Aspiration Carbon Project Monitoring & Engagement Part 3: Project Site Visits

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.

Megan Bomba, Aspiration Carbon Monitoring & Engagement Manager, talking with a TREES technician and farmer about the use of grasses and raised beds for soil and water conservation.

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 ensure the carbon estimated in that forest is accurate. No Zoom call could ever capture this.

Rainforest Connection, TREES, and Aspiration staff met with an 84 year farmer in the Kenya agroforestry carbon project to learn how she and her family have been growing their Forest Garden.

Aspiration conducts project site visits to projects in its carbon portfolio as part of our monitoring and engagement strategy, to ensure accountability to all of our customers. 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 all project stakeholders including developers, local implementation partners, suppliers, customers, beneficiaries, technical or research teams, and government representatives.

Aspiration 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.

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 a hands-on project developer, our partner Imperative Global, supported their implementation partners to fully re-think 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 ensuring community members’ expectations were met 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 and validate project performance and impact — they help us stay accountable to our customers, and ensure that we’re delivering 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 working with a potential partner to learn how they track and monitor their carbon project.

Tracy Bain is the Senior Director, Carbon Program Monitoring & Engagement at Aspiration. With a scientific background and experience in the nonprofit, research, and philanthropy sector, she is a sustainability leader with 15+ years in the environmental and social impact space, specializing in habitat and wildlife conservation, restoration science, and more. She graduated from Ohio University with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and earned her Master’s degree in Conservation Biology from Sonoma State University.