news-12 October 2023 - written by:Joep van der Wal

Is this a new recipe to fund the transition or just a new face for good old greenwashing?

Food forest sells carbon

The first seven years of food forestry can be quite tough financially. To ease this period, we are working with ONCRA, an initiative of the Climate Cleanup, to develop a recipe. This time not for planning a food forest, but for selling the captured carbon. 

This recipe concerns both sides of such a transaction; the issuance of carbon credits and their sale. Enough scandals have arisen on both sides to show that these processes are not self-evident. In the past, for example, credits have been issued for unfairly protecting forests and companies hide behind net zero claims based primarily on carbon offsets rather than the all-important reduction they are supposed to do themselves.

ONCRA (Open Natural Carbon Removal Accounting) has made great strides to prevent such scandals, rigorously monitoring both the recipient of the credits and the seller. Together with ONCRA, Food from the Forest is working to apply this system to food forests.

Carbon Credits

But, then there is another problem to solve. How do you determine the number of credits? In other words, how much Carbon/CO2 a food forest can start storing? This goes like this. At the start of a food forest, measurements are taken underground and above ground. Above ground, satellite measurement is used to determine the amount of biomass, which can then be translated into carbon. And for underground storage, we measure organic matter to a depth of 30 centimeters below the humus layer. Sometimes as little as 9 grams per kg (0.9%) on sand, up to as much as 60 grams (6%) on peat.

Reference Forests

Together, these measurements provide a picture of how much carbon is currently present in the food forest plot. To determine what the potential storage capacity is, we compare this plot to a reference forest. And that is a mature forest in the same region on the same soil type. If there's more organic mass in the soil there now, the assumption is that the food forest should be able to reach that content in the next 20 years. And that determines the number of credits that that food forest can then get per hectare for the next 20 years. A reference forest must be at most 50 kilometers from the young food forest. 

Issue

The credits are not released all at once. The first 12 of the 20 years of credits are issued at start-up to issue the remaining 8 years later based on new measurements. Also, 20% is held back for emissions from the project itself, and 20% as a buffer. For a one-hectare food forest, this initial issue can amount to about €10,000.

The buyer

Whoever wants to buy these credits must comply with the Oxford Principles. In short, it must first reduce before compensation is allowed. 'Know thy customer' to avoid empty net zero claims. 

Pilot food forests

Despite this system of ONCRA for measuring and issuing, obstacles remain. And that's what this pilot is for. For example, we noticed that it is very inconvenient if each food forest has to find its own reference forest. By no means every "natural" forest has healthy soil with lots of organic matter. On the contrary, we found many poor, atrophied forests with sometimes worse values than the yet-to-be-started food forest plot. .

So we moved on to building a database of healthy reference forests. As we collect more good reference forests, it becomes easy for more and more food forests to issue credits. A matter of indicating plot boundaries, taking soil samples, providing some verification documents, and the sale can start.

Meanwhile, we are to the point where the credits of three food forests go on sale. With this we are going to shed light on the other side of the transaction. Will it be possible to charge 89, maybe 98 euros per ton? And what does it take for a company to communicate the purchase, both internally and externally? 

As you read, it's a pilot and we don't have all the answers yet. Thus, we are also curious to hear your opinion. Is carbon offsetting a preservation of harmful old economic thinking? Or is it actually a very nice way to raise transition money?

On Oct. 21, at the Food from Your Forest Day, we'll discuss it at the campfire. Hope to see you then!