Frequently Asked Questions

Curious about agroforestry? Questions about carbon credits? Check out our FAQ for a quick answer to questions concerning these topics and more.

General questions

What are carbon credits?

Whenever a company wants to reduce its CO2 impact, it will first do so by reducing its emissions. But such efforts have a limit. If a company has a target emissions level that is lower than what it can achieve through reduction measures, a company can compensate for this difference by investing in carbon credits. A carbon credit represents an amount (often 1000 kg) of compensated CO2. 

What is agroforestry?

Agroforestry is the integration of forestry into agricultural practices. This could be a coffee plantation with shade trees, a meadow where cows graze among fruit groves, or a permaculture system in which the pruning waste from shrubs and trees feeds goats, whose manure in turn becomes fertilizer. 

How does agroforestry remove CO2 from the atmosphere?

Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, release oxygen (O2) back into the atmosphere and use the carbon (C) for growth. Trees consist of roughly 50% carbon and therefore filter a significant amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

What’s the difference between carbon credits and Acorn’s carbon removal units (CRUs)?

Acorn is based on actual CO2 stored in planted trees, not on the prevention of emissions as is the case in many other programs. In addition, Acorn units are sold after the fact, when the trees have already converted CO2 into biomass. We can measure stored CO2 on a smallholder farmer’s land with the help of remote sensing technology, such as satellite imagery. Because the program emphasizes realized removal of CO2 (often referred to as ‘ex post’) and because we measure the amount removed from the atmosphere, we speak about carbon removal units rather than carbon credits. 

Why focus on smallholder farmers in developing countries? Why not large commercial farmers?

Smallholder farmers are hit hardest by climate change. Desertification, extreme rain or extreme drought and rising temperatures are all problems they face on a daily basis. Smallholder farmers also have limited access to financing and therefore cannot easily invest in their own futures or resilience. Rabobank hopes to change this by supporting these farmers, and agroforestry offers an answer. Agroforestry means healthier soil, better yields, and diversification of both nutrients and income. Planting trees, however, requires a relatively large investment. Through Acorn, Rabobank aims to facilitate such investments. 

How do farmers stay committed to the Acorn program in the long term?

As long as a tree grows, the farmer will receive CRUs for the carbon that tree sequesters. Once a tree stops growing, the farmer will continue to harvest food from that tree (e.g. nuts, fruits) and benefit from its protection of crops (e.g. shade, wind cover). The switch to agroforestry and intercropping practices will outweigh any short-term benefits of cutting the trees down for firewood or returning to monocropping. 

What happens to the CRUs if a farm’s trees are destroyed (e.g. by a forest fire or logging)?

Acorn maintains a buffer pool of carbon removal units (CRUs) for replacement in case of certain calamities. This means that a percentage of the CRUs generated are not sold, but are added to the buffer pool. The buffer pool is intended to mitigate risks; If certain calamities occur (for example a fire), we can replace the CRU’s that are affected with CRU’s from the buffer pool – up to the point that the number of CRU’s in the buffer pool allows for this. 

What prevents farmers from returning to conventional farming?

Agroforestry has many advantages for farmers, especially when working on a small scale: additional revenue, higher crop yields and resilience, better water management, richer soils, and more. Farmers who make the transition to agroforestry through Rabobank’s Acorn program are not likely to leave such benefits behind. Farmers who would not benefit from agroforestry would not qualify for the Acorn program. 

What is Rabobank’s target carbon removal per year?

Through Acorn, Rabobank aims to store 100 megatons of CO2 per year, or the equivalent of 4 billion trees. To plant these trees 6.5 meters apart from each other, you need about 15 million hectares (ha) of land. Given that smallholder farmers average about 1 ha per farm, 15 million smallholder farmers are needed to reach this target. This is more or less equivalent to 25% of Kenya, or 22 million football pitches. 

Carbon Removal Units

What are the characteristics of Acorn CRUs?

Each and every Acorn CRU you buy: 

  • Represents one tonne of CO2; 

  • Is certified by Plan Vivo; 

  • Denotes removal offsets (not avoidance, reduction or allowance credits); 

  • Is ex-post—the carbon is sequestered before the CRU is generated, not a promise for the future; 

  • Provides a nature-based solution—we use agroforestry methods rather than technological solutions like direct air capture; 

  • Is derived from projects that exclusively cover smallholder farmers (<10 ha) in developing countries; 

  • Is transparent, measured with remote sensing and traceable —we show when, where and by whom the carbon is sequestered, all the way down to the individual plot and farmer level; 

  • Features a durability period of 20 years—this is the period during which the CO2 represented by a CRU is expected to remain removed from the atmosphere or sequestered in the buffer pool; 

  • Is backed by a buffer pool put in place as insurance for reversal events; 

  • Guarantees 80-90% of the sale price flows directly back to the smallholder farmer; 

  • Contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 17.

