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'Gold' standard for REDD forest conservation project in Colombia's Choco’

"As families returned to their traditional lands after nearly a decade of displacement, the prospect of new conflict between armed land grabbers and communities loomed."

A pioneering project to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in a former conflict zone in Colombia has won gold certification under the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity (CCB) standard. The accreditation will help local communities access carbon finance in their efforts to safeguard biologically-rich forests.

The project is located in Colombia's Darien region, near the border with Panama. The area is part of the Chocó, the rainforest ecosystem that runs along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador but has been heavily impacted in places by logging, mining, and clearing for agriculture and cattle ranching. The Chocó ranks as one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth.

The project is led by Anthrotect, which started working with Afro-indigenous and indigenous Embera–Wounaan communities in 2007 after its founder, anthropologist Brodie Ferguson, completed research on the impact of forced displacement in the region. As families returned to their traditional lands after nearly a decade of displacement, the prospect of new conflict between armed land grabbers and communities loomed. Ferguson identified carbon finance as a potential means to help Afro-Colombian and indigenous landowners strengthen their land claims and improve natural resource management.

"Carbon assets generated through forest stewardship are one the most promising economic alternatives for Afrodescendant and indigenous peoples in Colombia” said Ferguson in a statement. "Our approach to community-based conservation means that, for the first time, forest-dependent communities in the Chocó can generate income from ecosystem services markets while preserving their traditional ways of life."

Ferguson added that half the project's profits go to the community, which will also benefit from new employment opportunities from conservation activities and management of the project.

“Our business model is premised on the belief that participating communities are best positioned as equal partners in the project to guarantee durable conservation and financial dividends over the long term,” said Emily Roynestad, Business Development Director at Anthrotect. “The Chocó-Darién Corridor project is an attractive development alternative for Afro-descendant and indigenous landowners in Colombia. It demonstrates the potential for carbon finance to encourage a proactive approach to work for a better future.”

Anthrotect is now seeking certification for its carbon offsets under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), which would enable companies and other carbon emitters to "offset" their unavoidable emissions by protecting and restoring forests in northwestern Colombia. Anthrotect says the project is expected to prevent 2.3 million tons in carbon emissions over its 30-year lifespan. February 15, 2012.