Carbon offset project could provide inspiration for Caribbean countries

A Costa Rican carbon offset project could have application for many countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Costa Rican coffee farmers are receiving 25,000 free trees as part of an initiative to tackle climate change started by Canadian company, World Tree. Since launching their Carbon Offset Program, World Tree has planted 1000 acres in just three years offsetting roughly 1 million tonnes of carbon.

The secret? The Empress Splendor which is the fastest growing tree in the world (the Guinness book of World Records). Within just six months, the trees will grow 10 feet or more providing critical protection for the coffee plants, as well as casting shade which the organically-grown plants need for optimal growth. The tree is also pest resistant.

The main export from Costa Rica is coffee: a major crop for several Central American and Caribbean islands including Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname.

“Farmers are struggling because coffee prices are low,” explains Wendy Burton, CEO of World Tree. “Our trees grow so fast they can be harvested for lumber within ten years, providing them with a second revenue stream as well as shade for their coffee.” Other tree species typically take 25-40 years of growth until they are suitable to harvest.

Shade-grown coffee plants are twice as productive as sun-grown and consistently yield higher prices for their higher quality beans. The Empress trees not only protect the coffee, their deep root systems bring nutrients and water to the surface of the soil to feed the coffee plants. Moreover, the desirable wood provides a secondary revenue source for farmers since it is light and durable making it ideal for many types of products like cabinetry and musical instruments.

“I’ve heard that Empress Splendor has many benefits for the environment and for us as coffee growers,” says Mauro Solis, a farmer participating in the program. “The carbon capture is important for our sustainability, and we are also very happy to get the benefit of extra income in 10 years.”

Empress tree at 3 months

The project is backed by Canadian investors who want to offset their carbon footprint. The exceptional growth rate and large leaves of the trees make them carbon sponges, absorbing 11 times more carbon than any other tree. When the trees are harvested they re-grow from the stump continuing the cycle of carbon sequestration.

“Everyone wants to know what the catch is,” quips Wendy, “but the truth is these trees are amazing. They are not genetically modified, they’re non-invasive and respond well to the organic farming methods used in Costa Rica.”

The coffee farmers have embraced the program, which has received the support of Juan Luis Chaves, the major of Naranjo, one of the most important coffee growing regions in Costa Rica. They have also been planted by Coopedota, known by coffee lovers worldwide for their Dota coffee. World Tree have already planted 25,000 trees in the region and will be doubling that number this season.

“I am happy to think not only about the benefit that I can experience here on my farm, but also the bigger benefit, the change that we can do for the world,” remarks Solis.

World Tree are currently looking for farmers in other coffee growing regions to expand their program.

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