Sustainability-focused start-up GainForest is teaming with Microsoft and the UN on a sustainability project that uses Microsoft Azure, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.
David Dao, a PhD candidate at ETH Zurich DS3Lab, came up with the idea for GainForest during the UN Climate Summit COP23 when he won hackathon aimed at accelerating innovative climate solutions. He then won a Microsoft AI for Earth grant which enabled him to set up the organisation in 2017.
GainForest is currently working with the Chilean government on an AI-based project to monitor and predict which areas are most at risk of deforestation in the Amazon and the Valdivian Rainforest in Chile.
“Having access to Microsoft’s Azure platform has been a game-changer for us,” said David Dao, founder of GainForest. “Beforehand, we didn’t physically have the computing power to analyse the vast amounts of data we generated. Now, with Azure, we can train our algorithms to predict and monitor deforestation faster than ever before.”
The initiative enables community members, like famers, to become stakeholders in plots of lands that are at risk of deforestation. They select the area and the amount they would like to invest. If after a certain amount of time the land is maintained and in good condition, GainForest gives the stakeholders a financial reward. The programme is aimed at farmers at over 80% of deforestation is caused by farmers making room for crops and cattle.
The firm uses blockchain-powered smart contracts to track the investors and their land throughout the area. These smart contracts are computerised procedures that guarantee that an agreement is followed and paid out once it has been signed. All investments and transactions are recorded and stored within the blockchain, offering security for investments.
“The United Nations’ REDD programme is discouraging deforestation by offering financial incentives and education programmes to local farmers,” said Dao. “We wanted to help the UN come up with a new way of making the distribution of their funds more performance oriented.”
In September 2019, Dao and his team will attend the UN Climate Action Summit to present GainForest and show the potential of this kind of technology in protecting the planet.