Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reverse pioneer front in forests: another St. Andrews Prize proposal

The Reverse Pioneer Front project aims to create a wave of reforestation at the degraded forest margins, through promoting tourism, peasant livelihoods, and carbon capture.

The Tenza Valley of Colombia is a growing destination for ecotourism. The Valley aspires eventually to welcome international visitors as well as domestic tourists. But how could the Valley justify its “eco” label if every tourist that arrives on a transoceanic flight contributes two or more tons of CO2 to the atmosphere? All the green practices in local hotels and restaurants would be outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions of the tourists' transport.

The town of San Luis de Gaceno is well-positioned to undertake a reforestation program to capture carbon from tourist flights. The town is on the forest margin, with large areas of unused land. The municipality can offer land in trust to landless people, either families from the area or displaced from other areas by the Colombian conflict. Land would be given to each family, who would plant a hectare of native forest every year, interspersing annual and perennial crops with the tree seedlings to provide themselves with various sources of food and income.

Through a mix of annual crops, small livestock grazing, fruit trees, fast-growing timber trees, and native trees, peasants would generate income in the short, mid, and long term. The mature forest would bring economic benefits to the peasant in the form of payments for environmental services such as biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration. The carbon captured each year in the soil and in the fruit and native trees would be measured using standard methods, and sold directly to tourists. Tourists would see the forests that capture the carbon from their flights, and would establish a direct contact with the peasants involved. The carbon capture forests would become a tourist attraction in themselves, which would bring business to other tourism providers in the town.

Land title would remain with the municipality, with the agreement that the peasant family maintains indefinite usage rights, as long as they plant and maintain the cover of native trees.

This proposal is for the specific case of the Tenza Valley, in particular San Luis de Gaceno. It combines a promotion of local ecotourism, with capture of carbon from the atmosphere, plus reforestation with native forest, and the provision of land and an income source for poor families. Instead of the clearcutting and progressive land degradation that usually occurs at the forest margins, we can encourage a gradual extension of the forest. A successful project in San Luis de Gaceno can serve as a model for future efforts along the same lines. Eventually the experience could be replicated in other forest margin areas, particularly in places like Colombia and Brazil where landlessness and poverty coexist with deforestation. Thus would be created a true pioneer front of reforestation and peasant prosperity in the world.

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