Dhanush Dinesh Plan Vivo 

By Dhanush Dinesh, member of the Plan Vivo Foundation Board of Trustees

Original publication here

When I set out to study carbon management in 2009, one of the topics I was really interested in understanding was the carbon market. Coming from India, I was particularly interested in how carbon markets can support the rural poor in sustainable land management. During the course of my studies, I explored different mechanisms to do this, from the formal UN system, under the Kyoto protocol, to the voluntary carbon markets (VCM) approach. That is how I stumbled upon Plan Vivo, an approach that offered a framework for projects developed by communities themselves to sustainably manage their land. Through the Plan Vivo Standard, rural communities at the frontline of climate change were able to gain access to carbon markets. The system was developed in the early 90s with initial funding from the UK's Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, and the first sale of credits in 1997 to Formula 1. I was fascinated by this approach, so much so that in the course of my Master's thesis, I explored the applicability of this model in India. I was convinced that this was a good model to support rural communities in sustainable land management.

I continued to engage within the Plan Vivo network as I progressed in my career, and in 2012 had the opportunity to work for the Plan Vivo Foundation, helping to shape the future of the organization, focusing also on non-carbon ecosystem services like biodiversity. It was an inspiring experience, working with community-based organizations in over 20 countries across the globe, committed to sustainable development at the grassroots level, and it gave me an insider view on the carbon markets. One of my key takeaways from my time working at Plan Vivo was the importance of benefit sharing. When we buy a carbon credit from a smallholder project, we assume that the benefits reach smallholders directly, but this is not always the case. Carbon projects have a number of expenses, including project development, monitoring, reporting and verification etc., and it is not always the case that the majority of carbon payments reach those actually doing the work. Since its inception, Plan Vivo had, and still has, a requirement that at least 60% of benefits go to communities directly. Such payments reaching communities directly can have transformative potential as we have observed in projects which have been operating for over two decades, making sustainable development a reality on the ground.


Savana in the Yaeda Valley, Tanzania


This inspiring work motivated me to continue my engagement with Plan Vivo even after taking up my current assignment and I have been part of the Board of Trustees, providing strategic input to the organization’s development. In my day job I work on global policy processes and with global organizations, and I see how important such practical models are to translate global ambitions into actions and impact on the ground. It is also great to see science being applied in practice, as many of the projects are designed with technical support from Universities and international networks like the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

2021 marks a major year for sustainable development, with the Conference of Parties (CoPs) to the three Rio Conventions (UNFCCC, UNCCD, CBD) as well as the UN Food Systems Summit. Across these summits, nature-based solutions are getting a lot of attention, and in this context tried and tested models like Plan Vivo, which deliver not only for nature and climate but also for communities is crucial. Currently, Plan Vivo works with over 16,000 small scale farmers, over 73,000 community members, in over 25 countries, and has resulted in $30 million (USD) in payments and over 5 million tonnes of planned CO2 emissions reductions. It is rare to find such a combination, and I hope that decision-makers take the time to consider the potential of Plan Vivo and such practical models, and scale them through global processes.