A serious challenge facing developing countries today is reducing poverty and protecting natural resources whilst also meeting the market demand for natural products. These conflicting needs were addressed by the small scale sink projects under the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) of the Kyoto Protocol. Experience shows that most of the pilot projects have fallen short of success.Small scale afforestation and reforestation projects under CDM can provide a much needed contribution to livelihood strategies amongst poor rural communities. The low-income communities engaged in small-scale CDM projects considered in this paper are those with some form of secure land titles and communal organisation.Studies have highlighted alternative options that are more likely to deliver benefits, that are truer to UNFCCC goals and that are attractive to emerging markets. These types of projects, such as multi-species community-based reforestation or agroforestry, imply higher costs and risk with stakeholders but by integrating them with other rural development projects it is possible to make sink projects a success.It is argued that it pays to address social issues from project conception and to ensure participation of local communities as project developers and managers. Other points of importance in adapting sink projects to realities encountered in the local context include:ensuring stakeholder participationcapitalising on links with other rural development strategiescreating flexible and adaptive project designs.The authors conclude that careful attention to local realities and needs within the project design can make all the difference in ensuring a sustainable lifespan of the project.