Carbon credit projects promoted by an alliance of four companies in the indigenous reservation of Monochoa excluded two of the six communities that worked together for years to preserve their territory in the Amazon. This journalistic investigation helped alert those excluded and now the companies acknowledge the omission and assure that the error is in the process of being corrected.
Over the last decade, the six indigenous communities that make up Monochoa reservation have worked together to push forward the expansion of their biodiverse jungle territory in the middle reaches of the Caquetá River in the Colombian Amazon.
They achieved it in July 2017: a decision by the Colombian government recognized that the territory they’ve shared since the 1970s would increase from 263,000 to 417,000 hectares. Incidentally it meant that they now border and help preserve the Chiribiquete Range National Park, the largest in the country and in all of South America, considered a World Heritage Site for its natural wealth and for the thousand-year cave paintings that ethnobotanist and explorer Wade Davis dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of the Amazon'.
Six years later, four of the six communities that make up Monochoa were excluded from a carbon project in their territory. In these initiatives, called Redd+, the efforts of local communities to avoid deforestation are financially rewarded by the sale of carbon credits to companies seeking to offset their environmental footprint. Each voucher represents a ton of greenhouse gases that cause climate change that will no longer be released into the atmosphere, thanks to the preservation of the forests by these communities.
As it was originally signed, the project - promoted by the companies Carbo Sostenible, Terra Commodities, Yauto and Visso Consultores - covers the entire Monochoa reservation, but only includes two of the communities that share its governance: Tirivita and Caño Negro, located on the left bank of the Caquetá River, within the limits of the department of the same name. The four communities on the opposite bank of the river, in the department of Amazonas, were left out: Guamaraya, Aménani, Chukiki and Monochoa, the oldest of them all and the one that gives the reservation its name.
The developers then included two of these communities on the right bank, Chukiki and Guamaraya, in a different carbon project that is also underway in the neighboring Predio Putumayo reservation. Thus, payment for environmental services schemes with private companies are separating communities that had been consolidating their union for decades to make their organizations stronger. As a result, carbon market projects that should strengthen these governance structures by giving them greater resources and management capacity end up, on the contrary, making them more fragile.
In the case of Monochoa and Aménani the situation is more serious, as they have been excluded from both projects until now, which in practice had closed the opportunity for them to be remunerated for their safekeeping of the forest. The reason is that a territory can only sell avoided deforestation results once - and that is already being done in their territory by the two initiatives that signed the projects that left them out.
This journalistic investigation, even before it was published, may have contributed to correcting the situation in the coming months. On Friday, March 17, after requesting an interview with the four companies, they reached an initial agreement with leaders of Monochoa and Aménani to include them in one of the projects as of this month. In an interview a week ago, the heads of Yauto and Carbo Sostenible acknowledged the exclusion, which they attributed to internal disputes between the indigenous communities, and proposed a way to formally incorporate them, something they believe will be ready by the end of the year.
Ironically, the visible head of one of these four allied companies - and who negotiated the project with the four indigenous communities - has held the two highest positions in the Colombian State to oversee the rights of indigenous peoples. His name is Pedro Santiago Posada and, before becoming head and shareholder of Yauto S.A.S., was director of indigenous affairs at the Ministry of the Interior and ombudsman for indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities at the Ombudsman's Office. His founding partner in Yauto is a businessman and legal representative of a gold mining company that is currently under investigation by the Environment Ministry for possible environmental damage in the Pacific forests.
These are some of the findings of an investigation by the Latin American Center for Investigative Reporting (CLIP), Mongabay Latam and La Silla Vacía, with support from the Pulitzer Center's Rainforest Investigations Network and additional reporting by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). This report is part of the long-running 'Gray Carbon' investigation into how the carbon market is working in Latin America.