  • Has a minimum price of EUR 20;

  • As CRU prices fluctuate, we can only provide an indication of our recent transaction price of €31 (updated 1-12-2022). No rights can be derived from this information.

Acorn CRU additional information

Every Acorn CRU represents one metric tonne CO2, which is intended to be:

  • Net of any leakage,

  • Removed from the atmosphere as a result of the biomass growth in agroforestry projects,

  • Additional to any GHG reduction that would occur in the base of the projects

  • Stored or otherwise sequestered during the durability period.

The durability period is the period during which the CO2 represented by a CRU is expected to remain removed from the atmosphere or sequestered in the buffer pool. For our CRUs this currently is monitored for 20 years since its creation.

To support durability, we have created a buffer pool by setting aside 15% of the CRUs issued. In case of unexpected, premature release of carbon stock (e.g. through forest fires or illegal logging), CRUs are replaced from the buffer pool (which is not unlimited). These replacement CRUs are referred to as buffer pool CRUs. The buffer pool is managed by Rabobank with third-party oversight from the Plan Vivo Foundation. For avoidance of doubt, Acorn’s reversal obligation is capped to the CRUs available in the buffer pool.

CRUs are calculated following the Acorn methodology. CRUs are based on the values of above ground biomass in a certain plot, derived from satellite images and ground truth data using predictive machine learning models.

To generate CRUs we use machine learning carbon models to measure the above ground biomass. The carbon models are developed from a combination of sample plot ground truth measurements and satellite imagery for a specific ecoregion. The models make an estimate of the total biomass of a certain plot. Data from sample plots is used to calibrate the models. The minimum accuracy of the models is 70% and is compensated for with an uncertainty adjustment factor. All models are independently validated by EY and Rabobank.

For a full description of our process and all details of the models and formulas used, have a look at the Acorn framework and methodology. Both are publicly available on our website and both have been under public consultation.

The Acorn Framework describes our approach and the Plan Vivo certification process and requirements for every Acorn CRU.

The Acorn Methodology describes the processes involved when measuring and calculating carbon removal units. The Methodology has been externally assessed and approved by two accredited validation and verification bodies: SCS Global Services and AENOR.

Buyers have a committed science based target (SBTi) aligned to limiting a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees and/or a written strategy in place to reduce its GHG emissions and/or a proven GHG reduction (publicly available or available to Rabobank) and purchases Acorn CRUs to compensate unavoidable GHG emissions from its activities.

What are the eligibility criteria for buying Acorn CRUs?

We believe in our mission and commit ourselves to empowering smallholder farmers and fighting climate change. That also means that we want the organizations who buy our credits to make a real effort, and not just buy a few carbon credits and tick a box. At least one of the following measures should be in place to be eligible to purchase Acorn CRUs: 

  • A committed science-based target (SBTi) aligned to limiting a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees;  

  • A written strategy in place to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions (publicly available or available to Rabobank);  

  • Proven greenhouse gas reduction (publicly available or available to Rabobank).  

Rabobank/Acorn reserves the right to refrain from or discontinue contracting with individual organizations that do not (continue to) meet sustainability requirements. 

Furthermore, all buyers need to comply with the Rabobank Sustainability Statement. For organizations without a current relationship with Rabobank, a customer due diligence check, in accordance with Rabobank’s due diligence standards will be part of any purchase process. 

What’s the difference between carbon credits and Acorn’s carbon removal units (CRUs)?

Acorn is based on actual CO2 stored in planted trees, not on the prevention of emissions as is the case in many other programs. In addition, Acorn units are sold after the fact, when the trees have already converted CO2 into biomass. We can measure stored CO2 on a smallholder farmer’s land with the help of remote sensing technology, such as satellite imagery. Because the program emphasizes realized removal of CO2 (often referred to as ‘ex post’) and because we measure the amount removed from the atmosphere, we speak about carbon removal units rather than carbon credits. 

Who is buying Acorn’s carbon removal units? Is this information public?

Corporations that buy carbon removal units (CRUs) from Acorn strongly believe in what we are doing and are willing to pay for the high-quality and unique CRUs we provide. All transactions are visible in our registry.

Can I verify the actual existence of the trees that the carbon removal units (CRUs) are based on?

One of the reasons why Rabobank is developing the Acorn program is to offer a more traceable alternative to existing carbon credit schemes. Every year, we use satellite imagery to monitor the trees from the Acorn program and their growth. As the program develops, it is our goal to publish this information (e.g. satellite images, participating farmers) so that anyone can verify the origin and credibility of our CRUs. 

Project coordinators

What conditions need to be met to be eligible to work with Acorn?

