Will REDD+ marginalize the poor? Forest dwellers may not benefit from strong tenure systems

LONDON, United Kingdom (13 July, 2011)_Forest dwellers may not necessarily benefit from living in areas where enforcement of forest ownership is strong, due to the difficulties in accessing valuable forest products.
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The dayak people of Senturan depend on forest products for their livelihoods. Photo by Douglas Sheil/CIFOR

LONDON, United Kingdom (13 July, 2011)_Forest dwellers may not necessarily benefit from living in areas where enforcement of forest ownership is strong, due to the difficulties in accessing valuable forest products, says the new Poverty and Environment (PEN) global study.

This will have serious implications for forest management strategies such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), where well-enforced tenure systems are perceived to be vital to ensure carbon stocks are maintained over long periods of time.

The study found that households who lacked the ability to gain access to forest products in areas where land ownership was strongly enforced were often worse off than those who lived in or around poorly enforced forests and had easier access to the important income-raising products the forests provide.

In an interview (below) at the recent PEN policy conference in London, Pam Jagger, CIFOR Associate and Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina suggests that it may be time for these long-held perceptions on tenure to change.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wotCJjCBHmg&feature=channel_video_title

Can you briefly describe your study on the PEN project?

We were looking at the tenure data that was collected during the PEN survey. We have tenure information about forests from the village level and also about where people were collecting forest products – at the household level. In our analysis we looked at the formal owners of the forests, who the de facto users are and what type of enforcement rights there are associated with the forests where people are collecting products.

What did you find about the relationship between poverty and forest tenure?

Part of the story in the data is that there are poor people who are marginalized in some way and it may be they are having difficulty negotiating access rights to places that have high levels of enforcement. Either they don’t have the social capital to get into those systems or they don’t have the friends in the right places to be able to leverage – particularly the high value income sources – from places with higher levels of enforcement.

So it’s potentially a story of marginalization of the poor. The looser or lower enforced tenure systems are simply easier for people to get into because there is no barrier to access that they need to negotiate. But this is something that needs to be much more carefully teased out of the data.

What could the findings say about tenure reform?

I think there is tendency in the tenure world to want to push for strong clarity and strong enforcement and those are qualities of tenure systems that are perceived as being good. There are good theoretical reasons to think this and also a strong empirical basis to think that might be the case.

There is a lot of information that shows stronger enforcement is favorable for forest conservation and sustainable forest management. I think what we’re able to show, is there is perhaps not a win-win with that type of tenure reform in all contexts. In some places there probably is, but in other places there may not be. There may be situations where poor and very poor households stand to lose out quite a bit by more formalized or more strictly enforced tenure systems.

Could this have any impact on REDD+ policy?

The REDD debate, in my perception has been heavily focused on advocacy oriented arguments for stronger more secure rights for people. Higher level of enforcement seems to be an obvious necessity; at least in some cases if we want to ensure carbon stocks are maintained over long periods of time.

But in some of these systems, because there is lower levels of enforcement, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may be that these systems are working quite well in the local context that they are situated in. We need to learn more about the opportunities for the poor to benefit from forests, that are under these tenure systems that don’t fall under the appropriate box that we expect them to, and learn from that as we move forward with REDD.

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  • Peter Dart

    Not stated is whether the systems with less enforcement are degrading more than those with more tenure. Surely the situation will depend on the cultures/countries involved. The situation in India is rather different to the Congo and China. How was relative poverty used to stratisfy behaviours in the two situations, not an easy thing to manage. What

  • Peter Dart

    I was cut off midstream by my computer internet vagaries. i was about to ask what are the relative areas/populations involved in the two contrasting tenure states in the study?