How my NGO project failed and how the blockchain could have made it a success
Me at work in the forest
During 2008, when Satoshi was conceptualizing the idea of Bitcoin and during a time when I was much younger and far more of an idealist than I am now, I donated 1 year of my life designing and writing a reforestation project for implementation by a provincial government in the Philippines.
The project sought ways to prevent the destruction of a forest reserve and to create a plan to reforest the area degraded over two centuries through deforestation.
Without getting bogged down in too much detail, the deforestation was continuing to happen inside the reserve because the local inhabitants (who were extremely poor) were cutting down the trees to either burn them in order to make charcoal (which they would then sell) or to plant and harvest sugar cane.
The local government’s response to the inhabitants who continued with deforestation activities was to demolish their homes and destroy any crops that were found being grown inside the reserve. This was somewhat of a hit and miss measure as people continued to clear sites that were far away from the location of their homes and all the illegal crops and charcoal making sites could only effectively be identified with the use of an aircraft – which wasn't an affordable option.
It became apparent to me that the only way to stop the continuing deforestation of the reserve was to incentivize the inhabitants to stop. So I set up an NGO as a vehicle in which to carry out a new project. My idea was to create a co-operative of farmers (made up of local inhabitants who were previously making charcoal and/or clearing the land to plant sugar cane). The farmers co-op would be allocated a portion of land within the reserve, on which they would be allowed to grow a high value crop that they could sell and profit-share between them. In exchange for this, the farmers co-operative would also look after, police and re-plant the forest with tree species indigenous to the area.
After running some soil samples and researching climate and rainfall levels for that region, I came up with Macadamia nuts as the most high-value crop in which to grow (far more valuable/profitable than sugar cane or charcoal making). I even lined up a buyer for the crop; a Japanese supplier to the Meiji chocolate brand. They liked the concept of the product being Fair Trade and Organic.
So having agreed with the local government an area of land suitable for the cultivation of Macadamia nuts inside the reserve, my next task was to convince the local inhabitants that this was a good idea. There were some funds allocated for the project and a proportion of these funds would be paid to the farmers for replanting the forest until the Macadamia trees started to yield a crop (3 years). Once the Macadamia trees started producing a harvest then the subsistence payments would stop and the farmers would start to receive income from the Japanese buyer. Any evidence of new destruction or the continuation of felling trees within the reserve would result in a deduction from the subsistence payments and/or the Macadamia harvest revenue (thus incentivizing the local inhabitants to police the area themselves).
After various meetings at the town hall – everyone was in agreement over the project – Great! (or so I thought…).
To cut what could be a long story short - The was a fundamental problem - A complete lack of trust both in and by both parties. The local government did not trust the farmers co-operative to plant trees in return for subsistence payments and the farmer’s co-operative didn’t trust the local government to pay them for anything, not for the subsistence payments nor for the Macadamia they would be growing and exporting to Japan (the poor are unbanked which means they would need to receive cash disbursements – cash usually disappears once it’s been given to an ‘official’ to disburse). As I was spending my own time and money working on this project, I could only afford to work for free for a finite amount of time (1 year), so there was no way I could facilitate as an intermediary over the long term and so the project collapsed due to mistrust.
Had there been a facility in which the contract could have be executed, without the need for any one party to trust another – then this project could and probably would have gone ahead.
Had the blockchain been an option back then, then this project could have been put into a Smart Contract and onto the blockchain. An open ledger for all to see would negate the need to trust others and disbursements could be made effectively once certain conditions were met, allowing the different parties to work together for the good of the Forest Reserve.
People will only do something in order to get something in return. Survival is a selfish condition.
The experience of this project is probably one of the main factors why I decided to invest in the smart contracts platform EOS before deciding to invest in Bitcoin (usually people start with Bitcoin and then expand their investment into other Cryptos as they learn more), but for me, it was the other way around.
I could see the value of the blockchain for use in real world scenarios such as the one described above, more than I could see the value of a digital currency as a different type/method of payment (as valueable as that potential is).
Dan Larimer's philosophy of providing life, liberty and property rights for all is also far more of an appealing concept (at least it is to me) than storing value - which is all that Bitcoin is in its current form.
Although the Macadamia project wasn’t a success, there were still some benefits that came out of it. The project and its intentions inspired the beginnings of a small grass-roots restoration and re-planting program and a greater awareness in preventing the wilful destruction of the remaining forest. The local community and schools also began to get involved in tree planting programs during holidays and weekends.
Thanks for reading!