The Suruí Forest Carbon Project
- The Suruí Forest Carbon Project is the first indigenous community-led initiative to receive financing under the voluntary carbon market.
- Digital technology, including Google Earth Engine and Open Data Kit (ODK) mobile data collection, have enabled innovative and rapid data sharing with the outside world.
- Community monitoring has both helped secure carbon credits and informed local management decisions.
- Support of a wide range of civil society actors has been integral to the ongoing success of the project.
The Suruí Forest Carbon project aims to reduce deforestation on the Paiter Suruí people's territory in the Brazilian Amazon, Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory (TISS), by providing economic alternatives for the community and reducing the impact of illegal activities by external actors. To finance the implementation of the community’s 50-year sustainable development plan, the project aims to sell credits on the voluntary carbon market. The project’s emission reductions were verified in 2013 and soon afterwards the project sold its first credits, with Natura Cosméticos buying 120,000 tons of carbon offsets. Community-based monitoring not only helps to provide the required information on carbon, and on community and biodiversity impacts for the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standards, but also informs local natural resource management and identifies illegal incursions.
The territory of the Paiter Suruí is located in the states of Mato Grosso e Rondônia in Brazil. Those states have historically been at the heart of the economic expansion into the Brazilian Amazon. In the 1980s, government-led development policies have increased incentives for agricultural and timber exploration activities in the region, resulting in large-scale deforestation. The Suruí indigenous area, called the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Territory (TISS), was declared in 1983 and, despite being located on the current agricultural frontier, its forests remain largely preserved.
Settled areas around the borders of the TISS, however, have been almost completely deforested, demonstrating the threats faced by the territory’s forests. Population growth, the increased need for additional income sources and the increased integration of the young Suruí with non-indigenous cultures create internal pressures on the territory.
Faced with both internal and external threats to their forests, the Paiter Suruí people conceived the Suruí Forest Carbon Project in 2007. The project was one of the first indigenous projects in the world to be validated within the REDD+ context. It aims at generating economic alternatives for the Suruí population, while halting deforestation in their territory. Whilst focused on the voluntary carbon market, this pilot initiative provides lessons that can inform the development of community-based monitoring more broadly, within sub-national and national REDD+ strategies. As such, the project has been developed with a view to integrating with future regulatory regimes for REDD+ in Brazil.
The Suruí Forest Carbon Project was initiated by the Paiter Suruí themselves in 2007 and was driven by the need to identify economic, cultural and environmental alternatives for their people. The project was developed and designed through a process of discussions and consultations as part of the process of ensuring Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
This process, undertaken in 2009, included three main stages:
1) Internal discussions to reach consensus on the possibility of developing and implementing the Suruí Forest Carbon Project.
2) Meetings between indigenous leaders, representatives of local associations and heads of clans, and with other institutions participating in the project, such as Forest Trends, IDESAM, and ECAM, amongst others.
3) A series of visits and participatory community meetings in the Paiter Suruí villages.
At the conclusion of this FPIC process, it was decided that each clan would participate in the project development, through their leaders, representatives and associations, and the four clans signed a memorandum of understanding.
The project is led by the Metareilá Association of the Suruí Indigenous People, with support from environmental and indigenous organisations.
The community participates directly in the project design, together with experts. It collects the data in the field, works directly with experts on the data analysis and makes all management decisions. The community and community leaders selected community monitors, who receive a salary and in some cases per diems. Partner organisations deliver training.
Above-ground biomass is monitored using cluster plots. 22 plots were initially set up, with nine of these being permanent plots for future monitoring that is expected to be undertaken every five years. Stratified systematic sampling was used across three identified vegetation types.
Each cluster contains four plots measuring 10m x 250m. The clusters were installed at least 300 meters from the main logging road. In each plot all individuals of plants, including trees, palms and lianas, with a diameter at breast height (DBH) ≥ 10 cm, were measured, and the height of palm trees estimated. The indigenous names of plants were noted for the permanent plots.
