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How can REDD reduce deforestation without addressing the causes of deforestation?

Any proposal to reduce deforestation must find a way of addressing the causes of deforestation. So if REDD is a serious attempt to reduce deforestation it must address the causes of deforestation. But a recent paper by three of CIFOR’s scientists found that causes of deforestation are not part of discussions about REDD.

The paper, titled “Governing the design of national REDD+: An analysis of the power of agency”, is written by Maria Brockhaus, Monica Di Gregorio, and Sofi Mardiah and is published in Forest Policy and Economics.

In an interview with CIFOR’s Forests News website, Monica Di Gregorio explains that,

“We found that although there is a lot of discussion about international issues with REDD+, such as who should pay for what, actors don’t talk much about national issues. State actors and powerful interests ostensibly support REDD+, but they tend to talk about it in a superficial and simplistic way, drawing on the rhetoric of it as a ‘win-win’ situation. They don’t really go into the reforms that are needed to make REDD+ happen.”

But it’s not just “state actors and powerful interests” that are avoiding discussion about the drivers of deforestation. Civil society is also not confronting the drivers of deforestation either, according to Brockhaus, Gregorio, and Mardiah, instead tending to focus on safeguards, protection of local rights, REDD “co-benefits”, how REDD+ will affect livelihoods, and participation in decision making.

The paper looks at three aspects of governance systems:

  1. the structural conditions in REDD+ policy arenas formed by institutional and policy path dependencies (the policy content);
  2. the agents operating in and constituting these arenas, their interests and their power in pursuing them; and
  3. the mechanisms these agents employ to influence the outcomes of REDD+ policy processes, such as their discursive practices.

The paper investigates how these three aspects are affecting national-level processes of REDD policy design in six countries: Brazil; Cameroon; Indonesia; Nepal; Papua New Guinea; and Vietnam. The paper asks two key questions:

  1. to what extent do policy discourses on REDD+ challenge existing business-as-usual scenarios of deforestation and call for transformational change? and
  2. what is the likely influence of the coalitions formed around these discourses? Using these questions, we assess the extent to which dominant and minority policy coalitions exercise agency and the implications for realising REDD+.

In the Abstract to the paper, the authors explain that,

The paper shows that policies both within and outside the forestry sector that support deforestation and forest degradation create path dependencies and entrenched interests that hamper policy change. In addition, most dominant policy coalitions do not challenge business-as-usual trajectories, reinforcing existing policy and political structures. No minority policy coalitions are directly tackling the root causes of deforestation and forest degradation, that is, the politico-economic conditions driving them. Instead they focus on environmental justice issues, such as calls for increased participation of indigenous people in decision-making.

Brockhaus, Gregorio, and Mardiah carried out an analysis of policy in each of the six countries and analysed print media articles about REDD between 2005 and 2010 in the three leading newspapers in each country. Between 2010 and 2012, they carried out a policy network analysis in the six countries.

The drivers of deforestation in five of the countries include agriculture (large or small scale), legal and illegal commercial logging, with cattle ranching being the main driver of deforestation in Brazil. Mining, infrastructure development and population movements and policies also have direct impacts on deforestation and degradation. Other, indirect, factors include tax and trade regimes, monetary policy and foreign debt.

In other words, addressing deforestation involves addressing cross-sectoral issues. The authors note that,

Failure to address cross-sectoral policy impacts, the political power structures reinforcing path dependencies leading to deforestation and forest degradation and the related shortcomings in implementation will undermine efforts to achieve transformational change.

When they looked at discourse coalitions in the media, the authors found that although most policy coalitions are supportive of REDD, they “do not engage with the reforms that are necessary to effect a shift towards transformational change”.

The fact that business interests often lobby behind the scenes, makes their influence difficult to see. In their paper, Brockhaus, Gregorio, and Mardiah write,

In some cases, resistance to change is institutionalised to the point that active lobbying is no longer necessary — these interests are already deeply entrenched in the state, which is reflected in political inaction and lack of policy debates on the key drivers of deforestation.

On the CIFOR website, Di Gregorio spells out the importance of the research:

“We know that to have effective REDD+ policies, you have to address the drivers of deforestation — there’ll be no emission reductions without that. It’s not enough just to set up projects, or to say ‘here’s a procedure’ and ‘here’s a mechanism.’ Implementing REDD+ means tackling some very challenging issues, but if they don’t talk about the real problem, they’re not going to be able to solve it.”


