How to assess what people want from REDD+

Focus groups, choice experiments and votes in villages reveal big difference in how communities wish to be rewarded for avoiding deforestation.

31 March 2014
Pilot projects including the Bolsa Floresta forest stipend scheme in Amazonas, Brazil, help to combat deforestation in Brazil (Google re-use licensed)

Pilot projects including the Bolsa Floresta forest stipend scheme in Amazonas, Brazil, help to combat deforestation in Brazil (Przykuta, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Developing countries are getting ready to implement REDD+, a UN scheme to limit climate change by providing incentives for reducing deforestation and increasing tree cover.

REDD+ also aims to provide important social and development benefits to forest countries and forest-dependent communities. But while the logic of incentives is clear, the logistics of ensuring that the benefits reach the right people are not.

This matters because more than one billion people, often from very poor communities, depend on forests for their livelihoods, such as for fuelwood or to provide land for expanding agriculture.

If national and local REDD+ programmes close off land and resource use options for such communities, and do not include equitable systems to share benefits with them, the social consequences will be very negative. 

But this will also threaten the achievement of environmental and climate mitigation objectives as new problems could arise in the future. Deforestation and forest degradation could be displaced to other areas and projects could end prematurely, reversing any forest conservation gains.

Therefore, for REDD+ programmes and projects to succeed they must understand — and address — people's concerns about how REDD+ will affect their livelihoods. They must also provide benefits in the form that these people most value.

What people want

IIED and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and research partners in five countries have been working to assess opportunities for REDD+ incentives to benefit poor, small-scale farming communities.

Our new briefing paper describes the results from three approaches we used to assess what form of rewards people most wanted and with the aim of informing the design or adjustment of REDD+ pilot projects.

The methods ranged from: choice experiment surveys with a large sample of affected households (in the Bolsa Floresta forest stipend scheme in Amazonas, Brazil), focus group discussions allowing free-ranging discussion (in the Kilosa pilot project, Tanzania and Aowin District, Ghana) and a hybrid approach that combined focus group discussions with group-based choice experiments (in REDD+ pilots in Lam Dong Province, Vietnam, Ongo Community Forest, Uganda and Bolsa Floresta, Brazil). 

All three approaches show that people's views vary greatly both between and within communities and that in some cases these differences are linked with gender and ethnicity.

Some wanted cash payments. Others favoured different forms of rewards such as farming subsidies or investments in institutions, infrastructure or social services. Some people wanted benefits to come to individuals while others preferred community-wide gains.

But context is important. Votes for increases in cash payments in the Bolsa Floresta study may have reflected a preference for direct individual benefits over more communal benefits. Votes against cash in the study of the Vietnam pilot may have had more to do with its association with participation in forest patrols. In the Ghana pilot, it was the in-migrants who mostly favoured cash as with their insecure land tenure status they couldn't be certain they would benefit from investments in community facilities.

Making it work

We can't assume that simply providing cash compensation to poor communities will be sufficient for REDD+ to be pro-poor. The form and timing of that compensation, as well as who manages it, will have a big effect on whether REDD+ projects can alleviate poverty at the same time as limiting deforestation.

Projects will also need to examine the drivers of deforestation and degradation, then design incentives that counter them. In all countries, other than Brazil, the people's need for energy (fuel wood and charcoal) was a major driver of forest loss. This suggests improved energy access can be an important component of compensation.

In most settings, people cut trees to expand agriculture, so better agricultural policies, technologies and extension services will be key to benefit sharing schemes. In the Kilosa project, Tanzania, the consensus in eight out of 12 focus groups was that agricultural support was important to reduce forest use and dependence.

But in the Uganda pilot , the farmers said there was little point in receiving fertilizer to boost farm outputs if there was not an improvement in the way they could access markets. REDD+ interventions need to be multi-faceted, going beyond land use to the whole value chain.

Our project has demonstrated the importance and the challenges of understanding the views and preferences of local people for different REDD+ designs. We have tried out a practical, low cost methodology that combines the flexibility of focus group discussions in stimulating a free-ranging exploration of options with the advantage of choice experiments that allow group members to vote individually for their preferred alternatives.

Our shared experience indicates that this hybrid approach could be useful in the scaling up and replication of REDD+ pilots and needs further exploration. The project has highlighted the need for REDD+ to be designed with the participation of local communities, and it confirms that local priorities will vary from community to community.

If REDD+ is to work for poor forest-dependent communities, their voices need to be heard in policymaking. Local evidence of what works, and what doesn't, for these communities, needs to influence decisions on the design of local and national REDD+ projects and programmes.

Maryanne Grieg-Gran is Principal Economist in IIED's Sustainable Markets Group ([email protected])

Download the briefing paper.