Photo: Community members of Buen Jardin de Callaru.

Updated: Using Blockchain Technology to Protect the Rainforest

Rainforest Foundation US is using blockchain and related technology to track, verify, and link direct financing to communities for protecting and regenerating forests

Updated 25 June 2020: Please see the latest on this project below.

Rainforest Foundation and Regen Network have launched a blockchain based pilot project in the indigenous community of Buen Jardin de Callarú, Peru. We are using smart contracts to get funds directly to this frontline rainforest community based on verified evidence that they are protecting their forests.

By drastically reducing typical upfront project costs and aligning short term economic gain with long term ecological health, we are rebuilding the economics of community based forest protection. 

We aim to expand this cost effective system to communities across the Amazon, dramatically increasing the scale of investment to these frontline forest protectors that produce results that will have a global impact on our climate.

How it works

We use near real time satellite data to detect deforestation and forest cover, smartphone apps to track community level actions, and blockchain technology to issue smart contract payments to communities that have proven to protect or regenerate their forests.

Regen Network has created a blockchain based direct payments system where local communities can interface with investors and donors. This immutable system ensures that donor payments get where they need to go, and anyone can track how much went where and when.

Using a user friendly interface, businesses, institutions, governments, and individual donors can now find and pay for verified and unalterable evidence of forest protection from data sourced directly from a community and satellites.

Why we are doing this

One of the biggest challenges in tropical conservation and reforestation is ensuring that the limited funding available for on-the-ground work actually reaches the people on the ground.

All too often, funding for frontline defenders disappears in the hallways of well intentioned NGOs and what reaches the people who could put it to best use – such as indigenous communities – is only a fraction of the original sum. At the same time, foundations and corporate institutions interested in investing in front-line conservation often lack viable options that meet their monitoring, verification and transparency requirements. 

Rainforest Foundation US along with our indigenous federation partner ORPIO and tech partner Regen Network, are exploring alternatives to the traditional funding/transparency paradigm through blockchain technology. 

While the blockchain is most commonly referred-to in the same breath as cryptocurrency and feverish market runs, many believe that the real potential of blockchain tech goes far beyond digital coins. At its core, blockchain technology is essentially a transparent and immutable ledger for any type of transaction, including transactions between funding agencies and on-the-ground actors.

Through our pilot project we are exploring the possibility that communities interested in protecting their forests and reforesting destroyed or degraded habitat can connect directly with international funders via a transparent blockchain ledger and eliminate costly intermediaries. 

Our straight-forward hypothesis is that since forest cover and reforestation efforts can be easily detected by satellite, each acre protected or reforested can trigger payments from investors directly to the people or communities responsible for the work. The technology that could make this happen is already here. Frontline forest communities are ready to work. And we think impact-oriented investors are due a new and transparent model for protecting and recovering the forests of the world. 

Our Pilot Project

We are piloting this project in the Ticuna community of Buen Jardin de Callarú in the Loreto district of northern Peru. This community has agreed to collectively conserve 1,000 hectares of Amazon forest, and simultaneously undertake an ambitious reforestation project in currently degraded land. 

The community has set strict conservation rules, committing to zero deforestation for next year and beyond. The community will actively patrol their territory and monitor deforestation using their existing community monitoring program. The community investigates deforestation alerts they receive from the WRI Global Forest Watch system and investigate them using drones and other tools.

The community will be compensated for maintaining net zero deforestation through direct encrypted transfers using Regen Network’s blockchain based payment system. The community will collectively manage the funds, and funding transfers will be conditional upon the community’s compliance with an agreement signed between Buen Jardin de Callarú and Rainforest Foundation US.

The community has agreed to use the funds they collectively receive for maintaining forest cover to invest in reforestation of degraded lands. Buen Jardín de Callarú has suffered from historical deforestation from illegal logging, cattle ranching, and the cultivation of coca plantations. Families in the community have agreed to protect their collective forest and reforest at least 70 hectares in year one of the pilot project with native species. On average each hectare will be planted with 110 trees, with 100 trees expected to be successful.

Therefore, over 70 hectares, the project plans to grow 7,000 trees in year one. A hectare of Peruvian Amazon forest holds approximately 128 tons of carbon, according to official Peruvian government analysis.

The funds they receive for protecting their forest will be deposited into a communal bank account, which they are calling their “tree account” since they have collectively agreed to use these funds to cultivate seedlings that will be distributed to families to plant, tend, and monitor over the coming years.

Compliance with tree planting will be measured and verified by satellite data, as well as by the community forest monitors who will provide quarterly updates on the trees planted and their growth. This system will provide for continuous monitoring of reforestation and estimated net increase in carbon capture. This data will be attached to the blockchain. 

Update as of 25 June 2020

Thanks to the existing community-based territorial monitoring program, the community of Buen Jardín de Callarú has been able to reduce deforestation rates from approximately 10 percent annually to zero from 2018 to 2020. The community is now turning the page, from responding to deforestatino to proactively reforesting and maintaining existing forests in one of the most threatened areas of the Peruvian Amazon. The process was designed and is currently being implemented through community governance systems, such as the minga, or collective community action. The minga has revitalized community coordination to construct a local tree nursery, encourage a seedling exchange with surrounding communities, and facilitate cooperative tree planting. Since the beginning of the year, the community has planted nearly 1,000 trees in plots of previously degraded areas that are now under active management by individual families. In the region of Loreto, this system will be scaled up to plant more than 7,000 more trees in the pilot community of Buen Jardín de Callarú and in at least 12 other communities, covering upwards of 500 hectares.

Reforestation and the growth of every tree in the community plots are tracked by GPS and photographic image. The plots featured are those of community members Humbert Pisco (above) and Cahuachi (below).

Since March, COVID-19 has hit the Peruvian Amazon and the Ticuna communities engaged in the project particularly hard. Rainforest Foundation US joins the community in mourning their losses and is in regular communication to provide any additional support at this time. Though the impacts of the pandemic are tragic and real for Buen Jardín de Callarú, their continued efforts around forest protection and restoration shows their resilience as a community. Rainforest Foundation US and Regen Network will be working with Buen Jardín de Callarú to scale up the blockchain project over the coming year as conditions improve.

Rainforest Foundation US and Regen Network are initially partnering with the indigenous community of Buen Jardín de Callarú and neighboring communities in the eastern Peruvian Amazon. We intend to scale up projects in the northwest Peruvian Amazon along the Napo river basin, representing approximately 30,000 hectares in total. Remote, impoverished, and neglected tropical forest indigenous communities such as Buen Jardín de Callarú, have experienced rapacious degradation of their collectively owned forests for decades. With this partnership model we aim to reverse this trend and provide avenues for direct finance to communities to allow them to continue to protect and regenerate their forests.

We invite you to learn more or get involved by contacting: 

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Adam crafts original content and repurposes existing material and information in a way that communicates the organization’s engagement priorities to various audiences. Prior to working at RFUS, he wrote for several outlets, including: The Wall Street Journal, The Budapest Times, and A&E, amongst others. He’s also a published fiction writer and has written and staged several plays in New York City. Adam holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University—Camden, and is a native English speaker who is bilingual in Hungarian and fluent in Spanish.