By Taking Root team

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After another record year in 2020, Taking Root is celebrating 10 years of reforestation with smallholder farmers.  As 2020 came to a close, CommuniTree, a Taking Root’s and Plan Vivo project, celebrated multiple milestones. It marked the year that we planted our 10,000,000th tree and issued our 1,000,000th carbon credit with Plan Vivo. We’re also happy to announce that over 2,000 hectares of underused land were reforested in 2020, more than double the amount reforested the year prior. Taking Root has come a long way since registering its CommuniTree project in Nicaragua with Plan Vivo in 2010, and we are so excited to be joined by an increasing number of projects focused on delivering natural climate solutions with smallholder farmers to help tackle climate change.


Scaling with smallholder farmers

Taking Root started the CommuniTree project back in 2010 with only a handful of farmers and has since expanded to become Nicaragua’s largest reforestation initiative. As the project has grown, our underlying principles of using science-based methods and putting farmers first have remained unchanged. In fact, those principles are what have enabled our ability to bring our smallholder projects to scale.


Farmer Dora María Salgado is preparing her land. Credit: ©Taking Root


Taking Root now works with over 1,300 farming families and understanding farmer priorities is essential to building successful relationships. For example, CommuniTree implements forest designs based on farmers’ existing farming activities and needs. For example, higher altitude coffee farmers use our Coffee Agroforestry specification, while cattle farmers implement our Silvopastoral design. This enables farmers to engage in tree planting activities that complement their existing farming activities, maximizing the value that they are able to obtain from planting trees. In turn, this has helped build a foundation of trust with farmers and communities alike.

The journey has not always been easy. When Taking Root first began planting trees with smallholder farmers, there was scepticism from both local communities and funders. The year 2010 was very different from 2020 and natural climate solutions were not widely recognised as one of the key solutions to the climate crisis as they are today. At the same time, local communities had grown up with agricultural practices were removing trees, not growing them, was common practice. We are indebted to those early communities who decided to try something new and to our partners who saw the potential of our model. 


Innovating to overcome challenges and maximize farmer impact

Another cornerstone that has enabled Taking Root’s success with CommuniTree is its use of innovation as a driver for impact. Often our innovations have been rooted in a need to overcome many of the traditional challenges facing reforestation projects. For example, one of Taking Root’s earliest innovations was to adopt polygon-based farm reporting, one of the first smallholder reforestation projects in the world to do so. Polygon reporting gave funders new transparency to see where their trees were being planted and the farmers they were supporting for the first time.


Taking Root's technician, Edgar Bianerges Cruz, monitoring tree growth. Credit: ©Taking Root


Taking Root has come a long way from simple polygons, now having developed FARM-TRACE, a fully integrated system for automating forest and carbon reporting. As CommuniTree grew, we quickly faced major challenges with monitoring and reporting. Traditional approaches became prohibitively expensive because of how complicated it can get to measure and track impacts across hundreds and thousands of farms, as well as the scarce expertise that’s available in remote smallholder contexts. As a result, the project was becoming impossible to manage effectively while funders wanted more transparency into the impacts they were supporting.

In order to continue scaling up the impact with smallholder farmers, Taking Root developed its FARM-TRACE platform, a tool that automates forest and carbon reporting using local data, remote sensing, and machine learning algorithms. Through FARM-TRACE, Taking Root has been able to not only continue to grow its impact with CommuniTree, but also provide a solution to numerous smallholder reforestation projects around the world.  


A Communitree farmer, Juan José Pérez Benavides, in Nicaragua. Credit: ©Taking Root


Taking Root has further innovated to create alternative and additional forms of value for farmers from the trees they are growing through complementary products and services. To help coffee farmers implement organic farming practices (thereby giving a boost to the market price of their coffee), Taking Root introduced an affordable bioreactor to create compost. Similarly, we’ve integrated sustainable biochar practices with the farmers that we work with to improve crop yields, restore forest & soil health, and store carbon in the ground. By continuing to innovate around a farmer-first approach combined with science-based impact, CommuniTree has been able to meet its challenges head-on with high-impact solutions and apply them to other smallholder contexts.


Ramping up of smallholder efforts needed

In this next decade, there are lots to look forward to for CommuniTree and other smallholder reforestation projects. The UN has declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, to focus on “preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.” Collaborations to tackle deforestation and climate change are also increasingly emerging. World Economic Forum launched the “1 trillion trees challenge”, the World Resources Institute launched the 20x20 initiative, and the United Nations co-launched the Green Gigaton Challenge.  Not only that, but more and more companies from the private sector are presenting net-zero carbon commitments, all of which show ample promise for a wide-scale collaborative approach to address climate change.

These collaborations need to include smallholder farmers to meet their ambitious commitments. It is now evidently clear that smallholders are indispensable in the fight against climate change. Collectively, smallholder farmland represents one of the greatest opportunities for reforestation in the tropics, and it is essential that those farmers are engaged to help drive reforestation efforts. We’re happy to see an increasing number of smallholder projects emerge, and look forward to seeing the impact that we can collectively generate.