive Director) Kahlil Baker’s excellent Op-Ed in the Vancouver Sun about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change.
  • In addition to COTAP’s photos in our trip report, CommuniTree also released two 2016 planting season photo sets in April and July.
  • Last but not least, you can offset your CO2 emissions through this project here.

Malawi Updates


  • COTAP partner the Clinton Development Initiative announced that the Trees of Hope project had paid 875 farmers more than $100,000 from the sale of carbon certificates. Of those, 376 were paid for the first time and formally opened bank accounts with First Malawi Bank.
  • The Clinton Foundation published this cool infographic about how Swedish hamburger chain Max Hamburger utilizes Trees of Hope to address its CO2 emissions.
  • They also just released this great new video about the project:

  • The Rainforest Alliance conducted its on-site, third-party assessment of Trees of Hope in April and its report is expected to be released by the end of 2016.
  • Trees of Hope received a press mention alongside COTAP in a Washington Times article (see ‘COTAP Updates’ below).
  • You can offset your CO2 emissions through the Trees of Hope project here.

Uganda Updates

  • The 2015 annual report is now published for our partner Ecotrust Uganda’s Trees for Global Benefits project.
  • During 2015, the project added 1,533 participating households, 1,323 hectares (5.1 square miles) to its area under management, paid $209,506 to participating farmers, and planted trees projected to sequester 266,354 tonnes of CO2!
  • In addition to its annual report, Ecotrust put out this outstanding summary email of 2015 highlights.
  • Trees for Global Benefits has now been issued credits for 989,059 tonnes of CO2 through 2015, which means it has now surpassed the 1 million tonne mark this year.
  • Ecotrust shared its impressive progress distributing Solvatten water purification units, helping over 1,000 rural households avoid water-borne diseases and obtain many other benefits. Not only that, Ecotrust produced this video on Solvatten user experiences:

  • Check out the email highlights from Ecotrust’s May Stakeholder Event (video here and photo gallery here).
  • Hungry for more? Thought so! Read more about Ecotrust’s millionth tonne and their eco-tourism activities here and their HIV prevention work and Solvatten expansion to the Lira district in this bulletin.
  • You can offset your CO2 emissions through Trees for Global Benefits project here.

India Updates

  • Prime Minister Narendra narendra-modi-mawphlang-tambor-lyngdoh-may-2016Modi was hosted by Khasi Project Leader Tambor Lyngdoh during his May visit to Mawphlang village in the East Khasi Hills. Videos at
  • The 2015 annual report is now finalized for the Khasi Hills REDD+ Project.
  • During 2015, the project reached $34,473 in payments made to communities for ecosystem services, and it has now achieved 68,404 tonnes of CO2 reductions through forest protection and restoration.
  • The project’s first third-party verification, by Rainforest Alliance and Bioclimate, is slated for this November with a verification report expected in early 2017.
  • You can offset your CO2 emissions through the Khasi project here.

More COTAP Updates

Organizational Clients.  A big THANKS to our growing, global list of new and repeat organizational clients, including the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), WTSMed/Restorative Formulations, Wellspring Spa, The Plan Vivo Foundation, Monarch Media, and the Guerrilla Foundation.


Partner Payments & Credit Retirements. In late January, COTAP completed a round of carbon credit retirements which can be viewed at The next round of project payments will begin on approximately August 22.

Partner Annual Reports and Documentation. The 2015 annual COTAP at Expedia Earth Day Fair 4.22.16report for the Trees of Hope Malawi project is still being finalized.  All projects’ most recent Annual Reports, Project Design Documents (PDD), Technical Specifications, and Verification Reports can be found in COTAP’s Dropbox folder.

Expedia Earth Day Fair. COTAP accepted Expedia Inc.’s invitation to participate in its Earth Day Fair on 4/22 up in Bellevue, Washington. That’s our sweet table ->


Press. Since our last newsletter, COTAP was featured in the “Where to Buy?” section of an Ecosystem Marketplace article, our transparency was applauded by the monthly business magazine of CPA Australia, and we received a mention in a fun Washington Times article about the carbon neutrality pledges and activities of U.S. presidential candidates. More juicy details at!

Updated Twitter handle. We’re now at @COTAP! If you already follow us, this updates automatically. Use the new handle when mentioning or messaging us on Twitter. A big THANKS to the folks at (formerly for giving this to us.

Offsetting to All COTAP Projects

If all of our projects seem awesome, that’s because they are! If you’d like to address your unavoidable CO2 emissions and change lives by supporting our projects equally, you can do so at any level you choose – either by dollar amount or by the tonne. As always, 90.9% goes to projects and it’s 100% tax-deductible for U.S. residents.

Until Next Time…

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Thanks for your support,



Tim Whitley
COTAP founder

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.