When donating money to a cause, whether it is rooted in ecological conservation or elsewhere, it can be hard to feel as though your contributions led to measurable and impactful changes. GainForest eliminates these concerns by entering into a Smart Contract to fight deforestation, as donors can see the direct impact their contributions are making from the comfort of their home.

Teaming up with Microsoft and the United Nations after winning the COP23 #Hack4Climate as well as a Microsoft AI for Earth grant, Ph.D. candidate David Dao of ETH Zurich proposed the project back in 2017. Based on a decentralized app, the platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology to allow users to claim stakes on plots of land in the Amazon and Valdivian rainforests. Through the blockchain, users’ funds are passed on to local land defenders and caretakers to protect and restore their forests, hence the inclusion of Smart Contracts. The funds most often serve as an incentive for locals not to exploit or sell the plot, which is why the value of the plot increases with every passing month, provided it remains untouched. As virtual caretakers, users can track the maintenance of their plot through updated satellite imagery, helping bridge the gap between their initial transfer of funds and the impact said funds are having on the ground.

Supported by Microsoft Azure’s cloud computing services, the machine learning component of GainForest allows for continuously improved analyses of risks and gains obtained from a particular plot of land. According to Dao, cloud computing was necessary for a project of this magnitude, given the sheer amount of data necessitating analysis. By learning from a constant influx of remote sensing data, GainForest’s algorithms are trained to detect and predict changes in land use and carbon stocks with high accuracy.

Currently, GainForest is working closely with the Chilean government to facilitate the creation of these Smart Contracts, which are a secure and easy means of facilitating a financial transaction. Blockchain-based platforms have been heralded as the “future of sustainability”, and could even be a viable alternative to trophy hunting due to the monetary component. Alongside benefiting conservation as a whole, GainForest serves as a model for trees as vital infrastructure in sustainable development by providing a microcosm for their importance in the economy and society. By helping users understand and visualize the impact of their contributions towards tangibly saving rainforests, GainForest is revolutionizing the way we protect and relate to the natural world.


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Photo by Courtenay Crane