Paddle up the Huayabamba River in northern Peru, and amidst the roar of breathtaking waterfalls and chatter of tropical songbirds, you’ll come across the Co+op Forest. This lush, mountainous landscape is thought to be one of the most bio diverse regions in the world, home to over 160 mammal species, more than 300 bird species and hundreds of butterfly, amphibian, reptile and plant species as well.
It is paradise, but sadly much of this region is recovering from decades of deforestation, while its remaining old growth forest remains at risk for petroleum development. But thanks to intervention by concerned cooperative businesses, this region continues to play a meaningful role in slowing climate change.
Food co-ops seek to tangibly slow down the rate of climate change
Since 2012, the Co+op Forest has been thriving under the stewardship of a carbon offset program funded by National Co+op Grocers (NCG), the organization behind this website, in partnership with PUR Projet. NCG believes that environmentally responsible businesses like food co-ops have an important leadership role in addressing climate change.
The idea behind this unique carbon offset program is simple: NCG calculates their annual carbon emissions (from business travel, utilities, etc.), then funds the planting or protection of a corresponding number of trees to absorb (offset) that carbon. When trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—from the atmosphere, it effectively slows the rate of climate change.
Slowing climate change through rainforest reforestation & conservation projects
Co+op Forest includes both reforestation and conservation projects. Reforestation projects, in which farmers plant native tree seedlings, are important because as these trees grow they are absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing some of the carbon in their trunks. Planting native trees in tropical areas is especially beneficial because tropical trees reach maturity quickly, allowing them to store more carbon over their lifetimes.
Conservation projects protect old-growth trees from being clear-cut for timber, or burned to make way for crops or other development. Protecting these trees is critical because their massive trunks are made up of tons of tiny carbon atoms; every carbon atom that remains locked up in a tree is one less carbon atom that will otherwise contribute to climate change.
Co+op Forest supports fair trade farmer cooperatives, improves quality of life
Co+op Forest is also unique because it is grown in a way that respects the surrounding Peruvian community, ensuring that they benefit from the project, too. Drawing on the rich South American tradition of embracing the cooperative model, NCG partners with fair trade, organic farmer cooperatives to plant and maintain native trees in Co+op Forest. The cooperatives offer training to farmers in sustainable agroforestry because protecting the native forest around their farms produces higher quality fruits and reduces erosion, improving water quality for the entire community. Additionally, Co+op Forest trees that farmers plant on their own land will eventually provide them with much-needed retirement income from sustainably harvested FSC-certified timber.