HUMBO, Ethiopia -- The bees have returned.
For decades, farmer and beekeeper Adila Agebo's hives in this small agricultural community were nearly dry. Years of stripping the hills of their vegetation to make charcoal, collecting firewood and construction material from what remained of the forests, and letting animals graze on the green remnants had devastated the landscape.
Severe soil erosion led to landslides down the hills into the villages. Large silt deposits choked farms of productivity and washed out roads, leaving a community already susceptible to hunger in an even more dire situation.
As vegetation in the hills dwindled, bees stopped migrating to where the plant life had drawn them many years ago. World Vision, a humanitarian organization working in Ethiopia since the 1980s famine, saw that the land's degradation was having a severe effect on the availability of food and keeping locals poor.
World Vision Australia forester Tony Rinaudo saw potential in the hundreds of thousands of tree stumps left on the landscape from years of deforestation. Using a technique called coppicing, in which a grower encourages a tree stump to grow offshoots, Rinaudo initiated the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) program, engaging local cooperatives of farmers to split up the mountain in seven parcels for coppicing and pruning trees.
Six years later, the barren, brown view has sprung back to life. Tree roots are holding the soil and preventing runoff from sliding downhill -- and plants like Faidherbia albida, a yellow-podded, nitrogen-fixing plant, that had been stripped from the mountain for years have returned.
Now, the honey supply is better than ever.
"It's increasing every year," said Adila, 47. Outside his home he keeps neatly stacked modern bee boxes, a step up from the traditional tree hives he -- and his father before him -- used. Goats and sheep hop in the grassy yard to his clay mud home, animals he was able to purchase with the extra income from selling honey.
The Humbo project, which earns money from the sale of carbon credits to the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), is one example of a project that has successfully taken the need for developing countries to satisfy their carbon-cutting obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and intersected it with the need for poor communities in the developing world to find sustainable ways to improve their income.
A matter of 'convincing the people'
World Vision forged a deal with the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund in 2007 to supply credits to the CDM for 10 years, paying the community $4.40 per metric ton of carbon sequestered to the 5,082 members in the seven Humbo cooperatives. Last month, the bank verified that the project's farmers had sequestered more than 73,000 metric tons of carbon in new vegetation since the onset of the project, making it the largest CDM forestry project in Africa.
Based on similar initiatives in Niger, Chad and Mali, the regeneration at Humbo came much more quickly than in previous projects.
"When we could do what we did on the edge of Sahara Desert, we could do it much, much quicker," Rinaudo said of Humbo. In Niger, he was dealing with sandy soils and rainfall of 12 to 16 inches per year. Humbo gets more than double that.
By the time the second year of project implementation came around, trees began regenerating without the help of coppicing. Humbo's managers thought they would need to plant nursery-grown trees to cover 500 hectares (1,236 acres). As it turned out, natural regeneration took care of that.
"FMNR is simple, not expensive," said Samuel Monchona, communications manager for World Vision Ethiopia. "It's just convincing the people."
Like any new venture, it took a lot of convincing all around. Humbo was to become the largest forest carbon supplier to the CDM. With nothing quite like its size, geography and finance organization, the first steps were difficult.
"We were all embarking on something unknown called 'carbon sequestration' and didn't know what was going to happen, who was going to pay," said Andre Aquino, a carbon finance specialist with the BioCarbon Fund.
Regenerating a forest and an economy
Projects such as Humbo could also play a valuable role in Ethiopia's development of a national strategy for the mechanism known as Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, which seeks to compensate landowners for preserving trees rather than cutting them down.
"Interventions like Humbo will contribute to the development of REDD+. Humbo is creating new forests, which reduces the deforestation pressure on existing forests," Aquino said.
As California ramps up to become the second largest carbon market behind Europe, forestry and agriculture projects are expected to rise in value, especially REDD+ projects. Forestry projects are valued at about $237 million, according to the latest report from Ecosystem Marketplace, and afforestation and reforestation top the list in popularity.
Since the deal, the community has built a grain store and purchased a flour mill, avoiding long journeys to grind flour. Storing the grain gives more control over when and how it will be sold.
Now, it's organizing itself to be ready for World Vision's departure -- originally slated for last September, but pushed two years ahead given the project's feel for community readiness.
The next step, they say, is to form a union -- an effort the local government says it supports wholeheartedly, given the ease in relations that already exist within the community.
Some issues remain. The roads between cooperative headquarters are not good. New bylaws for a union are needed, said Amanuel Boltena, the head of agriculture for the woreda, or local government. But otherwise, he insisted, nothing is lacking.
Plans to increase apiculture, or beekeeping, are also on government leaders' minds. So is eco-tourism. At the same time, farmers are struggling to keep wild animals from preying on goats, donkeys and other livestock, said Zacharias Shirko, a local farmer.
Finally, Humbo will need to find another customer for its carbon credits. The BioCarbon Fund buys credits for only about two-thirds of Humbo's carbon sequestration potential. In 2017, when the contract with the World Bank ends, the community will need to decide where to sell that additional carbon, whether the compliance market or voluntary market is a better fit, and who will be able to certify those emissions credits.
"In the next 10 years, they are going to generate more than what the World Bank is willing to purchase," said Edward Dwumfour, a senior environmental and natural resource management specialist for the World Bank in Ethiopia.
"The only entity in Ethiopia that engages in the carbon market is the federal environmental protection authority," Dwumfour added. "The Humbo community will have to elevate this to the national level through the woreda and regional administration."
Despite these questions, and the uncertainty that comes with a new departure, Humbo maintains optimistic.
"The life of the overall community has changed," said Beyena Agebo, chairman of one of the cooperatives charged with pruning, tilling and planting fire breaks to avoid wildfires. Homes have been built and oxen purchased to help with farming. It's fostered closer ties within the community. It's sheltered the crops from a mild drought in 2008 and 2009.
There may be more droughts, more fires and more climate disturbances in the future, Beyena said. But from now on, he added, "the shake won't be as hard as the previous one."