IBI, Democratic Republic of Congo (AlertNet) - A Congolese businessman has become the first private investor in Africa to win approval to sell carbon credits earned from restoring tropical rainforest on the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon market.
Olivier Mushiete's carbon-sink project, which is backed by the World Bank, involves planting fast-growing acacia and other trees on more than 4,200 hectares of degraded land on the Batéké Plateau, 150 km (90 miles) east of the capital Kinshasa in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The new trees on the Ibi Batéké plantations capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it as they grow, helping combat climate change.
“We believe that Ibi Batéké is a concrete example of the capacity of the private sector to help transform the national economy,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, then country director for the World Bank in the DRC and neighbouring Republic of Congo, following the registration of the project in February.
It is the third forestry project in Africa to be approved by the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), after a state-sponsored initiative in Uganda and an Ethiopian scheme supported by an international NGO.
The DRC project is expected to absorb an estimated 2.4 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the next 30 years and provide work for around 400 people.
The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund has already agreed to buy 500,000 of the carbon credits it generates. Other customers include the French food industry giant Danone and emissions trader Orbeo, a French joint venture between banking group Société Générale and chemical conglomerate Rhodia.
Fabien Monteils, chief technical adviser for the Congolese national coordinating committee for the U.N.-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme in developing countries, noted that the project is not only a first for Congo.
“It’s the first private-sector (forest) project to win the right to sell carbon credits in Africa. It will be a model for the other countries,” he said, adding that companies in South Africa have been involved in carbon storage schemes but they do not relate to forestry.
The Batéké Plateau is an area of grass and scrubland, scarred by the ravages of deforestation and soil erosion - a legacy of slash-and-burn farming and production of the charcoal Congolese families traditionally use for cooking.
An agronomic engineer by training, Mushiete is also a traditional leader on the plateau where his family owns land.
“This project is of vital importance in the fight against global warming, for developing sustainable agriculture and forestry, and perpetuating and increasing the well-being of local populations,” he said.
Ibi village is home to the Batéké people, proud herders who traditionally own the land on which the capital Kinshasa is built.
Mushiete's father, Paul, one of the country's independence leaders and a leading academic, set up a forestry and farming company in 1995 to develop 22,000 hectares of family-owned land in the area by planting trees and growing crops.
Olivier Mushiete, who runs the business with his brother Thierry and succeeded his father as traditional leader, launched the carbon-credit project in 2008 as a way of securing the $2 million needed to take their work further.
“The lack of credit for private companies in Democratic Republic of Congo is a handicap for the private sector,” he said.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Japan in 1997 to fight climate change and promote sustainable development, finally taking effect in 2005 after much hesitation on the part of various governments.
Under its provisions, companies in industrialised nations can earn credits from investments in carbon storage or emissions-reducing projects in developing states to set against their own CO2 emissions.
Each Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credit is worth the equivalent of one tonne of CO2. This can be counted towards meeting Kyoto's emissions-reduction targets, and can be sold and traded on international carbon markets.
Winning support for the Ibi Batéké project from the people that matter - and coping with the complexities of the Kyoto Protocol's mechanisms - have not been easy.
The Mushiete brothers cast their net wide. After consulting with local communities, they were able to extend the project beyond the family's land.
“As the country has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to deforestation, the REDD+, the government, civil society, the private sector, local communities - in short all the stakeholders - need to get involved in one way or another to prove their commitment to reducing emissions,” Mushiete said.
Two companies are involved in the project - the Mushiete brothers' company NOVACEL and Profinaf Invest. Local farmers are also being helped by GI-Agro, an NGO linked to NOVACEL, to adopt more productive agriculture techniques, strengthening food security in the area.
In addition, Olivier, who also has experience of international negotiations in the area of conflict resolution, and his brother Thierry, a financial expert, found an influential ally in the form of the World Bank.
According to Mushiete, the project has three sources of revenue: carbon credits, cassava grown alongside the acacias, and charcoal produced from the acacia wood, which is sold in Kinshasa.
“By providing a sustainable source of charcoal to a large urban market, the project reduces pressure on native forests, and by promoting tree planting, (it) results in carbon absorption from the atmosphere,” commented Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough of the World Bank’s Africa Environment Department.
But it was the project’s development potential that really sold the idea to the institution.
“What pushed the Bank to buy the credit is that (it) believes that the project is going to generate carbon credit and other benefits which contribute to the development of Democratic Republic of Congo,” said André Aquino, an environment specialist with the World Bank in Kinshasa.
He highlighted opportunities for new jobs and local investment, the creation of schools and health centres, the provision of clean drinking water and the opportunity for research by national and international universities.
The Congolese government, an active partner of the U.N. REDD+ programme with support from the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, is also backing the project.
“We hope that this project will lead to others so that the DRC, with its rich and unique environmental potential, can help preserve the Earth for future generations,” said Vincent Kasulu Seya Makonga, director of sustainable development at the environment ministry.
The ministry has already begun working with Novacel on a further reforestation project in Sud-Kwamouth territory.
The Ibi Batéké project has raised hopes of changing attitudes and gaining support for sustainable forest management in the Congo River Basin - the world's second-largest expanse of primary rainforest after the Amazon, stretching across six countries.
“This project helps solve the global problem of climate change,” said the World Bank’s Aquino.
But for Gode, who lives in Ibi village, the project on which he has worked for five years has brought more tangible benefits.
He and his family now live in a brick house, a far cry from their old thatched mud hut. Their home is surrounded by a 2,500 square-metre vegetable plot tended by his wife and children.
“Year after year, we progress, our revenue increases and, last September (2010), for the first time, I was able to send all my children to school,” Gode said.
You can find out more about the Ibi project on its website (in English and French).
Nene Mainzana is a Kinshasa-based journalist specialising in forest, REDD+ and environmental issues.