Testing ‘digital collectibles’ to incentivise community-led conservation in the Carpathians

Posted on April, 13 2021

WWF Panda Labs and Carbonbase develop NFT ‘egg’ to test fundraising using blockchain technology in Romania.
Panda Labs is WWF’s decentralised innovation lab; creating a space for teams to explore and test new ideas, partnerships and fundraising models, to co-create innovative solutions that solve top conservation problems. Panda Labs Romania and CarbonBase are kick starting Project Ark -- an experimental approach to fundraise for community-led conservation, using “digital collectibles” and making possible “collective governance” through digital assets.

CarbonBase is a tech startup working with blockchain technology to link impactful carbon offsetting projects on the ground with individuals and businesses that want to tackle climate change. On their platform, participants can invest in carbon offsetting projects earning rewards on the journey to carbon neutrality.

With Project Ark, we are exploring new paths in nature conservation and blockchain ecosystems, trying to find answers to questions such as: how might a conservation program be structured so that we can effectively incentivize and empower local and indigenous communities to solve challenges related to biodiversity loss? What sort of incentive models and types can help to encourage and empower such community-led conservation? Is a more direct global participation in community-based conservation possible with a mix of funding and voting?

The mechanics

For this, CarbonBase is planning to put into circulation a series of “NFTs”, the so-called Non Fungible Tokens, in the form of Eggs that bear special rewards. NFTs are similar to collectable cards (e.g.: cards that people collect for games, for example) , in that they are visual, unique and indivisible. The NFTs batch that we are testing will be sold through both a fixed-price mechanism and by auction; and we are hoping to use this as an opportunity to test how we might use these in order to involve buyers, not only as direct funders of community-led projects, but also as stakeholders in work being done to preserve a certain species, habitat or landscape.

At the beginning of the project, a crowdfunding goal will be set from the beginning for which a set of 4 tiers of “eggs” will be available:
Bronze Egg (fixed price, local traditional appearance, with a wearable or collectible second NFT)
Silver Egg (fixed price, Silver Properties, with a wearable or a collectible second NFT),
Gold Egg (Price through Auction, with a unique, thematic NFT art as a second gift),
Platinum Egg (Very limited edition, sold through Auction, with top tier NFT artist’s creation as a reward).

If the purchase of the NFT Eggs through Fixed Price or Auction reaches the goal, then the  eggs will “hatch” and bring a reward, in the form of a second NFT for the Egg Holders. However, if the goal is not achieved, the Egg-Holders will only keep the Egg NFTs, without the additional reward.

The objective of the first challenge is to raise $68,000 needed to run a community conservation challenge in the wilder side of Europe - the Carpathian Mountains in Romania -- as well as to develop the digital infrastructure make the links between the global participants and the local do-ers, both in terms of tracing funds, impact and enabling participatory decision making.

This work is taking place in the broader context of WWF conservation work in the region, which is home to Europe’s largest network of virgin forests, where the highest populations of wolves and brown bears are, and where WWF has been leading an ambitious bison rewilding initiative - that has encouraged the return of the species, and which has resulted in now over 60 free roaming bison in the area. However, in order to make all of this ‘work’ - the important role of involving and empowering local communities as decision-makers about natural resources, needs to be recognized. As such, this is part of a broader program that aims to fund locals to do conservation work (rather than: making a living from overharvesting natural resources), and create a collective reward system if desired conservation impacts are achieved.

One year ago, the WWF-Romania Panda Labs team ran a pilot, hand-in-hand with local hunters and foresters, that showed that members of the local community could  be incentivized to take collective action for the “common good”, to  protect and monitor local natural resources. Between March-April 2020, during the time when wildlife were giving birth, local hunters turned into “data gatherers” instead, and spent full days with WWF experts on daily patrols with the aim of  recording wildlife tracks and signs in a phone app. Both parties gained considerable insight about wildlife movements and conflicts over food, bison populations and game species. The prize and success of the pilot was the demonstration that “collaboration is possible”, confirming that “conservationists” could share interests with locals, to keep the ecosystems wild. “We could teach tourists how to track and spot wildlife” was on many occasions the conclusion of the day, as said by locals themselves.

For those of us living and working in natural hot-spots, it is always a question of how we might best be able to  empower locals to become conservationists - this is the ideal scenario, as they are the rights holders and gatekeepers of these landscapes. If we get it right, nature would need no more ”saving” and we would become obsolete - this is success for me. Until then, we’re here to try different mechanisms, to test the most effective ways to direct the most benefits to communities on the frontlines of conservation, with the aim of incentivising and facilitating responsible use of resources until it becomes the new norm. It is possible, as there are millions of people globally who want to lend a shoulder or a buck for real impact on the ground. I see Project Ark as a transparent pipeline for motivation and impact to flow faster and with less intermediaries.

Register with your email address to follow this experiment the Project-Ark Website and keep an eye on Twitter.

If you want to keep an eye on the developments with crypto-collectables and hunters becoming data gatherers in the wild side of Europe you follow the stories from the ground on our dedicated Telegram channel.

citizen science acitvity with hunters in Romania
Wildlife Credits Romania 2020 pilot
© ©WWF Romania
Wildlife Credits Pilot 2020 Romania
Wildlife Credits Pilot 2020 Romania
© @WWF Romania
Wildlife Credits Romania 2020 pilot
Wildlife Credits Romania 2020 pilot
© @WWF Romania