in Madagascar

How safeguards fail poor farmers in the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project in Madagascar

The Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena is a 382,000-hectare REDD project in Madagascar being carried out by Conservation International, with support from the World Bank. A new study shows that the project is not compensating many of the people whose livelihoods are impacted by the restrictions on forest use.

Villagers who rely on harvesting forest resources and those who need to clear forest to grow crops should be compensated under the project.

The researchers from Bangor University and Université d’Antananarivo found that,

households with more socio-political power locally, those with greater food security, and those that are more accessible were more likely to be identified as eligible for compensation while many people likely to be negatively impacted by the REDD+ project did not receive compensation.

The paper is titled, “Can REDD+ social safeguards reach the ‘right’ people? Lessons from Madagascar”, and it’s published in Global Environmental Change. The authors are Mahesh Poudyal, Bruno S. Ramamonjisoa, Neal Hockley, O. Sarobidy Rakotonarivo, James M. Gibbons, Rina Mandimbiniaina, Alexandra Rasoamanana, and Julia P.G. Jones.

REDD could exacerbate povery

They note the “growing concerns that REDD+ could exacerbate poverty in forest-edge communities by restricting access to land and forest resources, especially for those with insecure tenure”.

The researchers found that although the project had carried out a safeguards assessment, three issues made it difficult for a social safeguard assessment to effectively target the households for compensation:

  • poor information on location of communities and challenging access means that information does not reach remote households;
  • reluctance of people dependant on shifting agriculture to reveal this due to government sanctions; and
  • reliance by safeguard assessors on non-representative local institutions.

The authors write that “arrying out an assessment to identify individual households eligible to receive compensation in a REDD+ project is challenging, costly and likely to be prone to local elite capture.”

More than 60,000 people live in over 450 villages in and around the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena protected area. The researchers focussed on Ampahitra in the southwest corner of the project.

The people living in the area live in conditions of extreme poverty and are highly dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods. Most of them live in one room houses built with materials from the forest. Very few of the houses have tin roofs. Households could only produce enough food to feed their families for six months of the year on average.

Shifting cultivation and collecting forest projects are a key part of their livelihoods. On his blog, Mahesh Poudyal, one of the researchers, wrote that he was “staggered” to see what a field recently cleared from the forest really looked like:

Shifting cultivation

Compensation fails to reach those who need it the most

Under the project, such activity is no longer allowed, but project safeguards mean that anyone whose livelihood is impacted by restrictions on access to forests should be compensated.

The researchers found that the two most significant factors in determining whether a household received compensation was whether anyone from the household was a member of the local community-based forest management association, and whether they were one of the “decision-makers” in these organisations.

Ironically, households with better food security were more likely to receive compensation than poorer households. People who lived closer to roads and administrative centres were more likely to receive compensation than communities living in areas that were more difficult to get to.

Interviews with people living in a village inside the protected area revealed that no safeguards assessment had taken place in the village.

It is difficult to argue that people in this community are less impacted by the REDD+ project than others in the area as their livelihoods are similarly dependent on shifting agriculture and, given the location of the community entirely within the boundary of the protected area, they are certainly required to stop this activity.

In an interview on the BBC website, Julia Jones, one of the co-authors explains,

“We have mapped every single household [in our study area] that should have been covered by the compensation and have shown that… the process had some very serious biases in it.
“Essentially, the people that were identified were easier to reach physically – such as closer to the road or closer to the administrative centre.
“They also tended to be more socially connected; members of local forestry management committees, and they were – on average – richer or, at least, less poor.”

Jones points out that the World Bank has safeguards that are supposed to ensure that Bank projects are pro-poor and that vulnerable groups are not left out. “We have shown that it is not working,” she says.

Gap between safeguards and reality

She makes clear that any criticism isn’t aimed just at this project, but at the “reality gap” between nice-sounding safeguards and what is actually happening on the ground:

“We do not want to be criticising the individual implementers of that particular project but we want to highlight a ‘reality gap’ between these lovely policies that sound great on paper and the reality on the ground which is that it is incredibly difficult to implement these policies.”

The Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project has implemented safeguards upside down. Rather than finding the people most dependent on the forest, and therefore whose livelihoods are most impacted by the project, the project implementers compensated people living near administrative centres and roads.

“Unless social safeguarding is being done properly,” the authors write, “it is simply a case of costs being borne by those living in forest edge communities in the tropics, who are often the poorest, are often historically marginalised, and have contributed least to climate change.”

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