Sil Lanckriet and Miro Jacob from the EthioTrees team sit down to tell Plan Vivo how carbon credits can provide a vital source of income in a conflict zone.



In the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia, landless farmers restore degraded woodlands as part of the Plan Vivo certified EthioTrees project. At the northernmost limits of the African monsoons, the North Ethiopian highlands are particularly vulnerable to land degradation, and their inhabitants acutely feel the impacts of the climate crisis. Since November 2020, the region has been subject to an additional crisis: the Tigray War, an intense civil war that has caused thousands of deaths and been condemned for atrocities.


Famine in Tigray

The war in Tigray has been dubbed the world’s gravest current humanitarian crisis – in part due to the employment of famine as a military strategy. Prior to the conflict beginning, there were already food shortages due to locust swarms damaging the harvests. Incoming food supplies were then blocked and farmers were targeted when doing farming activities, leading them to hide for fear of attack, according to the BBC. Donkeys, oxen and other livestock were purposely killed in the fields, and ploughs were destroyed. While there are also reports of communities supporting each other and ploughing together under the cover of darkness, the military tactics resulted in huge food insecurity in the region.


Carbon finance: flexible and responsive

In response to the famine, the EthioTrees team wanted to get food to the region – but any trucks carrying food aid into the region would be lootedCarbon finance offered another way to provide support to vulnerable communities in this crisis – from sustainably managing their land during the crisis, the communities earned approximately 200,000 USD from the sale of Plan Vivo Certificates (PVCs). This money allowed farmers to buy food in the city, which they then took back to their villages, a half day’s walk away. Within their villages, the 18 communities then collectively allocated food and funds to those members who needed support most.

The fact that the project managed to carry out such an operation in the middle of an intense conflict shows the strength of the EthioTrees team. Key to the whole operation were the on the ground project coordinators. Through negotiations with the bank and community leaders, they enabled the flow of money to the communities, showing the importance of a project coordinator with a strong network and negotiating skills.


Carbon finance as a social safety net

During the long dry season, when food is less available in Tigray, the government usually coordinates a food for work programme with USAID, whereby communities build roads or wells, and money or food is provided in exchange. However the programme stopped during the conflict and this past year income from carbon credits supported the strained social system in the project area.

In such dire times, one might expect forests to be cleared and used to meet immediate need. But the Ethiotrees team have been informed that by November 2022, when the war ended after the Pretoria Peace Agreement, the forest continues to be sustainably managed by the communities. This has been corroborated by both independent field surveys and satellite studies. Perhaps this is due to communities recognising that income from carbon credits can be relied upon when other sources of income are not available.


Equitable benefit sharing

Only one project site, Afedena, was unable to issue Plan Vivo Certificates earlier in 2021, as there was direct impact of artillery on the forest of that area  – all other sites were able to issue as normal. Built into the Ethiotrees project design is a benefit sharing system that aims not to disadvantage villages with smaller areas of forests. The proportion of income from the sale of carbon credits is based not only on the area of land managed, but some portion is shared equally between all 18 villages taking part in the project. In order to supplement this income, EthioTrees Belgium also raised additional extra funds on top of carbon finance to support the community in Afedena and the local hospital in Hagere Selam.


More than funding: building resilience

A main mechanism for Plan Vivo projects to support communities is through providing a stable income source, but these projects can also contribute to communities’ resilience in other ways. The EthioTrees Belgium team believe that Plan Vivo projects provide potential for building resilience, as the bottom-up structure encourages consensus building within groups. The Plan Vivo system is built on looking after vulnerable people and working to build consensus amongst community groups to try to avoid physical conflict. Of course, these projects cannot actually stop conflict, due to larger geopolitical factors that are beyond local control, but these community level structures can cushion the impact of these geopolitical earthquakes.

Environmental organisations have real scope to step in during crises, as generally they seem to be less scrutinised by the government than more openly humanitarian organisations. Perhaps an unseen advantage of being an environmental organisation is being perceived as apolitical – at least in this case it seems to have contributed to EthioTrees being able to provide food aid in crisis.



Looking forward: post-conflict reconstruction

The Plan Vivo funding has already made a difference for some communities in Tigray – but this is only a drop in the ocean. The project coordinators have been ready to expand the project since before the conflict in Tigray began, and hope that scaling up will make a big difference in the region. While Plan Vivo was not designed to respond to conflict, it was designed to support communities and enable them to realise the social and environmental development that they want to see. There is significant potential for income from Plan Vivo Certificate sales to fund the reconstruction of the region post-conflict, through providing a stable income stream for communities in the wider region.

The Ethiotrees team is grateful to all buyers of PVCs for enabling income to continue to flow into the project, and continued sales of PVCs will contribute to communities’ reconstruction now that a peace deal is reached.


You can find out more about our partner EthioTrees by viewing their project documents or by visiting the EthioTrees website.