No action without awareness: REDD+, social forestry and green growth

REDD+ progress will be through policy integration and reform in the forestry, agricultural and economic development sectors and by keeping the major drivers of deforestation high on the agenda, says Moira Moeliono


Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by stopping deforestation and forest degradation while strengthening conservation (REDD+) has turned out to be more complex and difficult to implement than was originally thought.

And now the global community is discussing how to include REDD+ in the development of a ‘green’ or ‘low-emissions’ economy and how to link it effectively with ‘social’ or community-based forestry, which themselves are proving difficult to define, let alone implement.

ASEAN, REDD+, social forestry, Moira Moeliono, ASOF, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dr Moira Moeliono explaining the challenges to REDD+ and social forestry. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Dr Moira Moeliono, senior associate scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research, argues there are several reasons why progress is not being made as fast as some would like. Dr Moeliono was speaking at the Fifteenth ASEAN Seminar on Current International Issues Affecting Forestry and Forest Products: REDD+ Financing Mechanism, Sustainable Forest Management and Livelihoods, held in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 11 June 2014.

First, she said, research has shown that the type of governance regime in a country influences how inclusive will be the process of formulating policy on REDD+: whether a country is democratic or authoritarian or somewhere in between determines how involved local people can be with making decisions about land and forests upon which they depend. In particular, decentralization or recentralization of control over forests affects the level of participation in policy processes and how benefits from schemes such as REDD+ are shared.

Current governments also inherit histories of the land and people, often hundreds or thousands of years of old, which can still exert a strong influence over the present. We see this in the legal system governing ownership and rights to land in Indonesia, which is a legacy of Dutch colonial rule and post-colonial inertia and the struggles in Nepal to reform land tenure and control of forests.

In most of the cases studied, the concentration of power over forests is held firmly by governments, where the talk is ‘business as usual’. That is, the international dialogues about the role of forests in regulating the planet’s climate and the urgency to act to protect them, about the corresponding importance of local people’s rights to legally manage the forests they have been maintaining traditionally, and of the pressing need to establish a ‘low-emissions economy’ that reduces deforestation and forest degradation do not seem to have become part of governments’ commonplace deliberations.

Partly this is a result of the undue influence exerted by the private sector with its focus on financial matters. Only companies that see an opportunity of doing business through REDD+ are positively engaged, albeit as carbon traders or as part of an advisory business group surrounding the idea of REDD+. Most businesses are still operating under old models of economic development that don’t use environmental accounting as part of their costing. Not surprisingly, in these situations, analysis of national policies reveals a lack of autonomy of the state vis-à-vis business.

Underpinning all this is generally weak governance, a phenomenon that goes mostly unrecognized by political elites in the countries themselves and which is compounded by fragmented information exchange both between nations and within their own governments.

Social forestry has its own unique set of issues that helps to further marginalize local people—many of whom are typically among the poorest in a nation—who manage forests sustainably and who are intended to benefit from REDD+ accordingly.

From the dominant perspective of forest management, social forestry is not ‘managed enough’, for example, local people usually do not employ intensive plantation or large-scale timber harvesting styles of management. From a conservation perspective, however, social forestry is ‘too managed’, with too much interference with the forest ecosystem, which should be left alone with minimal, or no, human engagement.

Aggravating the possibility of any reconciliation of these two positions is the fact that social forestry systems are dynamic—constantly changing to face new challenges—which, ironically, can make them less visible and harder to define neatly for policy purposes. Migration and urbanization, impacts of climate change and the introduction of new agricultural and forestry systems are just some of the factors that force social forestry to adapt and take new forms.

Dr Moeliono said that we need to know more about how all of these factors interact in social forestry, in particular, an in-depth analysis of what already exists—what kinds of practices and legal frameworks—and how REDD+ might improve or weaken forest people’s livelihoods.

To integrate REDD+ effectively with social forestry, she argued that assumptions about forests’ role in providing livelihoods need to be revised and local contexts and what causes changes need to be better understood. From this, policies need to be implemented that address inclusive rural development, social-forestry smallholders’ ability to respond to global challenges, and the transparent and equitable dissemination of information.

Part of the way to do this is to build ‘transformational change coalitions’ that include key state and business actors to break down institutional and political barriers and make the process of land allocation and sharing of benefits more transparent and accountable, with sufficient social safeguards in place.



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This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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