in Kenya, Madagascar

Green grabs are not the solution to land grabs

2016-07-07-152748_1172x1026_scrotEarlier this year, I wrote an article for the Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung, a German NGO. The article was published (in German) in the organisation’s Rundbrief. It’s available for download here.

This post is the English version of the article.

How REDD supports the return of fortress conservation

Green grabbing is on the increase in the Global South, as conservationists buy up land and forests and exclude local people. Putting a price on the carbon stored in rainforests encourages green grabbing, as large areas of land are commandeered to generate the cheap REDD credits that are needed to allow rich countries to continue polluting.

In 2008, John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor, wrote an article titled, “The great green land grab”. He describes how rich individuals, big environmental organisations, and charities are buying up land in the Global South in the name of conservation.

Vidal notes that Conservation International, WWF, and the Nature Conservancy have attracted billions of dollars of private money and World Bank funding to buy land for conservation.

“Foreign conservationists have a dreadful record in developing countries,” Vidal writes. While colonialists took land to extract resources, conservationists take land to preserve it.

Fortress Conservation

Far too often this has involved “fortress conservation”. Tens of thousands of people have been evicted from wildlife parks and protected areas. Despite having lived on the land for centuries, many people have been forbidden to hunt, farm, cut trees, or collect food or medicinal plants. Their land, Vidal writes, “is suddenly recast as an idyllic wildlife sanctuary with no regard for the realities of the lives of those who live there”.

In the Journal of Peasant Studies, James Fairhead, Melissa Leach, and Ian Scoones define green grabbing as “the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends”. They write that,

“Green grabbing builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment – whether for parks, forest reserves or to halt assumed destructive local practices.

REDD does not protect indigenous rights

REDD threatens to make things worse. The idea behind REDD is that governments, companies or forest owners in the South should be financially rewarded for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down.

Under the Paris Agreement, the outcome of the UN climate negotiations in December 2015, countries are “encouraged to take action to implement and support” REDD.

The Paris Agreement failed to agree on how REDD should be financed. But from the beginning REDD has been a carbon trading mechanism through which the carbon stored in forests is traded against continued greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. When the World Bank launched its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility at the UN climate meeting in Bali in 2007, the Bank announced that, “ultimate goal is to jump-start a forest carbon market”.

But who owns the carbon stored in trees? Is it the project developer that paid for the REDD project? Is it the government? Or is it the communities that live in and near the forest?

In 2014, the Rights and Resources Initiative put out a report warning that REDD could lead to a “carbon grab”. The report includes a survey of 23 countries, covering two-thirds of the forests in the Global South. The report concludes that safeguards and legal protections for indigenous peoples and local communities in these new forest carbon markets are “non-existent”.

Arvind Khare, Executive Director of the Rights and Resource Initiative, said,

“As the carbon in living trees becomes another marketable commodity, the deck is loaded against forest peoples, and presents an opening for an unprecedented carbon grab by governments and investors. Every other natural resource investment on the international stage has disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples and local communities, but we were hoping REDD would deliver a different outcome. Their rights to their forests may be few and far between, but their rights to the carbon in the forests are non-existent.”

More recent research by the Rights and Resources Initiative and TMP systems looks at proposals to create protected areas in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to 1.3 million people could be affected by these plans, funded by Norway and Germany respectively. But the researchers found that costs of dealing with the impacts of these conservation proposal on people and their livelihoods, “have been grossly underestimated”.

There are many examples of REDD projects that have impacted Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights to their forests. Here are just two.

Kasigau Corridor, Kenya: Evictions and inequity

In 2008, Wildlife Works, a US-based REDD development company, started a REDD project called the Kasigau Corridor, in Kenya. The founder of Wildlife Works, Michael Korchinsky, describes the project as “equitable, and fair”, and argues that the project provides “the majority of benefits to the local people who protect the forest”.

But research published recently in Land Use Policy found that,

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.

Far from addressing inequity in the project area, the REDD project reinforced it. Evictions took place from the Rukinga ranch before the REDD project started, but after Korchinsky bought the majority of shares in the Rukinga ranch. One of the people evicted said,

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.

Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena, Madagascar: The safeguards reality gap

In Madagascar, the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project restricts villagers use of the forest, such as harvesting forest resources and clearing forest to grow food. Yet the project is not compensating many of the people whose livelihoods are most impacted by these restrictions on forest use.

In a recent paper in Global Environmental Change, researchers from Bangor University and Université d’Antananarivo note that there are “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 people living in the area that the researchers studied live in conditions of extreme poverty and are highly dependent on forest resourcesf or 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.

But 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.

Rather than finding the people most dependent on the forest, and therefore whose livelihoods are most impacted by the project, the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project implementers have 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.”

Green grabs are not the solution

In 2014, indigenous peoples and NGOs met in Palangkaraya, Indonesia to discuss deforestation and the rights of indigenous peoples. The Palangkaraya Declaration that came out of the meeting recognised the danger of land grabs to indigenous peoples. But the Declaration also recognised that green grabs present a threat:

We also note that even international, government and private sector efforts to protect forests from destruction as parks, protected areas, ‘ecosystem restoration concessions’, ‘no go zones’ and ‘set asides’ tend to ignore our rights, deny our livelihoods and thus create further conflicts and instability. Enough is enough! ‘Green grabs’ are not the solution to land grabs.’


Leave a Reply

  1. Conservation fortresses with their patrols are a failed model. Why is anyone still investing in them?

  2. The article and Robert Hii’s comment are just destructive criticism. What are the proposals? Are there examples of green grabbing referred to places that would have remained protected if no initiative was taken? Organizations/people so stupid to invest for which purpose? just for the satisfaction of evicting people? Usually governments evict locals to make concessions to those going to exploit the land (or let the latter do it). REDD+ should be implemented in order to avoid deforestation, that is to protect forests that otherwise would be deforested. REDD+ resources used to evict people from unthreatened forests would be clearly an abuse.
    The obvious alternative would be to leave forests to be destroyed, and locals battered off anyway.
    Grabbing for conservation is anyway much better than destruction (either legal or illegal).
    The ideal alternative, empowering the locals and making them resposible for conservation, is not mentioned.
    REDD+ is one of the new instruments, designed(?) in a way unintelligible even to the same designers, the discredited development aid world uses to channel money to the same cronies as ever: international consultants, bureacracies, and (new business marketed as climate-friendly) plantations companies. Carbon storage? forest are disappearing at unprecedented rate (as REDD+ money does). Do locals somewhere see a trickle of that money or other benefits?

  3. This article shows the opposite side of the matter, and it’s always good to know that power and money often put on a mask of being cool and green (when it’s the trend), but on the other hand still just focus on gaining more power, while destroying everyone and everything in their way.

  4. I think all the landless peasants with no tenure rights should be allowed to do whatever they want so we can all have equal rights in the dustbowl created when the density of people undertaking charcoal burning and bushmeat hunting in a dryland environments rises from 1 per sq km to 1000 per sq km. We will all be equally destitute and miserable with no natural capital left with which we might enhance our existence. Unfortunately (?) ownership and management of large areas of land in a sustainable way normally ends up being done by government or by a form of landed aristocracy, be it chiefs, tycoons or whatever. Even when everyone has rights and equal shares, these tend to get sold and will end up accumulating in the hands of those who end up owning more. Those who sell their shares/rights get what they want in return. It seems to be the natural order that some peopel will be better off than others – even places that try to make everyone equally miserable dont work very well. A responsible govt should recognise the plight of landless poor forced onto destructive ecological trajectory and provide them with some hope.

  5. Simon,
    That communal management of land (CML) never works is not backed by facts. It doesn’t work in many cases because of an array of reasons very different on a case by case basis; e.g.: when governments (national and local ones), being against any other form of control, act directly or through their cronies against CML. The improved state organization even in the most underdeveloped countries and the growing percentage of urbanized (versus rural) population make power concentrate at national level (or state level in large federal countries); that makes the survival of traditional local CML more and more difficult. But there are numerous examples that show that when CML is just tolerated it is not only economically sustainable but it improves local communities’ quality of life: ejidos in Mexico; undivided property in Italy, notwithstanding repeated attempts by governments (fascist and democratic ones) to privatize them, represents the oldest governments in the country and those assuring the best environmental management; kibbutz in Israel.
    The “natural order” you mention is as natural as the jungle law.