Building the capacity of grassroots communities is the foundation for success in REDD+

The past year between COP16 in Cancun and COP17 in Durban has seen a number of initiatives and developments at the global level in taking forward one of the key outcomes of Cancun Agreement – advancing the social and environmental safeguards related to REDD+. Entering into the fifth year of REDD+ negotiations in Durban (seventh if we consider the very first proposals in 2005), a number of fundamental issues have yet to be addressed for developing and implementing an effective REDD+ mechanism.

RECOFTC is currently implementing a REDD+ capacity building program for grassroots stakeholders, project implementers and community based organizations in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal and Viet Nam. Along the way, we’ve encountered a number of challenges that will need to be addressed under the REDD+ mechanism, or forested countries will continue to struggle to develop a widely accepted and inclusive approach for tackling deforestation.

With its complex language, full of technical terminology and acronyms, the concept of REDD+ still remains abstract for both stakeholders and grassroots communities alike. Most REDD+ concepts and terms remain highly technical and do not exist in the native languages of indigenous people and other local communities, hindering their effective participation in national REDD+ programs. According to a just-concluded rapid study conducted by RECOFTC, supported by UNEP in Asia Pacific, little effort has been made in conducting training and capacity building activities or developing materials in local languages despite the focus on awareness raising on REDD+ among service providers in the region.

On the other hand, the rapid pace at which REDD+ is unfolding and new information is being generated further complicates the capacity building scenario at all levels– from local to global. Given large volumes of published information, the key challenge is how much and what kind of information needs to be filtered out for sharing with grassroots stakeholders. Confusing, and at times contradictory, messages risk raising expectations or exacerbating misunderstandings among the stakeholders. At the same time, the  growing need for specialized knowledge and technical skills, especially related to the participatory assessment of carbon storage and monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of REDD+ implementation, risks disempowering the local forest stakeholders who have adeptly managed forests for decades in favor of the outside expertise required by REDD+.

Interactions with  grassroots stakeholders during ongoing REDD+ capacity building programs have also revealed a widespread anxiety, mainly stemming from the fear that a poorly designed and implemented REDD+ mechanism may lead to backlash against community forestry. Concerns abound that REDD+ will serve as a catalyst for the escalation of conflicts, especially between communities and government—not least of which is the fear that the State will reconsolidate forest management over previously devolved forests.

This apprehension on the part of grassroots communities is primarily based on the fact that in many situations, the land-use rights of local communities are not protected by safeguards and the communities are not engaged actively in REDD+ design and preparedness processes. Apart from the potentially negative implications this would have for local communities’ rights, livelihoods and practices, the potential recentralization of forest management through REDD+ would undermine the viability of the ‘+’ in REDD+ (sustainable management of forests, conservation, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) by marginalizing the local stakeholders who would play a crucial role in its success. The persistent ambiguity around the real costs and benefits of REDD+ to local communities, national governments, and other stakeholders further increases the risk of conflict.

A lot is therefore at stake in Durban with respect to REDD+. So far, the last few COPs have been particularly constructive in taking forward the REDD+ agenda at the global level, but it is high time for this agenda to set right the fundamentals and provide appropriate direction and resources for forested countries at the national level. Let us hope that Durban is not only able to take forward the key agreements related to REDD+ in Cancun but also goes beyond that and delivers positively in moving it forward more constructively.

This blog was contributed from Durban by Dr. Chandra Silori, Program Coordinator for RECOFTC’s Norad-funded Grassroots Capacity Building and REDD+ project. Read more about RECOFTC’s presence at Durban on our website, and check back regularly for more blogs throughout the conference. 

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