Can REDD make Africa greener?


Written by Walter van Opzeeland

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is a payment scheme that rewards the conservation of forests to prevent emissions of green house gasses that cause climate change, but the concept is not always very well understood. “It is easy to mock REDD+”, says ICRAF’s Director General Tony Simons.

“What does the plus stand for? People? Water? Biodiversity? Landscape?’ Moreover, he jokingly observes “all stakeholders—governments, brokers, monitors and communities—expect 90% of the payments for the system, adding up to 450%, when it is not even clear how it will be financed in the first place.” Then he continued listing 15 other challenges that come with the system. He made these remarks during a keynote address at an international congress held at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi from 26 to 29 June 2012. It was the first regional conference of the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) and the Forestry Research network of sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA).

In theory REDD+ seems a simple idea: a set of steps designed to use market/financial incentives to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. It has great potential in conserving remaining forest and restoring degraded forest, its advocates claim. But during the session on ‘REDD+ and Restoration Activities in Africa’ at the conference, it became clear that in order to implement it large hurdles have to be overcome.  The list of challenges is long, ranging from setting up monitoring systems, legal and regulatory frameworks, and resolving land tenure issues to devising ways for benefit sharing.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in the details of REDD+” John A. Stanturf of the US Forest Service pointed out in his presentation: ‘The Potential for Payments for Ecosystem Services to Fund Restoration of Degraded Forest, in which he looked at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the REDD+ system. The key opportunity he sees is for the REDD+ payments to be added to a revolving fund to pay for forest restoration. He also stressed the need to focus more on customary instead of public land, because that is where a lot of deforestation and degradation is taking place.

The feasibility of REDD+ schemes in Africa was highlighted in two presentations on pilot projects. The first, a study conducted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre, looked at the role of forests in carbon storage in Burkina Faso. Presented by Anders Malmer and titled ‘Retaining and restoring West African parklands a case for REDD+?’, it concluded that maintaining tree densities in parklands contributes significantly to soil and above-ground tree biomass carbon storage. The higher levels of soil organic matter have additional benefits, such as increased water infiltration and reduced surface run-off.

A second pilot study by CIFOR on ‘Tenure and participation in local REDD+ projects: insights from southern Cameroon’ by Abdon Awono looked at how the concept could work at community forests. REDD+ is seen by locals as an opportunity to generate income and conserve forests. However, the study identified various issues relating to the implementation, such as the need to build capacity of communities to support conservation and development; be clear about community forest users’ customary rights; and develop clear benefit distribution plans.

So what to think of the potential of REDD+ in Africa? Will it play a major role in combatting deforestation? Or is it just another branch on the growing tree of Payment for Ecosystem Services? Prof  Tony Simons thinks that the market alone won’t solve the deforestation problem. He suggests that the cost for REDD+ schemes be partly paid by the market and partly by overseas direct aid. John A. Stanturf of the US Forest Service says, “You can’t solve all aggregated development problems through REDD+. We are trying to come up with a payment system to conserve and restore forests, but many more pilot projects are needed and we have to work on national REDD+ strategies to make it work.”


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Walter van Opzeeland

Walter is an independent communications consultant with almost ten years experience in writing about agricultural research for development in Africa. He worked as a global communications officer for the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) from 2003 to 2006. For the past five years he he has been working as a freelance communications and project management consultant for various international organizations and NGOs in East-Africa. Walter has a Masters in Industrial Engineering & Management and he did a postgraduate course in Journalism, both in the Netherlands.

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