Cracking Code REDD: Filipino civil societies demystifying sustainable forestry

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The once spectacular primary forests of the Philippines are now a relic of a bygone era. What little primary forest does remain exists on the island of Palawan, pictured here. REDD+ may offer some hope for these forests under threat. Photo courtesy of Storm Crypt/flickr

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (23 June, 2011)_The Filipino organisation CoDe-REDD has been working with forest dwelling communities over the past few years to unravel some of the misconceptions surrounding REDD+ policies and project implementation. CoDe-REDD is pushing for the recognition of community rights in the Philippines REDD strategy, a step in the right direction to make the REDD+ process more effective, efficient and equitable for local communities.

Cristina Guerrero, Executive Director of the Non Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme in South East Asia and representative for CoDe-REDD talks to CIFOR about some of the challenges of engaging communities in the REDD+ process.

What exactly is CoDe- REDD?

CoDe-REDD Philippines is a loose network of civil societies that advocates for a pro- community, pro- conservation and pro- development REDD. To us, community empowerment, social justice and biodiversity conservation should be part of any REDD+ process. We began in 2009, when talks of REDD were just beginning in the Philippines and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to ensure the protection and rights of communities and to ensure their  livelihoods  were conserved as much as possible, so we have been engaging with the government on these issues ever since.

How is CoDe- REDD engaging communities in the REDD+ process?

We began in 2009 by organising consultations with forest dependent communities all over the Philippines and we explained to them about the concept of REDD, and consulted them on how they felt that they should be included in the process. But we were also conscious that the UNFCC process was evolving quickly, so our objective was to secure a national REDD strategy that recognised and preserved the rights of communities as well as focused on participation and transparency. We advocated and appealed to the national government to recognise the rights of communities in REDD  and our strategy, jointly prepared with the government and other civil society members, was eventually approved.

What type of reforms do governments and institutions have to make to ensure communities are included in the process of REDD?

We asked for a government mechanism to be established that would not only consult communities in the REDD process, but give them a continuous voice. REDD is constantly evolving at the national, provincial and municipal level and consultation has to happen at every step in the journey. We are also working with the government on several forest policy studies that look at the drivers of deforestation as well as assessing the impact of the Free Prior and informed Consent (FPIC) process that exists within our Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).

Has FPIC been successful in safeguarding the rights of communities?

The Philippines is one of the only country to have this policy enshrined in law, however it has not always been implemented effectively.  Also, the FPIC provisions were themselves imperfect. For example, it is unrealistic to expect communities, some covering an area of over 150,000 hectares, only 50 days to make a decision that could affect their livelihoods. You and I would take months to decide to buy a house or buy a car, so to ask communities to make potentially life changing decisions in a month and a half, is unimaginable. So when REDD comes along we need to ensure that the FPIC is the safeguard that it claims to be, and that the people who are tasked with implementing it, are behind it 100 per cent.

Is there political support for community participation in REDD?

The new commission that is implementing the IndigenousPeoples Rights Act (IPRA)  under the current president has a very strong anti-corruption stance and has placed a lot of progressive people in government, who so far, are behind this but it does not mean that it will be easy. Many of the drivers of deforestation, such as unregulated mining and large scale agriculture and swidden, are already happening; these concessions were already in place when these ministers were appointed, so they have the added problem of dealing with the problems of the previous system as well as the current challenges.

What are the risks and opportunities for communities participating in REDD?

Before REDD was broadened to include the sustainable management of forests, it was a “park type”, “no-touch zone” concept that was simply focused on protecting forests. Now REDD+ is creating opportunities for communities to design their own projects in order to safeguard and continue their livelihoods. Of course, there are choices and trade- offs but these indigenous ways of management have also been changing over time – populations have been growing, migrants have been arriving – so REDD presents an opportunity to evaluate the viability of existing indigenous livelihoods and to think about alternative.

For example, with the decrease in land available and populations getting larger, how do we increase productivity?  However, despite the opportunities there is still fear within the communities that changes will be forced upon them and that, with governments also interested in the revenues from REDD, that the benefits will be taken away from them.

How do we incentivise and motivate communities to comply to REDD?

Alot of the communities that we have worked with have prepared ancestral domain management plans that include plans for agriculture,  as well as provisions for education and healthcare services. When we did the math and found that revenues from REDD would not generate as much as revenues from mining, we realized the revenues were still considerable enough to support their ancestral domain management plans.  Communities are not always interested in being millionaires, many are happy to support schemes that allow them to continue to live on their land, to provide them with well being and a good education for their children.

How do we ensure that communities receive their share of revenues?

We are looking at different benefit sharing models and it is apparent that it is difficult to generalise across indigenous communities- some are very isolated, some are very homogeneous but many are already organised around structures with leaders.  When I worked in Bukidnon, Mindanao, communities adhered to traditional laws and customs, so I can imagine that benefit sharing will be more successful and efficient if it builds on these existing arrangements and relationships.

Also, you are dealing with people who are not used to dealing with funds, so it is important to establish funding mechanisms that can be accessed directly and used specifically for  the needs set out in the management plans e.g. funds for developing small businesses or enterprises or for building schools. I think if the plans are in place, then capacity building can ensure that they happen. It should be less about how the money is managed (not everyone is good at managing finances), but how the dreams of indigenous people are realised.

Are you optimistic that communities can benefit from REDD?

I think it will take time and it is not the ultimate solution. The development world is star struck with the concept of REDD but for me it’s about the diversification of revenue streams in which payments for environmental services; water pricing; carbon; eco tourism and income from non-timber forest products and sustainable agriculture; are all mixed  into the same pot.

We try to remind people that we need to continue investment and the up scaling of other revenue streams in order to protect existing livelihoods and subsistence. It’s a package of things that should be considered as communities adapt to and mitigate climate change.

We are also trying to show other countries that cooperating with the government can get results. We can see that progress is being made in other countries – if you look at the current draft for the national REDD strategy in Indonesia compared to what it was five months ago; it’s like night and day. The process is long but if countries are serious about REDD, then we will get there.

Visit the CoDe-REDD website.

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