"We were all embarking on something unknown called 'carbon sequestration' and didn't know what was going to happen, who was going to pay," said Andre Aquino, a carbon finance specialist with the BioCarbon Fund.
Regenerating a forest and an economy
Projects such as Humbo could also play a valuable role in Ethiopia's development of a national strategy for the mechanism known as Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, which seeks to compensate landowners for preserving trees rather than cutting them down.
"Interventions like Humbo will contribute to the development of REDD+. Humbo is creating new forests, which reduces the deforestation pressure on existing forests," Aquino said.
As California ramps up to become the second largest carbon market behind Europe, forestry and agriculture projects are expected to rise in value, especially REDD+ projects. Forestry projects are valued at about $237 million, according to the latest report from Ecosystem Marketplace, and afforestation and reforestation top the list in popularity.
Since the deal, the community has built a grain store and purchased a flour mill, avoiding long journeys to grind flour. Storing the grain gives more control over when and how it will be sold.
Now, it's organizing itself to be ready for World Vision's departure -- originally slated for last September, but pushed two years ahead given the project's feel for community readiness.
The next step, they say, is to form a union -- an effort the local government says it supports wholeheartedly, given the ease in relations that already exist within the community.
Some issues remain. The roads between cooperative headquarters are not good. New bylaws for a union are needed, said Amanuel Boltena, the head of agriculture for the woreda, or local government. But otherwise, he insisted, nothing is lacking.
Plans to increase apiculture, or beekeeping, are also on government leaders' minds. So is eco-tourism. At the same time, farmers are struggling to keep wild animals from preying on goats, donkeys and other livestock, said Zacharias Shirko, a local farmer.
Finally, Humbo will need to find another customer for its carbon credits. The BioCarbon Fund buys credits for only about two-thirds of Humbo's carbon sequestration potential. In 2017, when the contract with the World Bank ends, the community will need to decide where to sell that additional carbon, whether the compliance market or voluntary market is a better fit, and who will be able to certify those emissions credits.
"In the next 10 years, they are going to generate more than what the World Bank is willing to purchase," said Edward Dwumfour, a senior environmental and natural resource management specialist for the World Bank in Ethiopia.
"The only entity in Ethiopia that engages in the carbon market is the federal environmental protection authority," Dwumfour added. "The Humbo community will have to elevate this to the national level through the woreda and regional administration."
Despite these questions, and the uncertainty that comes with a new departure, Humbo maintains optimistic.
"The life of the overall community has changed," said Beyena Agebo, chairman of one of the cooperatives charged with pruning, tilling and planting fire breaks to avoid wildfires. Homes have been built and oxen purchased to help with farming. It's fostered closer ties within the community. It's sheltered the crops from a mild drought in 2008 and 2009.
There may be more droughts, more fires and more climate disturbances in the future, Beyena said. But from now on, he added, "the shake won't be as hard as the previous one."