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  1. Deforestation is a function of increasing open-access regimes – aided by the state and the donor-aid business – taking over customary land which has yet to be properly protected by the state. In Zambia, ‘In 2013 USAID started a five-year community based forest management programme (CFP) in Eastern Province. The CFP Programme will pilot community based forest management (CBFM) programmes on customary lands, including game management areas and in state forest reserves. On the matter of customary lands USAID made the extraordinary statement that participating communities (or the implementing partner) will likely have to seek land titles in cooperation with traditional authorities in order to protect the participatory forest management area. This USAID project has begun what is called the Nyimba Forest Project, being implemented by CIFOR – the Centre for International Forestry Research – an organization supposedly opposed to the alienation of land under customary tenure. The objective of the project is to to give technical support to to Zambia’s National Joint Programme with UN-REDD on forest carbon measurement and monitoring and to inform the formulation of Zambia’s national REDD+ strategy. The partners in all of this planned alienation are the Forestry Department, ZAWA, COMACO and two local NGOs’. And nearby is another land grab for a REDD+ project: the alienation of 39,000 ha of Chief Unda Unda’s country lying on the northern borders of the Lower Zambezi National Park to Iqbal Alloo, who has entered into partnership with REDD+ interests. As informs us:

    The project area for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project (Rufunsa Conservancy) is privately owned by Sable Transport Ltd. A Memorandum of Understanding carbon rights agreement has been signed by Sable Transport Ltd and BioCarbon Partners Ltd, providing BCP with the right to manage, implement, and benefit from a REDD+ project in the Conservancy. There are currently no specific laws in Zambia dealing with carbon rights. However, the landowner has the rights to above and below ground biomass. Land tenure within the project zone is customary lands, which is under de facto ownership and management of local communities and the Chief. However, de jure ownership over land and trees is vested in the President of the Republic of Zambia.

    There is a massive contradiction in this statement as land that has been alienated is no longer customary land. The Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project is mounted by BioCarbon Partners ( of Lusaka on Alloo’s ‘Rufunsa Conservancy’ with the help of the Forestry Department, ZAWA, and ZEMA (who required no EIA for the project) and funded and partnered by Musika (who did not reply to my queries) – an agricultural markets NGO trained by USAID and funded by Swedish Aid (SIDA), UNDP and African Management Services Company (UNDP/AMSCO), Engineers Without Borders Canada, and Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) who have coupled with the Business Initiative Facility (DFID/BIF) – these donors essentially underwriting the landgrab.

  2. How can REDD reduce deforestation without addressing the causes of deforestation?

    Answer: they can’t. But one way to rectify that is as follows:

    Manning, I. P. A. 2012. The Landsafe Socio-Ecological Development Model for the Customary Commons
    of Zambia: Evolution and Formalization, 52 Nat. Resources J. 195.

  3. Regarding my comments made in November 2013: in my second paragraph I wrote that the Rufunsa land was alienated by Chief Unda Unda for a REDD+ project. This is not so. It was alienated in 2001 to Iqbal Alloo of Sable Transport for a game ranch. Redddeskorg had put out a confusing paper trail, which I may have at last have made sense of. Some eleven years after obtaining the land, Sable signed a 30-year conservation easement agreement with BioCarbon Partners Ltd, providing BCP with the right to manage, implement, and benefit from a REDD+ project in what is called the Rufunsa Conservancy.

    On 8 March 2013, BCP submmitted a project design document to the Climate, Community and Conservation Alliance in order to conform with their Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS, Second Edition) and the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS, Version 3.3). In June 2013, BCP received validation from CCBA, an organisation founded in 2003 by CARE, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Allience and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and three advising institutions: Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensanansa, (CAIE), The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Its mission, they declare, is ‘to stimulate and promote land management activities that credibly mitigate global climate change, improve the well-being and reduce the poverty of local communities, and conserve biodiversity’.

    I received clarification from BCP that their work on forest and carbon monitoring takes place in the conservancy, where ‘performance-based payments will be based on achieved emission reductions’, while their ‘community’ work is conducted in part of the adjoining Unda Unda customary area.

    However, the section detailing the donors and NGOs involved in the Rufunsa Project, which I thought I had downloaded from redddeskorg in the first place, is no longer there. BCP is in the process of clarifying this issue.

  4. Needless to say, the donors and NGOs had nothing to do with the original land alienation. However they – whoever it is – are now involved in an area where the former customary occupants lost their usufructs rights permanently.