REDD+ can learn valuable lessons from community-managed forests in Latin America

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Dawn in Amazon (Neil Palmer/CIAT/CIFOR)

LIMA, Peru (27 December 2011)_Community-managed forests in Latin America could provide valuable lessons for the sustainable management of these resources, in particular under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) schemes, says a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Case studies from Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia suggest that Community Forest Management (CFM) initiatives could be integrated into REDD+ mechanisms to ensure equitable and efficient governance models and benefit sharing that achieves development and conservation objectives at a low cost.

“Community-managed forests in Latin America can offer some valuable lessons for the implementation of REDD+, with some of these achieving a ‘post-REDD+ landscape’ i.e. common property community management that has produced stable or expanding forest cover and sustainable forest-based livelihoods,” said David Bray, Professor of Earth & Environment at Florida International University (USA) and co-author of “Community Forest Management and the Emergence of Multi-Scale Governance Institutions: Lessons for REDD+ Development from Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia.”

“CFM is one proven strategy where collective action by local people can move beyond deforestation or degradation and achieve sustainable forest management.”

Across Latin America, extensive areas of forest have long been under the control of rural communities. Agrarian reforms in 20th century Mexico allowed communities to obtain forest management rights and develop community forest enterprises over a period of decades, while in Brazil and Bolivia local forest management rights were only recognized recently. Despite the challenges in adapting to the new reforms, communities in these countries are developing sound governance models that are able to support their large and ethnically diverse populations.

There is growing evidence that some types of local forest management have slowed deforestation and achieved more equitable outcomes in the distribution of forest incomes, said Bray.

“In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, for example, communities are now working on the commercial production of timber whilst conserving their forests and obtaining economic benefits from ecotourism, water-bottling and more recently, hydrological services.”

These governance models should serve as an example for REDD+ programs which face a number of critical governance challenges, says the study. In particular, REDD+ must learn to integrate multi-level governance institutions such as government authorities, local community governance regimes e.g. customary land use rights, and civil society in order to represent the interests and needs of people at the local level.

The equitable distribution of economic benefits generated by REDD+ programs will largely depend on strong governance. Given that an increasing portion of the forestland in Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia is owned, occupied by or used by rural people, forest-dependent communities should be major recipients of these benefits. Efforts to support and expand CFM as a REDD+ mechanism could strengthen rights of local community-level stakeholders and help ensure that benefits would be dispersed amongst marginalized people on rural frontiers.

“REDD+ planners may be tempted to develop programmes that only cover large areas which could seem more practical. However, they should also be attentive to the need to build from the bottom up, if possible using customary patterns of organization,” explained Peter Cronkleton, senior CIFOR scientist and co-author of the study. “Established CFM institutions could provide the key local governance mechanisms that will be crucial if REDD+ functions on the ground.”

While it is not yet clear whether CFM will be incorporated as a program component under REDD+, the study illustrates how local community level stakeholders are playing proactive roles in defending their livelihoods and ensuring that forests are placed under community control.

“REDD+ proposals show great promise for creating incentives to slow deforestation and degradation, and to maintain and expand carbon stocks in natural forests. CFM could potentially be adopted as a program component under REDD+ initiatives,” concludes the study.

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