Dispatch: GIS and social networks in tree-level monitoring of carbon sequestration
I had a chance to meet with staff of The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program (TIST) last week. The group was kicking off a new program in Honduras, modeled after their successful activities in Tanzania, India, Uganda and Kenya. In a nutshell, TIST works to increase environmental quality in subsistence farming communities by establishing payment schemes (through Greenhouse Gas Sales) to land owners who plant and maintain tree groves.
A principal element to the TIST model is a rigorous GIS-based monitoring system. To authorize payments for carbon sequestration, TIST needs to know how well trees have grown. Several "quantifiers" from each community volunteer to submit monthly reports on the tree groves that they are responsible for protecting. Using GPS-enabled phones, these community members send coordinate data, photos, and a host of attribute data (number of trees, average tree diameter, etc) to a database, which automatically populates the TIST website. Spatial visualization allows TIST staff and local quantifiers alike to quickly monitor outcomes.
TIST staff told me that the success of their programs depends on the effectiveness of each of the 600+ small groups, which manage the program in each community. Group members are responsible to the community (e.g., by working collectively to protect trees) and to each other (e.g., by contributing to an "emergency fund" for group members). Community-level networks are further strengthened through activities which periodically bring together the representatives of all small groups in a given region. I met some of these representatives in Honduras, and even through they were new to the program, they were completely engaged with their counterparts from distant communities: comparing production techniques, exchanging phone numbers, etc. By focusing efforts to increase reciprocity and trust within small groups, and by fostering information exchange among select representatives of each small group, TIST is essentially building a small worlds network.
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