There are serveral conditions that need to be met. For a more elaborate checklist please consult the Acorn Framework

  • Your project includes new agroforestry or existing agroforestry with a maximum of 5 years since trees were planted    

  • Potential scale of the project is 2.000+ ha

  • Presence of legal right to sell Carbon Removal Units (no restricting governmental policy) 

  • No deforestation took place in the project area in the last 5 years    

  • No carbon credits are being sold or have been previously sold by farmers 

  • The size cultivated per farmer between 0.1 and 10 hectares  

  • There is local engagement and organizational capacity to undertake the project for a minimum of 20 years   

  • Farmers have proof of formal or informal land tenure  

Does Acorn provide financing?

Acorn does not provide direct financing to start agroforestry projects. However, Acorn has dedicated staff available to support with the development of the Business Case. Our staff actively searches for funding sources and connects them with our local partners to finance start-up costs of their projects. 

How much is the cost for project coordinators to participate in Acorn?

The main costs for the project coordinator purely consist of resources to onboard the organization and the project (e.g. providing the information) data collection and monitoring. These costs strongly depend on what is already in place in terms of information and digitization. Most costs are related however to the implementation of the Agroforestry design. The Acorn team is happy to support in the development of a business case for both the project coordinator and the farmer to ensure it makes sense for all parties involved to be part of the collaboration. 

Can the project coordinator/farmer quit with Acorn easily? What happens if they quit?

A farmer can stop their participation in Acorn anytime, making use of the grievance mechanism. It is the Project coordinator's responsibility to ensure that the farmer understands their voluntary participation in the program and the grievance mechanism. Project coordinators may also decide to end the collaboration each year, although the CRUs generated will still be monitored by Acorn.

Does Acorn offer a sales guarantee for the CRUs?

Acorn does not offer a sales guarantee for the CRUs that are generated. However, Acorn does not foresee any issues on the demand side and the project coordinator will be entitled with a payment once the biomass growth reaches the required quantity.

Why can a project coordinator only keep 10% from the CRU sale?

It is Acorn’s philosophy that as much of the revenue needs to flow back to the farmer. We work with partners who have the best interest of the farmer in mind, and already have built a relationship with them. This means that the basic investments should already be made by the project coordinator, leaving the 10% of CRU revenue as additional income the project coordinator can use to cover the additional costs associated with Acorn.

Why does Acorn work with Plan Vivo?

Plan Vivo is internationally recognised as the leading organization for community land-use projects and is highly experienced in working with smallholder (agroforestry) projects. Certification under Plan Vivo demonstrates that a project is sustainable over the long-term, truly benefits people's livelihoods and provides vital climate and environmental benefits.

Methodology

Why does Acorn work with Plan Vivo?

Plan Vivo is internationally recognised as the leading organization for community land-use projects and is highly experienced in working with smallholder (agroforestry) projects. Certification under Plan Vivo demonstrates that a project is sustainable over the long-term, truly benefits people's livelihoods and provides vital climate and environmental benefits.

Does Acorn also measure soil organic carbon?

At Acorn, carbon sequestration is calculated by measuring aboveground biomass (AGB). This value is multiplied by a factor to include belowground biomass (BGB). Together, AGB and BGB represent approximately two-thirds of the sequestered biomass, and soil roughly represents one-third of the carbon sequestration potential. The latter is not included in Acorn’s calculations for conservativeness, but it may be included in future versions of the methodology.

Do cash crops count towards delta in biomass?

Acorn accounts for the additional CO2 sequestered due to the start of the agroforestry system. This means that if the agroforestry system was initiated on degraded land, the complete system will be included. If a transition is made from monocrop to agroforestry, the biomass of the newly planted trees is taken into consideration. Cash crops count towards delta in biomass but they are not included in CRU calculations.

How small can the plots be? Can you still work with small plots if there are many farmers?

Plots must have a minimum of 0.1 hectares and a maximum of 10 hectares to be eligible for the Acorn program. 

Agroforestry design

Who can assist with a sound agroforestry design?

To ensure a suitable AF design in the local context, we stimulate the development of an agroforestry design together with local experts. Rabobank is not the AF expert, but we do work with external parties to cross-check the suitability of the AF design in the local context.

How many trees per ha need to be planted?

This decision is not up to Rabobank to decide, as we consider important to ensure that the Agroforestry Design is developed locally, using local expertise and adapted to the characteristics of each plot. However, the Business Case is checked beforehand based on input from external parties to validate.

Project partners

gizrenatureOne acre fundSolidaridadFarmstrongkaderes

Buyers

microsoftSC logoBainDLL logoFalcon Coffee

Strategic partners

maastricht universityPlan vivothird millenum allianceWUR

Remote sensing partners

52impactspace4goodsatelligenceagerpoint logo

Project partners

logo wetpaveda logocomacofarm Africatrees 4 Kenya

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