Bruno Vander Velde
Media Liaison & Outreach Manager
Center for International Forestry Research
Cell: +62 811 8006 150
Yaounde, Cameroon (22 April 2008) - Experts from forestry institutions say that to ensure equity in the implementation of a new plan to reduce deforestation, it is essential to clarify land rights in and around forests.
The scientists warn that the plan might aggravate deforestation and poverty if forest communities are left out of negotiations and lack rights to forest land.
The plan, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, consists of developed nations compensating developing countries for conserving their tropical forests. Scientists have shown that deforestation and degradation of forests account for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
"REDD mechanisms, aimed at paying people for not converting their forest, are a promising tool to combine conservation and development", said CIFOR Regional Coordinator Cyrie Sendashonga. "But who do we pay for not converting the forest if it's not clear to whom the forest belongs? Or if land rights are not recognized? REDD policies should not result in more powerful actors seizing forest land from local communities so they can collect the profits of forest conservation."
In the Congo Basin, as in many parts of the world, traditional land rights are not recognized and community organizations often don't take part in policy discussions.
Cameroon, which contains 20 million ha of tropical forests that make up part of the biodiversity rich Congo Basin, has taken steps to clarify land rights. The Central African nation has developed new models for community forestry and recognized indigenous use and access rights in some national parks, which overlap traditional lands.
In the late 1990s, the government initiated a community forestry program that allowed forest communities to request the right to exploit timber and other forest products in their local area.
Overregulation and corruption, however, have stifled chances for these communities to reap significant benefit.
Another measure to let local communities share in the wealth of their surrounding forest resources, was the implementation of a forestry tax. Since 1994, logging companies are required to pay forestry fees to local governments.
"This money however, runs through a leaking pipe", says CIFOR's René Oyono. "Due to limited transparency, weak accountability and mismanagement, such funds rarely reach the pockets of the people for which they are intended."
According to CIFOR, these profound governance and institutional challenges jeopardize fair distribution of REDD benefits. This is likely to result not only in more poverty, but also in more deforestation since sidestepped communities have no incentive to manage the forest sustainably.
"Local communities and small-scale producers will need support if they are to access new REDD mechanisms on an equal footing with larger actors", says Oyono. "This means building capacity, creating links with local organizations and ensuring access to relevant information."
For a successful implementation of REDD, CIFOR advises to:
CIFOR also calls for moves to ensure that new climate policies do not exclude poor forest communities from their resource base.
"Forest communities make their living out of the forests and our desire to reduce forest-based carbon emissions should not negatively affect forest peoples' livelihoods", Ms Sendashonga said. "We need a balance between reducing carbon emissions and reducing poverty."
Carbon-trading plans like REDD have been high on the agenda of international climate change meetings recently and were a central topic in December at a climate conference in Bali, Indonesia.
The Congo Basin forests, making up the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon, are more affected by forest degradation than by deforestation. However, population growth and infrastructure may well increase deforestation in the region.
"Extremely rich biodiversity and extreme poverty are both striking elements of the Congo Basin landscapes", Ms Sendashonga said. "With a rapidly growing population and countries hungry for development, the challenge is to find a balance between economic growth and forest conservation. REDD potentially provides this balance, but many challenges have to be overcome for the mechanism to be effective."
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Download the paper: Do Trees Grow on Money? The implications of deforestation research for policies to promote REDD
Download the Governance Brief: Improving Decentralized Forest Management in Cameroon: Options and Opportunities from Ten Years of Experience
French version: Correctifs pour la Gestion Décentralisée des Forêts au Cameroun: Options et Opportunités de Dix Ans d'Expérience