Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Sunday, 28 March 2010 17:31 UK

Peru hails Western carbon offsetting programmes

By Dan Collyns
BBC News, San Martin, Peru

Unloading seedlings
Tree planting is valuable both for the farmers and for the world

Nestle Waters France wants to offset emissions from its factories in the west by buying trees in a rainforest thousands of miles away.

Tristan Lecompte, Photo M. Deville.
Local farmers produce organic cocoa

It is not the first and it will not be the last time a multinational company publicly declares its green intentions.

But the public has become used to greeting such announcements with indifference.

There is widespread scepticism about the genuine green credentials of big firms trying to clean up their image in this way - critics say it is inefficient at best, corrupt at worst.

That may be why Nestle Waters France is betting on the credentials of France's hottest young environmentalist, Tristan Lecomte, and his carbon management company, The Pure Project, to execute its plan.

Mr Lecomte, 36, is on his way to becoming a household name in his native France.

In 1998 he founded the country's best known fair trade company, Alter Eco. Now he is turning his combination of vision and business acumen to tackling climate change.

Planting trees

Nestle Waters France wants to offset the equivalent of all the annual carbon emissions from its Vittel mineral water production in France and Belgium - approximately 115,000 tonnes of carbon a year.

Tristan Lecomte. Photo: M. Deville.
The benefits of reforestation activities are much larger than carbon offsetting only
Environmentalist Tristan Lecomte

In order to do this, it will fund the planting of 350,000 trees in an existing project in the Bolivian Amazon and a new one in the jungle of Peru with a view to renewing the same number of trees every year.

Taking on this job, Mr Lecomte will be working with old friends; cocoa farmers in the remote village of Santa Rosa and other communities who live in the high forest alongside the deep brown Huayabamba river, near the town of Juanjui, in Peru's heavily deforested San Martin region.

He has already visited this village at least six times to visit the farmers who make award-winning fair trade and organic chocolate for Alter Eco.

"These are some of the best cocoa farmers you can find in the world," he says as the villagers gathered to greet him in the cool of the evening.

"They are organic, they benefit from fair trade and now they will plant trees to fight against global warming."

As he speaks, enormous drowsy beetles resembling children's toys clumsily bump into a generator-powered lightbulb as blackness blankets the forest, still throbbing with the metallic chirrup of cicadas.

It is easy to see how omnipresent the jungle and its biodiversity are in these people's lives.

"They are at the forefront of the fight against climate change," says Mr Lecomte.

"The awareness here in the deep forest is much higher than in our cities because we don't see it, it's just on TV."

Pay per tree

The Pure Project pays the farmers one Peruvian sol, or about 30 US cents, for every tree seedling they plant on their land, which can be any number between 85 to 1,111 per hectare.

Huayamba river
Deforestation threatens these forests' future

The seedlings soon become saplings growing at a tropically accelerated rate, with dinner-plate sized leaves reaching up to the sunlit cracks in the tree canopy.

In just a year they can grow up to six metres.

Once the trees reach the minimum legal diameter to be cut, they can be harvested by the farmer and sold.

"On top of reforesting it's a way of making money," says cocoa farmer Ozwaldo del Castillo, 53.

"We may be old when those trees are ready to be cut down, but our children and their children will benefit in the future," the father of three says.

Greater benefits

As well as providing a kind of retirement fund for the farmers, the agro-forestry is a form of sustainable development that can revitalise deforested and unproductive land - the result of slash and burn agriculture.

Tristan Lecomte handing out seedlings at a village meeting
Sustainability is not an obstacle to the growth of big companies, quite the opposite
Environmentalist Tristan Lecomte

Moreover, the bigger tropical hardwoods trees such as teak and cedar provide ideal conditions for the smaller cocoa trees that grow best in the shade.

The result is that these farmers can double their yield to up to 2,000 kilograms of cocoa beans per hectare per year.

"The benefits of reforestation activities are much larger than carbon offsetting only," says Mr Lecomte.

"When you reforest you preserve the water resources and the biodiversity, you increase and diversify the revenues of the farmers and, last but not least, you fight against climate change."

Strategic advantage

In the midst of the despondency that followed December's Copenhagen climate change summit, Mr Lecomte is undeterred.

He is convinced projects such as this one are the beginning of a much bigger trend.

"Multinationals now understand that they have to change their model if they want to be sustainable and small farmers have the key to develop sustainable projects," he says.

"It's a trade.

"Sustainability is not an obstacle to the growth of big companies, quite the opposite it can be a strategic advantage."

Green credibility

While this Peruvian project is awaiting validation by the Voluntary Carbon Standard, or VCS, in July, the Pure Project runs similar projects in 14 countries with number of High Street name clients that include cosmetics firm Clarins and fashion firm Hugo Boss.

In this part of the Peruvian Amazon, it plans to plant up to four million trees in the next five years, which could capture 2.3 million tonnes of carbon over the next four decades.

The hope here is that more and more grass roots projects such as this could be lending big corporations the green credibility they increasingly need in the modern marketplace.



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