Communities willing to mitigate climate change — with a little help, research shows

West Kalimantan, Indonesia, May 2010   Picture ID: 20100524_Indonesia_WestKalimantan_RB001   Center for International Forestry Research

Forest-dweller in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Preliminary results from research in Indonesia shows that forest dwellers have been found to conduct efficient monitoring of the carbon stored in forests, but they should get something back from that work if it is to continue. CIFOR photo

MONTPELLIER, France — Local communities are willing and able to take part in tree-based climate change mitigation activities — provided that they receive some assistance, new research in Brazil and Indonesia shows.

In Brazil’s eastern Amazon region, researcher Émilie Coudel has been studying compliance with legislation that compels landowners to maintain 50 percent to 80 percent of natural vegetation on their property, or restore tree cover to that level if the forest has become degraded.

Large-scale farm owners tend to have difficulty complying, because they need larger pastures for activities such as cattle ranching. That is not the case with small-scale family farmers: Those surveyed by researchers were often unaware about the legal requirements, but they were happy to implement them once they found out, said Coudel, a scientist with the French agronomic research institute CIRAD and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“Many smallholders would like to reforest, but they say they lack the knowledge and the resources to do so,” Coudel told the recent Resilience 2014 conference in Montpellier, France.

Many smaller farms operate a fallow system and would be compliant if rotating forest regrowth on their land was taken into account, Coudel said. But she explained the law did not count such temporary tree cover toward the legal reserve, as landowners must register the boundaries of permanent forest areas, which the authorities then monitor by satellite.

“CIFOR and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are looking at agroforestry to address this issue, but there are not enough resources for that,” Coudel said. She stressed that Brazilian smallholder farmers were not calling for wholesale external assistance, but rather for “reinforcement of their own systems,” which already incorporate forest-friendly practices.

In another example, preliminary results from research in Indonesia shows that forest dwellers have been found to conduct efficient monitoring of the carbon stored in forests, but they should get something back from that work if it is to continue. Monitoring carbon is a fundamental aspect of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) programs, which link financial incentives for conservation with carbon stored in forests.

Manuel Boissière, a scientist with CIRAD and CIFOR, said that studies about data collected by members of local communities focused mostly on quality and cost. He said that locally collected data was proved sufficient to track carbon sequestration in trees — yet the sustainability of such monitoring is a challenge.

“The difficulty with REDD+ participatory monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) is that it is alien to the everyday tasks of communities. Feeding a national database in the hope of claiming global carbon credits does not have the visible outcomes of other types of monitoring,” he said in Montpellier.

Beyond direct, short-term incentives such as the provision of paid jobs for those local communities that engage in carbon monitoring, Boissière said ongoing research suggests that participatory MRV could have greater success in areas where forests are already under community management.

Local communities’ rights to manage their own forests “would be strengthened if MRV data showed that it had achieved results in terms of carbon storage,” he explained.

Boissière hopes that more detailed results on his researched into such scenarios to be published later this year will feed into policymaking in Indonesia, where the new REDD+ national agency is working on strategies for MRV implementation.

For more information about the topics in this article, please contact Manuel Boissière at m.boissiere@cgiar.org.