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Adopting a cedar tree brings diaspora money home

Lebanon's ancient and famous cedar forests are getting help from 21st century blockchain technology. Photo: UNDP Lebanon

 In 2018 the UNDP Innovation Facility issued a Call for Proposals to promote development through the innovative use of Artificial Intelligence, big data, behavioural insights and impact financing. A record of more than 195 proposals were received, and 29 winners chosen from 35 countries. UNDP Lebanon, UNDP AltFinLab and its partners won with a proposal which will help to reinvigorate the country's ancient cedar forests.

The Syria crisis has placed a great strain on its immediate neighbour Lebanon. The country of just over six million has taken in more than a million refugees in the past seven years. Its infrastructure, public finances, and environment are suffering as a result, and Lebanon doesn't have the money to cope. According to the World Bank, in 2015 alone Lebanon lost $US5.6 billion—more than 11 percent of its GDP.

The diaspora has stepped in to help.

The estimated 10 million Lebanese who live abroad play a vital role in the country's economic health. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, they sent home US$7.9 billion in 2017.

Helping 'home' from abroad

UNDP is making it easier for the Lebanese diaspora to participate in programmes that benefit the country.

Since its launch in 2009, Live Lebanon has implemented 67 projects and raised US$4.2 million from Lebanese communities abroad. From education to environment, it has tapped into various aspects of society through development and awareness projects.

Ensa Joura, one of Live Lebanon's most successful campaigns, fixed more than 6,000 potholes reported by citizens around Lebanon and reduced the number of road accidents. Live Lebanon also launched volunteering programmes to clean beaches, seas, waterfalls, rivers, and forests, engaging more than 5,000 volunteers in a single year. Recently, it has been working on solving a protracted problem: 25 million hunting cartridges are dropped in forests every year, causing fires, damaging crops, and polluting groundwater. The team, together with the support of university students, built a separating and recycling machine to help manage used cartridges. In the coming weeks, Live Lebanon will launch a Motor Ambulance project with Lebanese Civil Defense in the hopes of reducing the number of casualties from road accidents.

Matching crypto currency with cedar trees

To strengthen and broaden such development efforts, Live Lebanon continuously explores new ideas.

Now it's expanding into alternative financing. Crowd investing will encourage more private funding and allow contributors to invest in a crypto currency called CedarCoin.

Backed by blockchain technology, CedarCoin will promote the reforestation and protection of Lebanon's ancient cedar forests, the symbol of the country.

Mentioned in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the forests were placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998.

The trees are slow growing and famously long-lived; they can survive for more than 1,000 years. They once thickly covered Lebanon's mountains, but have suffered from extreme deforestation, and only small remnants of the original vast forests survive.

Planting new cedar trees will not only rebuild the once flourishing forests but will also provide promising opportunities for the economy as well as for agriculture and health. As the cedar tree represents Lebanon, replanting these trees will symbolize investing in the growth of the country.

Rewarding environmentally conscious behaviour

One CedarCoin will be assigned to a specific tree. For each tree planted, a CedarCoin will be distributed to its investor and to the communities hosting the trees; encouraging reforestation and rewarding environmentally-conscious behaviour. CedarCoin will raise money to buy more trees and finance replanting programmes.

In future, CedarCoin owners will be able to 'adopt' a specific tree, and see its location and GPS coordinates.

CedarCoin will also be used to promote solar photovoltaic technology—allowing supporters to invest in solar panels to replace carbon-generated power. Investors will be paid in CedarCoins equal to the electricity and the income the panels generate.

Live Lebanon's mobile app, Lebanon Connect, will be expanded to enable direct contributions to crowd investing campaigns. Participants will be able to buy CedarCoins through digital wallets such as Lykke, a Swiss-based free exchange global marketplace.

For as little as US$20, Lebanese expatriates will be able to digitally connect to their home country as well as to a community of investors and public and private sector organizations, and ensure that the trees that have stood as the symbol of their country for thousands of years have a healthy future.

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Monday, 18 March 2019