A pinch of salt from Namaacha

17 December 2010

Strengthening local communities’ rights to and capacity for sustainable forest management is critical to making REDD work in developing countries.

There were no North-South Cancun-style divisions last week in Namaacha, Mozambique, when forest governance practitioners from ten countries across Africa and Asia headed to the field to learn from communities in Mozambique about what was working (or not working) with their forest management.

As a fellow colleague James Mayers recently reported, IIED's foresty team went to visit Goba, the ‘charcoal land’, for which there is no realistic short-term energy alternative. Forest lands such as those in Goba will likely be a prime target in strategies for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) that caused such fierce debate in Mexico. Yet the technicalities of REDD carbon accounting and ‘leakage’ seemed a long way away as we walked on the red Mozambique mud — far beyond the regular reach of forest authorities.

In the 9,500 hectares of community land at Goba, the forests have taken a serious hammering from timber extraction and charcoal making during and since the civil war. But new community patrols have kept the kilns of illegal charcoal producers at bay — at least for now.

As we sat in the silent sunshine of Goba, community leaders explained their successful quest for a land title, their land use zoning and sustainable management plan, their solid association and banking facilities. But they’ve had plenty of support. Theirs was the first community forest project in Mozambique, and has attracted the most investment.

A number of short term ‘hit and run’ projects provided the impetus behind the social capacity and infrastructure we saw in Goba, as we sat outside the new community enterprise centre to escape the heat from the corrugated iron roof. But as the projects have dried up, enterprise options in Goba — so far from large urban markets — have also withered and died.

Government services are conspicuously absent. Despite an excellent land law, communities have no commercial control over timber here and little access to decision making. And the legally obligatory redistribution of taxes to communities from which forest resources are extracted have never arrived. The community forest association has stalled. And without some cash incentives even the patrols may suffer, leaving deforestation unchecked.

The external visitors I came with engaged with Goba’s community sympathetically — these members of an international Forest Governance Learning Group (FGLG) have seen many similar stories. They know all too well the long painstaking work involved in assembling evidence to sway the powerful in favour of sustainable forestry and the careful personal mentoring required to get new ideas installed in government frameworks.

And they know that a lack of local control — or, more specifically, local commercial control — over forest resources provides little incentive for local communities to put long-term investments into either the forest or the businesses based on it. No businesses, no poverty reduction.

Can REDD provide an answer to this almost ubiquitous story? Can REDD funds both put commercial forest rights into community hands and provide the cash incentives and technical capacity to catalyse and sustain more intense and sustainable agriculture and forestry? Rights and capacity did not seem to be high on the agenda in Cancun discussions — nor would they be easy to achieve if they were — but without them, we need to treat the claims that REDD payments will deliver avoided deforestation with a large pinch of salt – from Namaacha.

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