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How and Why 1 MTN Applies Agroforestry Practises on Carbon Project

At 1MTN, we believe in a holistic approach to building carbon projects. While removing carbon is central to our efforts, it serves a broader purpose: fighting climate change, restoring and maintaining a livable planet, and ensuring thriving communities for generations to come. Our integrated approach unites people (communities), the planet (land and its ecosystem), and profit (to ensure scalability and economic viability in the long run). We aim to maximise the full potential of each hectare of land we restore for sustained positive impact.

Agroforestry: A Powerful Tool for Environmental and Economic Benefits

Agroforestry has emerged as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. At 1MTN, we effectively implement agroforestry practices in our carbon projects to foster environmental and economic benefits and long-term viability. Agroforestry is a broad term for managing trees together with crops and/or animal production systems (FAO Agroforestry). In this article, we introduce the role of intercropping and sustainable harvesting at our project site and the significant advantages these agroforestry methods bring to biodiversity, food security, job creation, and the overall creation of a local bioeconomy.

A man and a young bamboo plant outside
Bamboo planted in September 2023 at our project site in Nwoya

Intercropping Bamboo and Food Crops

Pilot Site in Nwoya, Northern Uganda

1MTN's nature-based carbon removal projects are centred around restoring degraded land and sequestering carbon through bamboo planting. Our first planting site is in Nwoya, Northern Uganda, where in September 2023, we planted 400 hectares of bamboo, making it the largest intact bamboo plantation in East Africa. As the next step, we started intercropping bamboo with indigenous trees and food crops. The pilot site of 10 hectares was planted in March 2024, with the first round of crops ready for harvest in September.

Native Species Intercropped with Local Bamboo

Young African peach tree
African peach in Nwoya

On this 10-hectare pilot site, we have intercropped bamboo with ten different species. These include maize, millet, rice, groundnuts, butter beans, rose cocoa beans, Malay rose apples, bungo fruits, monkey oranges, and African peach. Seven of these species—millet, groundnuts, butter beans, Malay rose apple, bungo fruits, monkey orange, and African peach—are native. Four indigenous tree species we have introduced (bungo tree, Malay rose apple, monkey orange tree, and African peach tree) are close to extinction in Uganda. Part of our mission is to revive and reintroduce these native species.

Tree species have separate stands in the current 10-ha pilot, there is no bamboo between the stands and are intercropped with other food crops. The rest of the intercropping is done between the bamboo lines to maximise available space while leaving enough room to avoid shade that could affect young bamboo. Bamboo is planted on a 5x5 planting scheme, allowing intercropping for the first three years post-planting, after which the bamboo canopy closes and sunlight becomes insufficient for crops. The cultivation and weeding of the 10 hectares were carried out manually, providing jobs for 23 community members for a three-week period.

Before starting intercropping, we researched the soil in the area with Makerere University, allowing us to understand the soil type and pH levels in each compartment of our project site. This provided inputs on how and what to intercrop to maximise the positive impact of each hectare. Next, we researched species native to the region and mapped the dietary status quo and needs in the area. When choosing the species for intercropping, we consider their local availability, nutrients, and economic value. 

Benefits of Intercropping

Maize growing on the field
Maize at the project site soon ready for harvesting

Firstly, intercropping is crucial for the sustainable management of our forests. Crops like beans and groundnuts help fix nitrogen in the soil, making it more fertile, which in turn benefits bamboo growth. Biomass from harvested maize and other non-leguminous crops decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. For 1MTN, intercropping helps manage our bamboo by controlling weeds and improving soil fertility, benefiting bamboo growth. Additionally, many of our crops attract birds and insects like bees, which improve biodiversity.

Secondly, intercropping allows us to maximise the impact of every hectare to address food scarcity and diversify dietary intake. Our focus lies in cultivating a diverse range of crops to cater to the dietary needs of our farm labourers and the wider community. Currently, the daily diet for field labourers consists solely of maize and beans (posho and beans) throughout the year.

Bamboo plant with groundnuts growing
Bamboo intercropped with groundnuts

Similarly, we have assessed the dietary requirements of the nearest school and found that their menu, which is also maise and beans-based, lacks essential proteins and fats. To address these deficiencies, we have integrated, for example, groundnuts into the intercropping system. Groundnuts, rich in proteins and healthy fats, supplement the staple crops, ensuring a more balanced and nutritious diet. In addition to our field labour, the first harvest will be distributed to the local school. In August 2024, we will have our first harvest from the 10 hectares and start intercropping the next 200 hectares. With the 200 hectares, we are also piloting commercialisation to diversify our revenue streams and invest back into scaling the project and its positive impact.

Sustainable Harvesting for Bamboo Forest Health, Employment, and Biomass Generation

Importance of Thinning Practices

New bamboo shoots breaking out next to the parent bamboo
New shoots are breaking out. This bamboo, plantedin September 2023, has taken nine months to start sprouting. The new shoots grow outward, expanding the clump from both sides. We plant them in a 5x5m grid to provide room for growth and avoid limiting their development. These new shoots will be ready for harvesting in 2027.

