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In the shade-grown coffee trees of Indonesia's rainforest, a wild civet cat called the luwak is said to use its long fox-like nose to sniff out only the best-tasting red berries.

Coffee connoisseurs say the seeds of these berries, or coffee beans, taste even better after they've been through the luwak's digestive system. Luwak stomach acids and enzymes that work on these beans create a highly prized aromatic, bitterless cup of coffee. Some New Yorkers will pay $30 for it. A pound of luwak coffee can fetch as much as $160.

But perhaps a more enticing reason for encouraging Indonesian farmers to produce coffee from cat scat is because it may be on the menu for reducing the world's levels of greenhouse gases.

Northern Arizona University Ecological Economics Professor Yeon-Su Kim with the School of Forestry said the link is community forests. She said providing communities with incentives to protect rainforests could slow the destruction of these important carbon-storing ecosystems.

"Products that come from rainforests include coffee, cacao and bananas. But, because it is more lucrative to harvest timber and grow crops like oil palms and tobacco plants, large swaths of rainforests are being cleared and burned as people encroach upon the land."

ABSORBING CARBON

Kim said trees in tropical forests absorb 50 percent more carbon per hectare than trees outside the tropics. And these forests are disappearing at the highest rate, about 11 million hectares each year.

Indonesia is the world's third largest tropical forest country and it contains half of the world's tropical peatlands. These wet, deep layers of organic matter have accumulated for thousands of years and hold a lot of carbon. Some go as deep as 11 meters.

"Indonesia's peatland holds 132 gigatons of carbon dioxide, a little less than the largest rainforest, the Amazon," she said. "As Indonesia's peatland is being destroyed, there is a massive carbon release."

So much so, that through the destruction of forests and peatlands, Indonesia has become the third largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It's only behind the United States and China, where greenhouse gas emissions are tied to economic development from vehicles and industry.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES

Kim is studying how economic incentives might keep Indonesia's rainforests intact.

"We have a way of helping local communities while slowing the process of global warming," Kim said.

The United Nations REDD program has set up a system to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries by allowing developed nations to purchase carbon credits and decrease their greenhouse gas impact. Basically the U.N. is encouraging developed nations to pay developing nations to protect their forests.

For example, Norway is paying Indonesia $1 billion to put a moratorium on logging for two years.

But Kim said that's not a perfect solution.

"If we do the negotiation on that level, it could be detrimental to poor farmers," she said. "The government can lock them out of the land to create a carbon farm. So the question becomes, 'Can we make people's lives better with an ecosystem service payment?'"

Kim said she believes we can, but not through a lump sum to the people higher up. "The fee has to be structured in a way to help the people who live there."

COMMUNITY FOREST

She points to the postcard-perfect Indonesian island of Lombok. Not only is it known for pristine tropical beaches, it is also recognized internationally for its concept of a community forest whose guardians receive payment for managing the watershed for a city downstream.

"The citizens pay a little more on its water fee," Kim said. "The money goes to the people in the forest who are managing and protecting the watershed."

The city of Flagstaff is looking into a similar approach for forest restoration and fuel treatments in the city's watershed.

Kim said community forests and payment for watershed services work because they are established through a multi-stakeholder collaborative process, much like the Four Forests Restoration Initiative in northern Arizona.

"In Indonesia, the local people could get paid for protecting forests while they can collect shade-grown coffee, cacao, bananas and many other forest products, including luwak coffee beans. But they can't cut down the trees they did not plant."

FORGING PARTNERS

Kim is developing a partnership between NAU and the University of Mataram that involves teaching sustainable forestry, biodiversity and ecotourism, along with conducting climate change research. It also includes the exchange of collaborative experiences between organizations such as the Ecological Restoration Institute at NAU, the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership and Lombok's multi-stakeholder group.

Her goals include increasing the number of Indonesians pursuing higher education in the broad spectrum of sustainable forest management as well as promoting global involvement among NAU students.

"Many of today's most important forestry-related issues are truly global in scope, particularly the role of forests as potential sinks or sources of carbon," said NAU School of Forestry Executive Director Jim Allen. "That's why it is vitally important that the School of Forestry be involved in this international research. Also, by having a globally-engaged faculty, we can provide a much wider range of experiences and career opportunities for our students."

A survey of Indonesian officials states their ability to monitor changes in forest resources and develop forest management plans is hindered by a lack of funding and technical assistance. Kim said that can be changed significantly through education in regional institutions and by attracting resources and expertise.

"We can improve our lives by mitigating climate change while improving local economies and people's lives in tropical forests," Kim added.

Coffee anyone?

Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant with the Communication Station, bonniestevenspr.com.

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