ITUZAINGO (Corrientes).- Santo Domingo Project, this is how the Novartis pharmaceutical company named the initiative to capture carbon dioxide by afforestation in Argentina. In the department of Ituzaingó, Corrientes, there are 3,400 hectares that work under the Clean Development Mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This afforestation project (formerly pasture fields) aims to eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in accordance with the guidelines of Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) established by the Kyoto Protocol. According to Article 12, industrialized countries can earn credits or carbon credits by investing in green projects from developing countries, credits that are used to meet their obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is the first initiative of its kind in Argentina and the 20th in the world,” explains Heinrich Burschel, general manager of GMF Latinoamericana, a Swiss forestry company that joined Novartis in the implementation of the project.

Afforestation began in 2007 and in just two years more than three million trees were planted in 2400 hectares, which is equivalent to 70 percent of the total area. “A percentage of native species of the zone was integrated (see aside), to which exotic species like pines are added in places not suitable for broad-leaved species (native) -explains Burschel-. With time, it is expected to reach coverage of 75 percent with native species. This land has the potential to become a native forest. ”

As a first result, the carbon dioxide capture planned for the 2007-2012 period reached 100,000 tons. “It is estimated that between 2007 and 2040 it will grow to achieve between 2 and 3 million tons.” The international company First Climate is responsible for measuring the CO2 captured and the management of the CDM process.

“The native species are the most interesting for carbon capture, because the wood is much denser. The lapacho has a density that makes weigh 1200 kilos per cubic meter, while pine is in the 350 kilos range-Burschel argues. 50 percent of the weight is carbon. And in Santo Domingo it grows at the same speed as the most commercial varieties of pine, which is a very good selection for carbon capture. ”

This long-term commitment arose from a need that the pharmaceutical company undertook in 2005. “Many projects were initiated,” says Diego Ruiz, Marketing Director of Novartis, “but the one in Argentina was the one that achieved the approval of the UN, within the framework of the CDM, which is a great satisfaction for us.”

There are three principles that support the Santo Domingo Project. “First, the management of natural resources within a framework of sustainability, ensuring their conservation and maintenance, in order to guarantee a wide range of environmental and social benefits for current and future generations,” stresses Burschel about the initiative, which received the recognition of the Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Argentine Nation-. Growth, profitability and economic viability is the second point to consider. In this way we seek to maintain productivity and long-term profits. The third principle is linked to the management of the environment with social responsibility “.

On the commercial edge of the venture, Burschel argues that it is “an economic niche. There are not many native forests intact and obviously there is a high demand for a different wood. But let’s not forget that we are talking about long-term sustainability because the ecosystem is not damaged; only the annual production is taken out. It is very similar to what happens with a dairy cow -explains-. One can get as much milk as a cow can give no more than that. The same goes for trees, if things are well done. ”

Mixed species

The selection of species was based on the general possibilities of the site and its suitability for the management objectives.

NATIVES: Ybirá Pytá, Red Anchico, Black Lapacho, Missionary Cedar, Guayubira, Yellow Lapacho, Pink Lapacho, White Parrot, Black Parrot and Red Tipa.

EXOTIC: Grevillea, Elliotti Pine, Taeda Pine, Hybrid Pine.