Bamboo, by definition, is a giant woody grass. It needs responsible thinning practices to ensure the overall health of the bamboo forest. Without thinning, the bamboo forest becomes too congested, with less light available for the culms, which reduces growth speed and makes bamboo more vulnerable to pests and mites. Bamboo regenerates from its own roots without needing replanting after thinning.

Annual Thinning and Biomass Production

As bamboo matures quickly, annual thinning starts from year three onwards and continues throughout the bamboo lifecycle. At 1MTN, we have Standard Operating Procedures for thinning in place to prevent over-extraction and ensure we maintain the health and vitality of the bamboo stands, ensuring they continue to sequester carbon effectively. This cyclic process not only captures carbon continuously over the years but also provides a renewable source of biomass, which is why we often refer to thinning as sustainable harvesting of bamboo.

a man and bamboo poles
Bamboo poles which can be used for construction

The end uses for biomass are numerous: wooden construction and furniture products, bioenergy, composite materials, pulp, paper, green charcoal, biochar, ethanol, biodiesel, and more. The demand for inputs for bioproducts supports the project's economic sustainability.

Employment and Economic Opportunities

Green Employment Creation

Thinning, along with the resulting ample biomass and timber production, generates substantial green employment opportunities on a large scale. This includes direct job creation through annual maintenance thinning requirements and indirect effects such as establishing a local bioeconomy. This fosters job growth and economic prospects and reduces dependence on unsustainable resources.

Sustainable Products and Local Bioeconomy

Bamboo charcoal in flames
Green charcoal made from bamboo

There are over 1,500 documented uses for bamboo, with modern science and technology continually discovering more (INBAR). These uses include housing, crafts, pulp, paper, panels, boards, veneer, flooring, roofing, fabrics, oil, gas, charcoal, and food. An example of a product bamboo biomass can be used for is green charcoal, a sustainable alternative in Uganda where 80% of residents rely on wood and coal to cook their meals. In Uganda, green charcoal is being championed by the government, environmentalists, and NGOs to combat deforestation. With one of the highest deforestation rates globally, studies warn that Uganda may lose all its forests within 40 years if the current trend persists.

Long-term Economic Incentives

As bamboo forests provide annual harvests of sustainable biomass, they offer a diversified revenue stream and act as a risk management tool for the carbon project, which is no longer solely dependent on carbon markets. Moreover, sustainable harvesting and its economic benefits will ensure that once the project ends and the land returns to the owner, the owner is fully incentivised to maintain the status quo due to the continuing revenue stream. Until then, 1MTN is committed to providing knowledge and practical training programmes to local employees to build a generation with skills and tools for the future.

In Store for the Future: FSC Certification

We are committed to ensuring our projects follow the highest standards, adhering to the people-plant-profit principle for scaling positive impact. As part of this, we at 1MTN are in the process of obtaining the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate. FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers while ensuring economic viability. FSC-certified forests are managed to strict environmental, social, and economic standards.

Frequently Aske Questions

What type of land do you use for the project?

1MTN exclusively engages in projects on privately owned lands degraded for over a decade. We lease these titled lands for a 40-year term. During the lease, we implement our carbon projects and, upon completion, return the land to the owner with a mature bamboo forest and existing infrastructure. The benefits are shared throughout the project's lifecycle with the community, ensuring mutual development and environmental sustainability.

Why plant bamboo?

Bamboo is exceptional for carbon capture due to its properties: 1. rapid growth, often regarded as the fastest-growing plant on earth 2. absorbs 40% more CO2 and produces 35% more O2 than the average tree. In addition, bamboo's permanent canopy and extensive root system prevent soil erosion and enhance groundwater levels. It contributes significantly to climate change mitigation, improved soil conservation and mitigation of flood disasters. Bamboo grows naturally in Eastern Africa, covering more than 1.2 million hectares.

What type of bamboo do you plant?

At 1MTN, we plant native, naturalised, and sterile bamboo species that integrate seamlessly into local ecosystems. This selection ensures environmental harmony and maximises our projects' carbon storage and ecological benefits.

How do you decide on the species of bamboo to plant?

We use a site-species matching tool combining satellite imagery, GIS tools, and knowledge of bamboo species to select the best species for each project. Key attributes include the bamboo's native or naturalised status, climate suitability, carbon capture capabilities, and potential commercial applications of the biomass. This ensures that our projects are both environmentally and economically sustainable.

What are the socio-economic benefits derived from planting bamboo in your projects?

Our bamboo projects create significant socio-economic benefits, including job creation through nurseries, site management, and thinning practices. Indirect benefits arise from establishing a bamboo bioeconomy, where sustainably harvested bamboo is used for biomass and timber, generating local jobs and fostering in-country production. Additionally, green products like biochar and green charcoal help reduce local deforestation, creating a holistic approach to environmental sustainability and community development.


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