REDD+: Learning from participatory forest management

Isilda Nhantumbo's picture
Guest blog by
10 November 2011

As policymakers prepare to discuss REDD+ at UN climate talks in Durban, they should heed the lessons learned from years of experience in participatory forest management across the developing world.

The 17th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is just around the corner. How to design and deliver  REDD+ — strategies for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserving and sustainably managing forests and enhancing carbon stocks — will be high on the agenda.

It’s a significant challenge. A study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on poverty and environment indicates that forest-dependent people around the world derive about one fifth of household income from forest resources. Models for delivering REDD+ must be able to at least match those gains if it is to succeed.

Past tactics

Decision makers in Durban should strive to support and capitalise on strategies that have worked before.  Many forested developing countries have prioritised action to address deforestation without compromising development for decades. And there is much that REDD+ can learn from these past efforts to protect both forests and livelihoods — in particular, about the potential of decentralising decision making in natural resource management and devolving rights over resources to local levels.

Across the developing world, a range of tactics based on local participation and control have been used to promote sustainable forest management and generate economic benefits and social gains. These  include: decentralisation in West Africa; community-based tourism in Zimbabwe; controlled hunting areas in Botswana; conservancies in Namibia; community-based forest management throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean; the development of alternative livelihoods and enterprises based on non-timber forest products in Nepal; and payment for ecosystems services (PES) in Central and Latin America.

There is no shortage of success stories to show that such strategies can simultaneously conserve forests and boost local livelihoods. There are more than 5,300 villages engaged in community forestry in Lao PDR. Tanzania is home to about 500 community forest reserves. And in Costa Rica, communities are benefiting from more than 10,000 PES contracts.

Room for improvement

But there is room for improvement. Policymakers, researchers, communities and development partners alike acknowledge that much more success could be achieved if initiatives build stronger governance structures and receive adequate technical and financial support. For example, Mozambique and Cameroon have both enacted legislation to share revenues between state and communities as an incentive for good forest management. But, in Mozambique, only half of the more than 1,000 eligible communities have received benefits; while in Cameroon effective channelling of the resources has also proved a stumbling block.

REDD+ brings new prospects of bearing fruit in terms of reducing emissions and generating multiple benefits. Addressing past challenges and building on what has worked well will be essential.  What needs to be done better or strengthened?

  • First, development of REDD+ strategies and safeguards — which must be participatory and engage forest-dependent people and indigenous communities.
  • Second, ensuring meaningful and beneficial engagement of these people, which demands clarity on land, forests and carbon rights.
  • Third, generating benefits, equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms and biodiversity conservation.

One key point to remember is that REDD+, like any participatory forest management, requires long-term technical and financial support to change practices and institutionalise good governance in both local and national forest management. Another is that changing practices from producer’s side alone will not guarantee the necessary decrease in emissions — changing consumption patterns in both domestic urban markets and global consumer preferences is equally important. 

On 27th November, in Durban, IIED is hosting a workshop to share perspectives from government, academia, nongovernment organisations, community leaders, private sector and donors on what REDD+ can learn from participatory forest management and payment for ecosystems services. We are all learning, and sharing can help us avoid making the mistakes of past interventions, while capitalising on positive lessons already out there.

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