The Holistic Conservation Programme for Forests is a REDD project in Madagascar covering a total area of 515,000 hectares. It is funded by Air France and run by WWF Madagascar, with support from Etc Terra and the GoodPlanet Foundation.
A new report by the news website Basta! and Amis de la Terre, found that the project has spent a large part of its funding on measuring carbon and monitoring the forests. The report points out that logic of this is lost on local communities whose land for agriculture and wood collection is restricted by the project. The report, titled, “REDD+ in Madagascar: You Can’t See the Wood for the Carbon” can be downloaded here (pdf file, 997 KB).
The first phase of the HCPF started in 2008 and finished at the end of 2012, with funding, to the tune of €5 million, from Air France. The second phase will include funding from the French Development Agency and the French Global Environment Facility. Air France’s contribution will be reduced to €1 million (subject to the final agreement). Generating carbon credits is one of the objectives of the second phase.
The author of the new report, Sophie Chapelle of Basta!, suggested to GoodPlanet and Etc Terra that they could accompany her to visit one or two of the project areas and meet local communities involved in the project. Etc Terra declined the request. Chapelle went ahead anyway, with a visit to a project area in south west Ifotaka, in the south of Madagascar. This area of spiny forest is part of the HCPF where a new protected area has been created.
One of the aims of the HCPF project is to stop communities from practising hatsake, or ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture. Xavier Vincke, a WWF project manager for aerial surveillance, explains his views on hatsake:
“Sacrificing a forest in order to cultivate the land for one agricultural season is like dismantling a bridge to build a house. You might improve your quality of life slightly but you cause great harm both to your fellow man and to yourself.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that hatsake is a way of acquiring land rights under customary land tenure systems. One villager told Chapelle, “I am not allowed to clear land but I do it anyway. Otherwise I would not have enough to feed my family.”
Those caught clearing forest for agriculture are fined or imprisoned.
Although the project developers have recommended alternatives to hatsake, none of the alternatives had been set up in the area that Chapelle visited. GoodPlanet and Etc Terra’s response is that they haven’t had long enough and the terrain is unforgiving:
“The HCPF has only been up and running for a couple of years and in one of Madagascar’s most unforgiving terrains (the spiny forests and the ‘Grand Sud’ de Madagascar), we hope that no one expected us to have managed to either 1) bring a complete halt to deforestation in the project’s area of operation or 2) introduce alternative agricultural techniques to the entire of the region’s households. It is quite simply impossible given the large number of households that have to be assisted in adopting sustainable practices.”
Basta! produced a video of interviews with local communities:
Villagers’ comments to Chapelle about the project reveal their frustration with WWF Madagascar and the process of setting up the protected forest:
“We are asking the WWF to show us which areas are protected and which are not, that is, where we can get firewood and wood to build our houses in order to provide for our families. But above all, these things must be discussed with all the villagers. We can’t make decisions on our own.”
“Neither the information nor the money reaches us here, everything stays with the WWF [Madagascar]. There is no compensation, only penalties to pay.”
“We protect our environment but we don’t get anything back. We have had nothing in exchange.”
“The WWF [Madagascar] has taken our forest without providing us with compensation or remuneration.”
“There is a risk of prison if I don’t want to pay. We’re frightened so we don’t touch the forest there. Even to feed our children. It’s really hard: where can we get 800,000 ariary if we are caught clearing land?”
The report is critical of the project’s focus on measuring the amount of carbon stored in the forest – as Chapelle points out, “deforestation is above all a social and economic issue”.
In January 2012, Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science and colleagues from GoodPlanet and WWF published a paper in Carbon Balance and Management presenting “the first large-scale, high-resolution estimates of aboveground carbon stocks in Madagascar”. In a statement about the research, Asner said,
“Madagascar provides an excellent example of the challenges we face in mapping carbon in most tropical regions. These results show that we can obtain verifiable carbon assessments in remote tropical regions, which will be a boon not only to science and conservation, but to potential carbon-offset programs.”
GoodPlanet and Etc Terra did not want to discuss budget details with Chapelle, and as a result we don’t know what percentage of the project’s funding went on measurement.
Chapelle concludes her report by highlighting an ethical problem raised by REDD as a carbon trading mechanism:
This kind of carbon offsetting raises an important ethical problem: rather than changing the lifestyle of the most affluent members of society, who have an historic responsibility for climate change, the burden alls to the poorest members of society who have very little scope with which to adapt. When, for example, a company offers its clients the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions by financing a project like the HCPF, it equates leisure activities (air travel for holidays, the purchase of a computer) with fundamental rights (feeding oneself using slash-and-burn agriculture to clear land).