Posted: July 11, 2024


for Impact

Part 3: Project Site Visits

July 11, 2024, 7:55am PDT • FIELD NOTES

Welcome to the third and final installment in our blog series on the components of our monitoring strategy. In the first installment we discussed our use of geospatial data and remote sensing to track project quality, while the second installment focused on how we work with our partners to measure Climate, Environment, and Community impact. In this article, we’ll look at how on-the-ground site visits provide invaluable insights into a project’s progress and opportunities to engage with local stakeholders.

After 47 hours of travel, ten time zones, eight re-heated airplane meals, five airport transfers, four airplanes, three ground shuttles and two customs checkpoints — we finally arrive at our project site in western Kenya.

We step out of the old white pickup truck that took us the last miles of our journey and breathe in the smell of rich soil and fertile land. We’re in Homa Bay, Kenya visiting our carbon project partner, Trees for the Future (TREES), and talking with the farmers — the backbone of this project — to learn how they have been implementing the new agroforestry practices they are learning in the training program.

I’ve been traveling internationally to conduct project site visits for many years, and it never gets easier, but it’s always worth it. Following an 84-year-old farmer around her farm and listening to her explain how and why she plants certain crops to reduce pests, others for sale at the market, some because her grandchildren love to eat them, and altogether how this new agroforestry program is transforming her family’s life — that’s not something you can easily get from a report.

Spending four days hiking and sleeping in the middle of the rainforest, soaked day and night in rain, sweat or DEET, and still covered in swollen insect bites — you see the skill, technical capacity and unbelievable effort it takes a monitoring team to conduct a forest inventory assessment to double-check the carbon estimated in that forest is accurate. No Zoom call could ever capture this.

Arbimon, TREES, and Catona Climate staff met with an 84-year-old farmer in the Kenya agroforestry carbon project to learn how she and her family have been growing their Forest Garden.

Catona Climate conducts project site visits to projects in its carbon investment portfolio as part of our monitoring and engagement strategy, to maintain accountability to all of our customers and to provide capacity building and advisory support to our project partners. In tandem with GIS and remote sensing, partner data analysis, and 3rd party verifications, site visits are a crucial way to evaluate project management, implementation, and stakeholder engagement, along with climate, environmental and community impact.

During each project site visit, we take time to meet with various project stakeholders including developers, local implementation partners, suppliers, customers, beneficiaries, technical or research teams, and government representatives.

Catona Climate staff meeting with project implementation partners at a project site in Malawi.

We assess how all parties are collaborating to implement the project and identify any risks to project operations and deliverables. Lastly, we evaluate the level of impact a project is having on the local communities engaged and the ecosystem or landscape in which it is being developed. We then identify opportunities for further collaboration with our partners such as training on biodiversity monitoring methodologies, project design support or community engagement best practices.

Site visit objectives are developed for each project visit around the following themes:

  • Project management
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Activity delivery and progress
  • Monitoring practices
  • Start up or implementation challenges and opportunities
  • Carbon credit delivery risk assessment
  • Carbon standard alignment (e.g. leakage, permanence, sustainability, additionality, durability)
  • Community benefits, equity and engagement
  • Provision of project management, implementation or monitoring support and guidance

Site visits also provide an in-depth understanding of the challenges facing our project partners — sometimes in unforgiving natural, socioeconomic or political environments — and the realities of implementing a carbon project on the ground vs on paper. Everything can be laid out nicely and on time in project design documents and work plans … until the only project access road is flooded out and takes three weeks to repair.

Carbon sampling plans are developed following registry methodologies, but then the project’s unique landscape requires methods to be adapted to meet the local context and might delay the first credit issuance.

Opportunities arise as well — such as when our hands-on project partners fully re-imagined their improved biomass cookstove supply chain after soliciting community feedback and testing of cookstove designs. Instead of ordering cookstoves from China, the team decided to transform an old tobacco storage facility into a local cookstove manufacturing center, hiring local staff, directly overseeing design quality, and shortening their distribution time to communities.

We visited the new cookstove manufacturing facility in Malawi to assess function, supply chain risk, and distribution operations, thus aligning with community members’ expectations and carbon credit delivery was on schedule.

Final cookstove design developed in consultation with community member input.

Our Monitoring & Engagement team conducts project site visits to evaluate project performance and impact — they help us stay accountable to our customers, and deliver the highest-quality carbon credits. But we also go to lengths to meet our partners where they are, on the ground, strengthening partner relationships and building connections that no amount of virtual screen time can replace.

Megan Bomba, Catona Carbon Monitoring & Engagement Director, working with a potential partner to learn how they track and monitor their carbon project.

Tracy Bain photo

Tracy Bain

Tracy Bain is Catona Climate's Vice President of Carbon Program Monitoring & Engagement. With deep field experience, Tracy leads our project monitoring and has previously held roles at IFAW, WCN, and the Packard Foundation.

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