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.