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Reducing deforestation emissions in Cameroon demands variety of expertise

Private sector and civil society required to bridge the gap in forest governance.
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While Cameroon has started to make positive changes to forest management policies, leadership and coordination of state institutions is lacking. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

While Cameroon has started to make positive changes to forest management policies, leadership and coordination of state institutions is lacking. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

Cameroon - As the world grapples with implementing a U.N.-backed scheme aimed at slowing forest loss and degradation (REDD+), new research from Cameroon shows that the complexity of the scheme demands expertise from a variety of players within and outside government.

“The variety of aspects covered by REDD+ means the Ministry of Environment can no longer be expected to lead the way on its own,” says Denis Sonwa, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of REDD+ policy strategy in Cameroon: Actors, institutions and governance.

“It is critical that the state reinvent itself as a learning organization that takes advantage of the expertise offered by other actors in global networks so that it can perform the required leadership and coordination role in designing a national REDD+ strategy.”

Although the level of deforestation in the world’s second-largest tropical forest remains relatively low compared to similar regions in Asia and Latin America, a recent study revealed that the annual rates of gross deforestation in the Congo Basin have doubled since 1990. The region has therefore become a primary target of international assistance to slow the rate of forest loss.

The global REDD+ scheme — part of efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change — seeks to pay heavily-forested developing countries to keep trees standing. That’s because, packed with carbon, they release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when cut or burned than airplanes, cars, trucks and ferries combined.

With billions of dollars already pledged to the effort, forest-rich countries are scrambling to offer credible policies and structures to manage REDD+ programs.

This issue will be one of the topics of discussion at the two-day conference Sustainable forest management in Central Africa: Yesterday, today and tomorrow Yaounde, Cameroon. 22-23 May, 2013.

For CIFOR’s special feature on Central Africa’s forests, visit blog.cifor.org/yaounde

But while Cameroon has started to make positive changes to forest management policies, the capacity of its state institutions in delivering the leadership and coordination required for implementing a national REDD+ strategy is yet to be proven.

The study promotes the idea of “governance beyond government.”

“There is great diversity in the understanding and approach that various organizations in Cameroon take towards forest management and social justice issues. For instance, research shows some local NGOs have better expertise when it comes to the social consequences of forest policy,” said Olufunso Somorin, CIFOR scientist and co-author of the paper.

Building on existing institutions

Cameroon, however, does have the advantage of having multi-actor forums with vast experience in forest management that could support successful REDD+ implementation, the authors note.

For example, a long-established “consultation circle” between government ministries and international donors and organisations has been successful in tackling sustainability challenges, such as entry in the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Action Plan of the EU, which seeks to ensure that exported timber comes from verifiable,  legal sources. And civil society has long been defending local communities’ claims to manage their own forests and to share in revenue from forestry taxes.

The prominent question, the study said, will be how the country can build on these existing institutional arrangements.

The variety of aspects covered by REDD+ means Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment can no longer be expected to lead the way on its own.

Local stakeholders have started to answer that question.

An informal platform is developing to lay the ground rules of REDD+ governance. It is hoped that this will help address concerns that local communities in Cameroon are insufficiently involved in REDD+ project design and implementation.

Yet many challenges remain.

One key issue is the role of the government. Relations between the Ministry of Environment and Nature Conservation (which is, in effect, overseeing the country’s REDD+ process), and the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (the main custodian of the country’s forests) are challenging the scheme’s progress, said Sonwa.

“Their interaction is challenged by leadership issues related to managing the overall coordination of the national REDD+ strategy,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Minister of Planning, the agricultural industry and timber companies, too, need to get more engaged.

“We are talking about curbing deforestation and selling progress to the international community, and they are yet to see how they would fit into this,” Sonwa said.

Yet he suspects private investors will find their place when talks shift to deciding who owns emission credits.

“There is a need for a clear vision and understanding of what the opportunities and constraints of REDD+ are when it comes to sustainable development, enhanced forest management and the possible role that the private sector and civil society can play.”

Successful efforts to bridge these gaps could mean a lot to Cameroon, Sonwa says.

“And, as an enforceable mechanism, REDD+ can help push insufficient efforts to combat deforestation in Cameroon.”

For more information about the issues discussed in this article, contact Olufunso Somorin at o.somorin@cgiar.org

This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and is supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), The African Development Bank (AfDB), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

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