Diving into the Barichara ecosystem
This month, our team was invited to visit Barichara, a town located in the department of Santander in Colombia, known for its colonial architecture, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. However, the region‘s rapid urbanization and agricultural expansion have led to the degradation of local ecosystems, resulting in soil erosion, reduced water quality, and loss of biodiversity - a downward facing spiral.
But there is hope. Barichara turned out to be a magnet for people striving to protect and restore this pristine region. Something I was fortunate to experience myself over and over again during my ten day visit. In fact, Barichara attracts people who not only strive to protect nature, but people who actively get their hands dirty - including EcoLabs, our host and collaborator.
Ecological Assets to enable Adaptive Agroforestry & Smallholder Stewardship
EcoLabs is a decentralized organization aiming to issue ecological assets on land as small as just a couple of hectares. Ecological assets are natural or semi-natural areas that provide valuable ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and water regulation. By regenerating, enhancing and restoring these ecological assets, the team strives to create more resilient and sustainable ecosystems that benefit both the bioregion and the local community - enabling Adaptive Agroforestry & Smallholder Stewardship.
Thereby, EcoLabs wants to tackle two challenges: The lack of incentives for smallholder farmers, who are structurally excluded from the carbon market, to regenerate their land, and the lack of verification when claiming that nature is actually regenerated.
Measuring, reporting, and verifying regenerative practices
I am curious to learn more about EcoLabs‘ approach. ‘How are you actually going to issue these ecological assets? And how do they enable Smallholder Stewardship?’, I ask CEO Sev Nightingale, an early adopter in green blockchain and an active collaborator in the ReFi movement. ‘I have this vision of a future where regenerator is a job title.’, he explains to me. ‘These regenerators are paid by the sales of the practice-based ecological assets, which they are contributing to creating. We also call them Eco Credits. So, how does this look like? As an example, think of Eco Credit x as a proof that regenerative practices are taking place in a certain area, such as syntropic agroforestry.’
As a little digression, syntropic agroforestry is a human-managed approach replicating and accelerating the natural process of ecological succession and stratification. By design, it gives each plant the ideal condition for its development and establishes a multilayer ecosystem, creating niches for all kinds of insects and other animals. Thus, it maximizes photosynthesis, as well as increases biodiversity demonstrating great potential to combat climate change and biodiversity loss.
‘If the regenerative practice of syntropic agroforestry is implemented, we receive ecological benefits such as carbon capture, biodiversity, soil health, or water retention’, Sev concludes. I understand that instead of measuring the changes in ecological state, the team is focussing on verifying the implementation of regenerative practices - which, as a result, lead to all those ecosystem enhancements mentioned above.
‘We are currently working on defining and validating our methodology for measuring, verifying and reporting regenerative practices’, adds Sam, EcoLabs Co-Founder, traveling artist, and NFT creator. To pilot their innovative approach, the team has been collaborating with three restoration projects in and around Barichara: Bioparque, Origen del Agua, and Huerta Comunitaria. Stay tuned for data-driven insights into the sites, the people, and the impact created, revealed in our follow up blog post.
One community, the seed to ecosystem regeneration
In Barichara we have seen three pilot sites demonstrating the potential of practice-based ecological assets as a powerful tool for restoring degraded ecosystems and enhancing ecosystem services. But EcoLabs’ methodology is not bound to the region. As soon as the methodology to measure, report, and verify (MRV) the implementation of regenerative practices is validated, this approach can be replicated in other areas that suffer from environmental degradation. This way, ecosystem resilience could be increased and the livelihoods of local communities be improved on a global scale.
To finish off, there is one last thing I want to highlight. Something I strongly experienced during my visit. I already mentioned it in the very beginning. In the community in and around Barichara, there is this openness to learn from each other, this eagerness to transfer knowledge in between projects, this self-evidence to help each other out, and above all, this one common purpose to lead by example. I believe that this incredible sense of togetherness and community is what we need to sustainably restore ecosystems. With and for the community.