On 29 November 2011, REDD-Monitor posted a critique of a watershed conservation project in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya in northeast India. The project is run by Community Forestry International in association with local communities and organisations.
Yesterday, Mark Poffenberger, the Executive Director of CFI, sent a response. It is posted in full here. On its website, CFI has a film about the project, made in 2005, when CFI’s project started: “Sacred Forests of Meghalaya: Wisdom from the Mother’s Hearth”. REDD-Monitor looks forward to further discussion about this project (and similar projects in other parts of the world).
CFI is a small non-profit that has been supporting efforts to strengthen community forest governance and tenure security in northeast India since 2003. Much of the hill forests in the region are under community control supported through the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of the Government of India. Forests have been under considerable pressure for over a century resulting in degradation and deforestation. In 2005, CFI was asked by the indigenous government in Hima Mawphlang in Meghalaya to assist the communities to improve forest management and facilitate restoration. Community members participated in hamlet council discussions (durbar) to identify drivers of deforestation as well as actions they could take to mitigate the impact and ensure forest regrowth. CFI agreed to provide support for this effort in recognition for the important environmental services they were providing. Over the next four years, the forests in the project area regenerated rapidly as the community controlled ground fires, adopted fuel efficient stoves, and shifted over to higher value stall fed livestock. The success in the early pilot activities generated requests from neighboring indigenous governments (hima) to extend the project to their areas. Over the last year, 9 hima have joined together to form a Federation to manage and restore their community forests. In order to provide financial support for meetings, mapping of their forests, developing watershed management plans, and implementing fire control and assisted natural regeneration, the Federation is now considering the formulation of a REDD type project that might allow them to generate income from carbon credits. Whether the 9 hima and the 60 odd hamlets ultimately move forward with the project will depend on the outcome of ongoing consultation through village durbar meetings. Federation representatives and the Bethany Society (a local NGO) are assisting communities by providing technical and financial support to allow them to assess local forest conditions and develop resource management plans.
During Federation meetings hima and village representatives have expressed a strong desire to conserve and protect their sacred forests as well as to restore degraded community lands. CFI believes that they should have the option to participate in REDD+ programs if they so desire. The current project may seek certification under Plan Vivo, if the Federation decides to move forward with the project. The Plan Vivo system was selected because it is NOT carbon centric and values all environmental and socio-economic benefits emerging from community forestry efforts. It is not subject to the constraints imposed by other REDD+ frameworks. Under this project, all revenues from carbon sales would be channeled to the participating communities. The project would be administered by the community forestry federation and they would be responsible for establishing utilization rules and developing mitigation activities that they find appropriate. As such, this would be one of the first REDD+ Type projects to be entirely controlled and operated by indigenous communities.
This project has no connection to the World Bank, the Forest Carbon Facility, the Carbon Finance Unit, or any UN sponsored REDD initiative. It has been endorsed by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council and the Meghalaya State Government.
The project support team is assisting the federation to determine current forest cover and rates of change based on satellite images donated by the French Foundation – Planet Action, as well as through forest inventories conducted by community members. This data is still being analyzed consequently it is premature to estimate at present the amount of carbon credits the project might generate or their value. It is also important to note that any payment for carbon storage or sequestration is a relatively minor aspect of this project. What is significant from CFI’s perspective is that this is one of the first cases where indigenous institutions in the northeast have united to develop a landscape level approach to forest management and a proactive initiative to restore their forests, rivers, watersheds, improve agricultural techniques and improve their livelihoods. The Khasi’s communities are expressing concern over deforestation and a commitment to improving the situation with or without REDD+. To prematurely discredit this effort is a disservice to the participating Khasi communities, local NGOs, and participating local governments and reflects a lack of understanding regarding the innovative processes underway. It also underestimates the sophistication of the Khasi people who are making their own decisions regarding whether REDD+ mechanisms are helpful in their forest conservation efforts or not.
Many of us share concerns about the viability of REDD+ initiatives including CFI that has worked on several community-based REDD+ projects over the past five years. CFI believes that if REDD+ does not directly respond to the needs and rights of forest dependent communities, it will fail to achieve its goals.
At the present time there are literally tens of thousands of “experts” flying to meetings and blogging about the positive and negative aspects of REDD+. At the same time, there are few examples and little funding for grassroots REDD+ type initiatives. It is unfair and counter productive to prematurely judge the outcome of sincere efforts to address complex problems that require site specific trial and effort learning processes. Our request is to allow forest-dependent communities all over the world some time and space to explore whether some form of REDD+ might be helpful in reducing the poverty levels of some of the poorest people on the planet who are struggling to protect and restore the world’s forests. Is that too much to ask?