Nov 23, 2012

Green and Lean

Here at EcoLogic we have water projects, we have reforestation projects, we have carbon projects. But guess what? I’m going to go ahead and let you know that I have a favorite. That’s right. Out of all of our programs – agroforestry is my favorite.

Why? Glad you asked. It’s because I’m cheap. Wait, let me explain.

For starters, it’s because our agroforestry program tackles so many issues simultaneously – soil quality, forest cover, food security, and climate change. But the real reason that gets me is – and I’ll have to reveal a little secret – is that it just makes economic sense. And that’s extremely important if you want to get farmers to actually make changes to the status quo. The secret I mentioned is that I’m one of those environmentalists that’s into conservation primarily for economic reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I like animals, beautiful landscapes, and I understand the critical importance of healthy ecosystems in keeping us all healthy, but I really love it when doing something “green” also impacts my bottom line. For example, using less energy means paying a smaller bill. Riding your bike to work means not buying a monthly subway pass. I drive a car than runs on used vegetable oil for Pete’s sake! Yeah, my fuel is “green,” but it’s also free!

The left side of this farmer's plot is using agforestry – the other side is not.

When you add trees to farmland, you activate natural processes which help the corn and other food plants grow better. Adding the right type of trees in the right quantity and in the right places makes soil moister and more nutrient-rich. This ends up producing a more abundant crop. Bigger, healthier crops – just from adding trees! And no need to buy chemical fertilizers and herbicides. EcoLogic works with farmers so that they can test out alley-cropping – one type of agroforestry – on their own land. So many farmers in Central America understand that slash-and-burn agriculture – at least the widespread practice of it – is not only environmentally damaging, but also a poor way to get a decent crop harvest.

Jose Domingo Caal, an EcoLogic técnico, giving a maintenance demonstration of the Inga tree.

Agroforestry answers the timeless question of “what’s in it for me?” EcoLogic doesn't have to go to a farmer and say “Hey, the way you’re farming is bad for the environment, so stop.” No, my friend, we flip it. We say “Hey, we can help you adopt this farming technique that can make your corn bigger and healthier for less money and labor. Oh, and by the way, its way better for the environment, too.”

Yeah, I know that a full-on economic lens toward the environment is a slippery slope, and knowing that, I’m able to keep it in check. The thing is, at the end of the day, I love working for EcoLogic because we show people how conservation doesn't have to be a sacrifice. And it’s not people or the environment. It can be transformative, life-changing, and liberating. Our agroforestry program is a great example of how we do that.

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development.

Nov 21, 2012

Thank you from EcoLogic

We are so grateful to have the commitment of people like you to help us continue our mission and protect the health of the planet and its people.

On behalf of all of us at EcoLogic and the rural communities we serve in Mexico and Central America, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday.

Nov 7, 2012

Cojolita Conversations

Hola Eco-enthusiasts!

I recently returned from Mexico and have some updates for you about our REDD+ project.

Nature at its finest in Chiapas.

You might remember that back in April, Dr. Bryan Foster, CarbonPlus Director, and I took our first trip to Chiapas and began to develop relationships with key REDD+ actors at the state level and with communities where we work. To get the project set up we are mainly collaborating with the communities of the Sierra Cojolita Communal Reserve and the local NGO, Na Bolom, however there are a whole host of other folks that we need to work with to make our initiative a success. There are a variety of different ongoing initiatives within Chiapas that all fall under the REDD+ umbrella, meaning they contribute to the same end goal of reducing carbon emissions from degradation and deforestation for the state of Chiapas. Some efforts, for example, just focus on collecting data, while others are focused on developing a state framework for keeping track of carbon emissions from forest loss. But it’s important that all the different actors stay in touch so that we can help each other, and ensure we are maximizing time and resources.

For example, we met with two key Mexican federal government agencies—the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP). Because REDD+ initiatives can be pretty complicated beasts that require careful policy decisions and monitoring not only at the project scale, but also at the state and federal level, it’s important that we stay on top of the developing government policies for REDD+. We also had several fruitful conversations with the Chiapas Secretary of the Environment and Natural History (SEMAHN). We are very grateful for how supportive the women and men at these agencies have been of the REDD+ Cojolita Project and recognize how it could truly benefit the local people and help protect the remaining forest. These meetings made it clear that the federal government not only embraces our efforts in the Lacandón Rainforests, but also sees the initiative as playing an active role in a larger rural development strategy for the region.

On the open road through the Sierra Cojolita 

During this trip, it was very positive to confirm that our relationships with these people had continued to flourish while we were away. We’ve also started to assemble a local team that brings a variety of skills and areas of expertise including anthropology, forestry, and governance. And with the help of our partner, Na Bolom, we have slowly carved EcoLogic a meaningful seat at Chiapa's REDD+ table where we can have an impact on how REDD+ is implemented in the state. EcoLogic and Na Bolom also participated in the Governor’s Climate and Forest Taskforce (GCF) Annual Meeting that took place San Cristobal de las Casas along with 6 community leaders who traveled from Cojolita to attend.

The GCF is a unique multi-jurisdictional collaborative effort between 19 states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, and the U.S. focused on developing comprehensive REDD+ programs. The Annual Meeting is an opportunity for information exchange between many types of actors involved with the GCF low emission development effort. The convening in Chiapas brought together a number of different perspectives on REDD+ including representatives from Brazil, who have relatively advanced REDD+ initiatives. There were also voices that questioned aspects of REDD+ —expressing concerns, for example, about the implications of these projects on the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. We value and appreciate these perspectives. To be sure, all approaches have their pros and cons, and REDD+ is not a tool to be used under all circumstances; like any instrument it is more effective in some situations than others. However, if it is properly, carefully, and ethically applied, we believe REDD+ can play an important role in making a significant and lasting positive impact on the well-being of the forest and natural ecosystem as well as on the peoples who live there.

While all of these perspectives encouraged EcoLogic and Na Bolom to reflect on the approach in the Cojolita, we left the conference feeling confident in our process for community engagement, and of the benefits the Cojolita project could bring to local communities, and the Lacandón Rainforest.

The gang's all here. That's me on the left next to Juan, a community leader from Lacanjá and Omar, a community leader from Nueva Palestina.

We returned from the trip with tons of information to digest, and lots of thoughts on how to move forward in partnering with the communities of the Sierra Cojolita Communal Reserve. I feel really lucky to be able to meet so many smart and passionate people all working hard towards the same goal, even when our paths towards that goal are slightly different.

- Andrea Savage, CarbonPlus Associate
Andrea supports EcoLogic's CarbonPlus program in project development and fundraising, and has a particular interest in Mexico’s land tenure system and the social impacts of payment for ecosystem services. She recently completed her Master's in sustainable international development at Brandeis University.