As a solution-oriented optimist, I have to say that the aspect of our Chill Expeditions programs that I am most proud of is the opportunity to inspire through our visionary collaborators. These are farmers and entrepreneurs, scientists and community leaders, who are aware of the challenges humankind faces, and choose to take responsibility for this knowledge by seeking and implementing positive solutions. Their projects tend to reverberate throughout the community and sometimes world – inspiring others to jump on board and participate in something greater than oneself.
One such visionary is Kahlil Baker, founder of Taking Root – a community reforestation project in Nicaragua. “Reforestation” may sound like a fairly simple task with a straight-forward result– but the intricacies and long-term goals of this project are much grander in scope than you might imagine.
Taking Root is based in the small village of San Juan de Limay, Nicaragua- an area that was part of a large swath of land which was deforested in the 1950’s in order to grow chemical-intensive cotton. In the 1980’s, world cotton prices dropped. The result? Farmers were left with no means of income in what had become a seasonal desert, with pesticide-contaminated soil and water. A once lush place was left hot and dry – and when it does rain, the lack of forest cover causes floods and extreme erosion. Since 95-99% of people in this area cook over fire, the pressure on the remaining forest is persistent; combine that with the resulting smoke and soot and the climate challenge grows more complex.
Phew! The old rock and a hard place, eh?
Pay people to plant trees on their underutilized land by selling carbon offsets! But wait, it’s not that simple. You have to consider how people are going to fund the project on their land- growing and caring for the trees, building fences to keep cattle from eating young trees, what trees to grow in order to create a forest that is beneficial and short, medium and long-term? First, Taking Root provides long-term interest-free loans in order to finance the launch of a farmer’s plantation. Secondly, they hire and train a team of community technician aids to support the farmers. Thirdly, the farmers have a chance to create their own income because they get paid ecosystem service payments for particular mile markers in tree growth. And finally, what trees are planted is very carefully planned so that some get thinned or coppiced at different stages— providing opportunity for sustainable harvest and utilitzation (for construction, fencing, selling to the community, and of course shade for animals once large enough!).
You also have to consider the cultural interdependence between the people and the forest (such as their need for fuel wood). Taking Root has implemented over 25 fuel-efficient cookstoves in the community, which use about 1/3 of the wood and create exponentially less smoke and soot. A beautiful by-product of these stoves is that women will not be facing so many severe respiratory issues, and there won’t be nearly as much time and energy spent harvesting wood for cooking.
Through incredibly thoughtful planning, including the re-introduction of at-risk species, nutrients in the soil are restored over time, an incredible amount of carbon is stored in the trees that would otherwise be released into our atmosphere, and eventually natural climate cycles return. The community has financial incomes, as well a shared sense of purpose and an opportunity to be a part of positive global change.
I remember being young and disillusioned with the world, unsure of how to wake up with a smile when the planet is seemingly being devastated at a rapid pace. And then I met people who were doing things. Positive things! I started to realize that not only do solutions exist, but they are often simple and right at our fingertips. This inspired me to stop dwelling on the doom and gloom, but to use it as fuel in opening my mind in creative ways… finding positive solutions and implementing them!
Our hope is that, through experiential travel, students will open their minds to all of the incredible opportunities that await in this world, and the benefit that comes with being a part of something greater. We invite you to come check out Taking Root firsthand!