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Roots of inequity in Wildlife Works’ Kasigau Corridor REDD Project

kasigau“Efficient reduction in carbon emission has … been the raison d’être of REDD+. A hotly debated issue surrounding REDD+ is how much such measures should adhere to social safeguards, address equity concerns and provide other co-benefits beyond carbon storage, such as bio-diversity conservation and poverty alleviation.”

That quotation comes from a recent paper, published in Land Use Policy by Susan Chomba (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Juliet Kariuki (University of Hohenheim, Germany), Jens Friis Lund (University of Copenhagen), and Fergus Sinclair (World Agroforestry Centre, Kenya, Bangor University, UK).

The paper is titled, “Roots of inequity: How the implementation of REDD+ reinforces past injustices”. In it the authors take a detailed look at a the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project in Kenya. Research in Kenya was carried out from March 2013 to April 2014 by Chomba and Kariuki as part of their PhD research.

The researchers describe the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project as follows:

“It is estimated that the project will avoid emissions of over 48 million metric tonnes of CO 2 over the project period of 30 years. The emissions are avoided through reduced deforestation and forest degradation, achieved by protecting areas mainly from slash and burn agriculture and charcoal production. The project provides financial incentives, through distributing revenue from the sale of carbon credits back to communities, landowners and to project implementation. The project also employs approximately 400 people, mainly from the local area, in running its operations, including an export-processing factory for clothing. The carbon is sold on the voluntary market.”

Wildlife Works, the company behind the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project, produced this promotional video about the Kasigau Corridor REDD project:

Talking about the Kasigau project, Mike Korchinsky, the founder of Wildlife Works says,

Korchinsky“For the first time, there’s a real solution to stopping deforestation, and a solution that is equitable, and fair, and that provides the majority of benefits to the local people who protect the forest. This is one of the best examples of natural capital. Here there are 70,000 members of a community benefiting from natural capital directly.”

But is the project really equitable and fair? And do the majority of benefits go to local communities?

Equitable and fair?

The authors of the “Roots of Inequity” paper write,

We reveal that while the project design was attentive to equity concerns in distributing benefits amongst the project implementer, landowners and the wider population of small-scale farmers and pastoralists in the area, in practice, the initial flow of benefits were concentrated in the hands of a few. This was because developments in land tenure since pre-colonial times had involved processes of dispossession and elite capture, enabled by colonial and post-colonial land policies that left the majority of local people with little or no land entitlement.

The problem is that the REDD project is overlaid onto the existing unequal land distribution. The paper illustrates how even well-intentioned REDD projects can entrench a “long process of dispossession of marginalised people”. The result is that the REDD project (albeit unintentionally) reinforces inequality.

The authors describe the current situation as a “mosaic of tenure arrangements”. Their map of the study area (below) shows the following land uses:

  • various categories of ranches (all pink, blue and orange polygons);
  • settlement areas, which are excluded from carbon accounting (polygons 32, 33 and 34);
  • large scale sisal estates (polygons 29, 30 and 31); and
  • protected areas (National Parks).


The cattle ranches were established during the 1960s and 1970s for the Wataita, the dominant ethnic group in the area. Legal ownership was concentrated amongst a small Wataita elite.

Cattle production stopped on most ranches in the 1980s and 1990s, “largely because of unfavorable international market conditions, mismanagement resulting in over grazing and degradation, and natural calamities such as drought”, the authors write.

Most ranches were left in debt. Today, only a few ranches raise cattle for meat production.

Many ranches were abandoned, and most ranch owners are absentee landlords, living in urban areas. This “paved the way for progressive encroachment by people from the neighboring settlement areas practicing slash and burn agriculture and charcoal production”.


Phase I of the Kasigau Corridor REDD project started in 2008-2009 on a single ranch (polygon 9) covering 30,000 hectares. In January 2000, Wildlife Works’ Korchinsky bought the majority of shares in the Rukinga ranch. The researchers found that members of the Waduruma ethnic group were evicted from Rukinga in 2002.

The Project Development Document for Phase II of the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project describes the Waduruma as poor, landless, polygamists, immgrants who aggressively clear land and catch wildlife for food.

One of the Waduruma who had been evicted from the Rukinga ranch told the researchers that the evictions were violent:

“In late 2001 we were told we had to move from [Rukinga ranch] by our then Chiefs–Rowland Mwamboga, assistant Chief Ngati of Marungu and Chief Kizaka of Kasigau…. We were told that Rukinga was under a different owner (Mike Korchinsky)… We were also told the new owner was not interested in livestock, but conserving wild animals. The eviction notice was abrupt and took us by surprise… In 2002, we were violently evicted, all our possessions, including food grains, animals and clothes were thrown out of our houses, which were immediately torched by fire. We were more than 500 households in total. We organized ourselves in groups and hired lorries to salvage what we could, we put our animals, food and beddings in the lorries… whatever was left behind was lost in fire… We hate to be reminded and to talk about it….”

Those who could afford to buy land elsewhere did so. Others, such as the people the researchers spoke to, were still squatting on government land and were still attempting to secure land titles to the land.

Phase II of the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project started in 2010-2011, and included 13 ranches covering 169,731 hectares. Phase III was started during the researchers fieldwork. The study focusses on Phase II of the project.

Five of the 13 ranches in Phase II were individually owned, four were owned by private companies, and four were under Directed Agricultural Companies. The last were communal ranches, owned mainly by ethnic Wataita, based on kinship ties and traditional land rights, under the directorship of a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Distribution of benefits

Money from the sale of carbon credits is distributed between Wildlife Works, ranch owners and communities in the settlement areas. In theory, each should receive one-third.

In practice, ranch owners are paid first, then project costs are deducted, and local communities receive the remainder.

Ranch owners signed 30-year contractual agreements, that entitle them to one-third of the money from sales of carbon credits. Local communities do not have legally binding agreements with the project.

In 2010 and 2011, project costs amounted to 53% of the revenue from carbon credit sales. Ranch owners received their contractually agreed 33%, leaving local communities with only 14% of the revenue.

The researchers found that,

Overall, the benefits received and costs borne are disproportionately spread across different groups. The big winners in the carbon revenue distribution model were the private land owners who were guaranteed to receive their share of a third of all carbon proceeds, allocated according to the contribution of carbon from their ranches.

On the other hand, the big losers were the smallholder farmers who bore the opportunity cost of avoiding deforestation, and received very modest benefits per capita. They also bore the brunt of the cumulative failure of the forest carbon markets because of coming last in the sequential payment process, resulting in them receiving only 14% of the revenue, far less than the 33% share anticipated at the outset.


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