Last week, I headed to Ibi Bateke plateau in the interiors of Democratic Republic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see the country’s first project approved and registered under the Kyoto Protocol. We set off on a long winding road taking us quickly from Kinshasa to the Ibi plateau – 150 kms away from the daily hustle of the over 9 million inhabitants of Kinshasa. Ibi is characteristically thinly forested, partly a result of the poor porous soils. Despite the vast lands, the majority of the land is uninhabited with villages dotting the landscape.
The community is replanting its degraded forests with trees like acacia, pines and eucalyptus that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, allowing the project to generate carbon credits which are purchased by the World Bank’s BioCarbon fund. This project is a trail blazer as some of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits is providing basic health care and schools, offering an integrated vision of development.
As we entered the village, we met a group of children walking home. Among them was one older kid who chaperoned the smaller ones - the youngest must have been about five. They chattered enthusiastically about their new school. The school was negotiated as one of the benefits for the participatory management of the plantation. Gautier Tschikaya a resident who was accompanying us told us that one day they were driving around on the plantation and found a whole bunch of kids squatting in an abandoned building so that they would not have to walk the 10+ km every day to get to school. At that point, they built a dormitory for those kids and we visited it - situated just below the school now.
It all started when the World Bank was approached by Olivier Mushiete of NOVACEL, the ‘patron’ of this project back in 2006, in an international conference on carbon finance. Olivier is a son of the Congo who was trying to convince skeptical investors about his idea to plant trees on the Ibi estate , as a way to capture carbon and fight climate change. That was not a small task, as potential investors would not show interest, the minute he mentioned remote Ibi. But the BioCarbon Fund, managed by the World Bank, was willing to take on the risk and, after some initial due diligence of the project, a Letter of Intent showing interest in the project was signed. Olivier tells us that this letter was a milestone for them, as it helped open many doors. With that in hand, they managed to convince some serious investors (like the French company ORBEO) to provide the seed money for the plantation.
That was 2006 but for the World Bank, this is a perfect illustration of what the recently-released Africa Action Plan proposes to do. The Plan has two key Pillars: “Competitiveness and Employment” and “Vulnerability and Resilience”. The Ibi project was ahead of the curve in that it responds to these key areas. With the combination of firewood and manioc (cassava), the project responds to the food “availability” and energy crisis being faced by major cities – in this case Kinshasa which is barely 150 km downhill. And it has also created stable employment for many villagers. By supporting the private sector, the project is increasing private sector leadership which will be used to support other potential enterprises.
The project is experimenting with new technologies that improve the quality of soil, increasing its capacity to sequester carbon, thus qualifying for credits through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This is being successfully done in the Kenya Soil carbon project. On a limited piece of land, they are trying to use biochar – increasing the fertility of the soil by introducing charcoal, hence pushing the barriers on the potential of soil carbon. This seems to be showing good results in terms of increased yield of manioc, but further research and observation is warranted. NOVACEL is also engaged now in assessing the impact of its project on deforestation, to establish a clear links between reforestation for fuelwood and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). They will be carrying out additional planting in the South Koumouth region in DRC, and will try to develop a methodology to measure the impact on existing forests. The lessons from this will be valuable for discussions in the next COP that happens to be in Durban, South Africa.
All in all, this pilot project shows that one can use and leverage funds for climate change to further development goals. This project challenges us to seek innovative ways to scale up the initiative with the tools we have in hand.