Nairobi — A group of farmers in Nanyuki have now joined the global carbon trade. They are being urged to plant trees, not for firewood , timber or electricity poles, but for absorbing excess carbon from the environment - And they are being paid for it.
Through this new concept, 45 members of Rongai Development Programme have each received Sh700 as motivation to join the trade by establishing carbon sinks (forests and tree planting projects).
During manufacturing processes, industries especially those in industrialised countries use large quantities of fossil fuels - oil and coal - for burning. These release carbon dioxide along with other gases into the atmosphere to form the greenhouse gases, which have led to global warming. Carbon is the common factor in all the polluting gases.
To counter this threat to the earth's climate, an international agreement on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol requires heavy industrial polluters to put finances aside to invest in the establishment of forests that would help absorb some of the carbon they generate.
This has led to the carbon trade where industrialised countries, faced with emission reduction targets, are paying clients to plant trees, and Kenyans have not been left out.
Bringing together local farmers, the group in Nanyuki has planted more than 3,000 trees and is continuing to do so in the current rains.
The International Small Group and Tree Planting Programme (TIST), a non-governmental organisation and Clean Air Action Corporation, an international broker in carbon trade, initiated the project.
Farmers are paid according to the amount of carbon dioxide they help remove from the atmosphere. The final figures are assessed by calculating the height and canopy size of the trees and determining how much carbon they can absorb.
Philip James, Tist's East African region liaison officer, says the idea will help farmers increase the number of trees in the area thus reducing the pressure on forests for firewood and timber.
He says his organisation is negotiating for contracts between the farmers and Clean Air Action, where they will be paid according to the amount of trees they have maintained. So far the money received, "is a token to motivate them to pursue the carbon market."
Clean Air Action has devised a programme with Tist, which enables the latter to provide cash incentives to farmers until the trees are big enough to attract many carbon units.
"This is the beginning. If the projects succeed and the farmers enter into contracts they will continue being paid for the next 20 years at which point they will be entitled to 70 per cent of all revenues accrued from the carbon sinks. The tree remains the property of the farmer," he adds.
Each member is to have planted a minimum of 1000 trees by now to earn about Sh1500 per year. A tree starts to attract payment three months after planting.
"The potential average benefit for each family unit will soon reach about US$178 per year as the projects progress," adds James.
Group members, though with little understanding of the concept, have put effort in planting and tending their trees. Among them, John Kahuthu, who also received the initial payment says they expect the money to go up in the next six months.
"The token was a sweet surprise. Imagine being paid to plant your own tree. This is a win-win situation. We own the tree from which we can enjoy all the other benefits associated with it and will continue being paid for maintaining it. Talk of eating your cake and having it," he says.
To determine how much carbon each farmer is helping absorb from the atmosphere, project managers use state-of-the-art technologies.
Using global positioning systems, smart phones and laptops, weekly updates are entered into the Tist website.
The website is then linked to eBay, an online auction site, so as to promote trade in carbon.
Eunice Kihori, a Tist quantifier, says the regular updates assist buyers get correct data on what to base trade decisions. "The project has been received well in the area with farmers going the extra mile in search of water for their seedlings."
Though they have no bias for any specific tree species, Kihori says the project is discouraging the planting of eucalyptus due to its huge appetite for water.