Paddle up the Huayabamba River in Northern Peru, and amidst the roar of breathtaking waterfalls and chatter of tropical songbirds, you’ll come across the Co+op Forest. We’re talking upland Amazonia here, so just envision a tall canopy of trees and the whisper of a breeze to push the humidity off your shoulders. Sounds idyllic but unfortunately these days, this scene is not guaranteed in this part of the world. So pull your boat ashore and learn about the Co+op Forest; why it came to be, and how it’s making this experience more likely and making world a better place.
A Carbon Offset Program
At its “roots,” the Co+op Forest is a carbon offset program. Trees naturally absorb excess carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—from the atmosphere, so planting trees is one way to slow climate change. Even environmentally responsible businesses like co-ops contribute to the problem of climate change. In a typical year, National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) staff log about 2.5 million air miles in order to conduct trainings and advocacy activities. This travel is essential to what we do (even though we conduct a considerable amount of work virtually to avoid unnecessary travel), and those flights emit roughly 450 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In an effort towards reaching NCGA’s goals for sustainability, we are participating in a program that will make a tangible impact.
Rather than simply buy carbon credits and trade them on the open market, as many organizations our size do, we’re addressing our contribution to climate change in a more tangible way: by growing a forest that, by the time it reaches maturity, will have absorbed the carbon associated with our air travel. And we’re growing Co+op Forest in a way that respects the surrounding indigenous Peruvian community, ensuring that they benefit from the project, too.
We’re Stronger Together
To grow Co+op Forest we’ve partnered with Pur Projet, an international collective that provides the research, accreditation and on-the-ground connections necessary to operate an effective carbon offset program that is based upon farmer-supported reforestation. Here’s how it works:
- Pur Projet does the math. In the Peruvian rainforest ecology, it takes three trees planted and maintained for forty years to remove one ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- NCGA funds the planting of native trees—1,404 in 2013 alone—based upon Pur Projet’s calculations and our air mileage.
- Local Peruvian cacao (chocolate!) farmers do the planting and get paid to care for the trees. The farmers belong to the ACOPAGRO cooperative, known for producing award-winning organic, fair trade cacao using sustainable agroforestry methods.
- Native trees benefit the land and farmers. The Capirona tree grows to 100 feet tall, producing rainforest habitat and medicinal bark. Another tree, the Paliperro, yields edible fruit. Both varieties provide the shade necessary to grow healthy cacao plants.
- Socioeconomic stability increases. Shifting farm production from coca (cocaine) grown for the illicit drug trade to cacao has been an ongoing strategy for Peru in their war on drugs and their pursuit of sustainable development. Coca production resulted in broad swathes of land to be deforested due to “slash and burn” practices of the coca farmers. The Co+op Forest provides the community with reforestation that will help not only improve cocoa yields but also provide an additional source of income for the community.
Through this program, we are able to help a community heal, reforest a vulnerable landscape, and produce some tasty organic chocolate, all while encouraging sustainable farming techniques and slowing global climate change. NCGA is proud to be Pur Projet’s very first U.S. partner to plant trees as part of this innovative program.