Carbon monitoring was coordinated by IDESAM, who provided two days of training on the methodology, equipment, and ODK data collection form, for the 18 community monitors who were involved. Carbon monitoring will need to be undertaken every five years.
In the data analysis, coordinated by IDESAM, the following equation for open rain forest in southern Amazonia, from Nogueira et al. (2008), was used for tree species:
ABG est = EXP (– 1.716 +2.413*Ln (DBH))
For palms the following equation most frequently used in Amazonia from Nogueria et al. (2008) was used:
ABG est = EXP (– 6.3789 – 0.877* Ln (1/DBH2) +2.151* Ln(H))
Two methods were used to monitor the biodiversity of mammals and birds. This was undertaken for seven consecutive days during each monitoring cycle.
- Linear transects were set up in hunting areas and one control area. Each line transect was 4 km in length with monitors travelling at a constant speed of 2 km/hour and using ODK to record information on all animals sighted on or near the transect. Bar codes on trees were used to geo-locate the transects.
- Indirect traces were recorded, including footprint size, faeces, hair, and carcasses, and their location and species.
Biodiversity monitoring was coordinated by the Kanindé Association for Ethno-Environmental Defence, who trained ten community monitors.
Data is collected through daily interviews with community members on hunting and fishing.
Monitoring is undertaken every two months and is focused on:
- Identifying illegal activities by installing checkpoints on roads to control transport, by expeditions and video cameras.
- Identifying and mapping areas vulnerable to fire.
- Identifying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation.
Satellite monitoring is coordinated by IDESAM. The community monitors work collaboratively with IDESAM to ground-truth and verify the interpretation of the satellite data.
Wellbeing & Social issues
The social impacts will be monitored through consultations, memory meetings, interviews and reviews of FUNAI and Environmental Police reports.
This is coordinated by Forest Trends, to support the verification under the CCB standard, and will follow the guidance in the Social Biodiversity Impact Assessment (SBIA) Manual.
Community monitors use smartphones and ODK as part of a mobile data collection system. This approach was selected to help avoid transcription errors from paper during data entry; improve accuracy and efficiency; involve younger generations of the community; and increase the speed of data sharing and visualisation, enabling clear communication.
With neither internet nor mobile network coverage across the TISS, the data is uploaded at the Metareilá Association offices in the nearest town, Cacoal. The lack of network coverage has also presented challenges in communicating with phones and a new system of using short wave radio to send and receive data from the phones is being trialled.
A key challenge in using a mobile phone data collection system is the limited GPS functionality of the phones under canopy cover. For biodiversity monitoring, ‘bar-codes’ were placed at the start and end of line-transects to provide this geo-spatial data. The use of digital technology also requires greater capacity and the long term support of external facilitators.
Source of funding
The initial costs of developing project design documents for VCS and CCB were covered by funding from civil society. The initial costs for community monitoring were supported by Google. The voluntary carbon market, or a future REDD+ regime, are expected to provide a sustainable source of funding for the project. The idea of these as viable sources of funding was supported by the purchase of 120,000 tons of carbon offsets by the Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura Cosméticos from the Paiter Suruí in September 2013. A Suruí Fund was created to receive and manage funds from a number of sources, including from carbon credit sales.
Achievements and challenges
The Suruí Forest Carbon Project demonstrates that indigenous communities can successfully monitor their forests to provide information both for REDD+ (in this case under the voluntary carbon market) and local management of natural resources. The use of digital technology, while complicated and requiring continued support from external partners, has enable the Suruí to communicate effectively with the outside world and engage younger generations with their culture and environment.
Given the pioneering nature of this, the first project to sell carbon credits from a Brazilian Indigenous Territory, it is unsurprising that it has faced difficulties. The number of external partners involved in the project (eight from government and civil society, as well as the different institutions involved from the Paiter Suruí) demonstrates the complexity of this project, and the need for strong communication among different partners for such a project to be successful. An ongoing challenge is for the FPIC process to continue long term, engaging all the communities in the area.