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REDD in Cross River, Nigeria: “Property rights, militarised protectionism, and carbonised exclusion”

A recent paper published in Geoforum focusses on REDD, property rights and resource control. The paper, “A political ecology of REDD+: Property rights, militarised protectionism, and carbonised exclusion in Cross River”, is written by Adeniyi P. Asiyanbi of Kings College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Asiyanbi writes,

Efforts to secure property rights and guarantee the permanence of REDD+ forests align with economic, ecological and ideological aspirations of state and non-state actors to produce a regime of militarised protectionism.

He points out that issues of property rights and resource control relating to REDD are generating intense debates. Asiyanbi highlights a series of recent articles published in Geoforum on this topic:

  • Cavanagh, C.J., Vedeld, P.O. and Trædal, L.T. (2015) Securitizing REDD? Problematizing the emerging illegal timber trade and forest carbon interface in East Africa. Geoforum, 60, 72-82.
  • Dwyer, M.B., Ingalls, M.L. & Baird, I.G. (2016) The security exception: Development and militarization in Laos’s protected areas, Geoforum, 69, 207-217.
  • Hackett, R. (2015) “Offsetting dispossession? Terrestrial conservation offsets and First Nation treaty rights in Alberta, Canada”, Geoforum, 60, 62-71.
  • Nel, A. (2015) The choreography of sacrifice: Market environmentalism, biopolitics and environmental damage. Geoforum, 65, 246-254.
  • Osborne, T. (2015) “Tradeoffs in carbon commodification: A political ecology of common property forest governance”, Geoforum, 67, 64-77.

Asiyanbi notes that REDD may be reversing gains in decentralisation and devolution of control over forest resources:

Resource practices and property relations are being re-worked in ways that perpetuate regimes of unequal power relations, loss of local resource control, and various forms of dispossession. These are also linked to forms of carbon violence, manifest in the resurgence of “fence-and-fine” protectionist approaches, part of which Leach and Scoones call “fortress carbon”.

Cross River is Nigeria’s REDD pilot state. In preparation for REDD, the government declared a logging ban, and created a militarised Anti-deforestation Task Force to enforce the ban.

Asiyanbi points out that under these conditions, community rights to forest carbon are uncertain. Existing community rights to land and forest resources are also threatened.

Asiyanbi’s research included in-depth interviews with 58 key REDD actors from government, NGOs, international REDD partners, and local communities.

REDD in Cross River

Then-state governor Liyel Imoke imposed a logging ban in Cross River State in 2008. He hoped that carbon finance might help address the state’s lingering financial crisis – along with money from agricultural, mining, and industrial investments.

In 2011, UN-REDD approved a US$4 million readiness fund for Nigeria. Two years later, another US$3.6 million came from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. More support came from the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF).

Foreign consultants worked with government bureaucrats and NGOs drafted Nigeria’s REDD proposals. REDD in Nigeria, “builds on more than a century of colonial and postcolonial conservation interventions”, Asiyanbi writes.

The Cross River National Park was created between 1989 and 1991. An Intergrated Conservation and Development Project followed. The results were poor from both conservation and livelihood perspectives.

Asiyanbi notes that implementing REDD has involved attempts to secure the forest and guarantee the permanence of areas marked out for REDD – in both community forests and state forest reserves. Asiyanbi writes that,

Saving Nigeria’s last rainforest only grants a sense of violent urgency to the central requirement of clarifying carbon property rights and securing forests for the creation of economic value in Nigeria’s emergent carbon forestry economy. This requirement is evident in project proposals and discourses of project’s proponents which articulate with existing land and forest laws within a contested terrain that reinforces the status quo of state control of land and forest. Importantly, material efforts to secure the forest for REDD+ manifest as forms of carbonised exclusion, in which carbon credentials justify state resource control and a regime of militarised protectionism which curtails local resource access while perpetuating both elite capital accumulation and forest decline.

Forest and carbon rights

Nigeria’s Land Use Act of 1978 gives all land to the Governor of each state who holds it in trust for the people. The 2006 National Forest Policy defers to the Land Use Act on land ownership and tenure. While the National Forest Policy and the new Cross River State forestry law recognise forest communities as forest managers, they are only “stakeholders” under these laws.

Under the REDD+ Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) submitted to the World Bank in 2013, communities are allowed only to use the forest, not to own it, or control rights over the forest:

Without tenure, communities have little vested interest in their (forest) protection. Providing forest use rights to households, or communities where they can benefit from the area, will provide incentives for them to protect the area and help to stop encroachment. It will also ensure that local communities will benefit from REDD+. Therefore, any National REDD+ Programme must contain an element of ensuring forest use rights to local forest groups.

Asiyanbi argues that REDD policy documents defer to the status quo and in effect entrench the government’s ownership of land and carbon rights. Asiyanbi writes that,

While proponents might claim that the ownership right to carbon from Nigeria’s REDD+ is yet to be determined, the exercise by the state of the right to exclude others and protect the forest for the purpose of REDD+ is an indication of who has the rights that matter, not least the right to exclude others.

Villagers in one proposed REDD area told Asiyanbi that REDD project proponents will bring a machine for them to use to measure the carbon in their forests. Villagers hope that this will help with their claims to carbon rights.

But tucked away in the appendices of a 2012 report available in the Forestry Commission titled “Forestry Regulation and Tariffs for market and transportation of forest products and other forestry prescribed fees”, is a proposal to allocate only 10% of carbon benefits to communities. Before the logging ban, communities received (in theory, at least) up to 70% of timber royalties.

Militarised forest protection: “This is a war”

Asiyanbi outlines three reasons why militarised protectionism is central to Nigeria’s REDD:

  • First, it represents the practical demonstration of the government’s de jure powers to control land and by extension forest resources even in community forests.
  • Second, such a demonstration underpins international support for Nigeria’s REDD+, since it is often touted as a clear indication of ‘political will’ by the state government, and an indication that forest areas under REDD+ will be protected.
  • Third, as a result of its material and symbolic facilitation of REDD+, militarised protectionism gains legitimacy as a hub around which a new exclusionary forest economy is organised, facilitating elite capital accumulation as wider public access to forest resources is curtailed. It is this third and the most important dimension that is at the core of carbonised exclusion.

In 2011, Peter Jenkins, a primate conservationist from the USA, was appointed chair of Cross River State’s Anti-deforestation Task Force (ATF). The Task Force’s board includes representatives of the army, the navy, and the police. In 2012, the ATF reported that it had seized 105 chainsaws, 46 vehicles, 24 canoes, 12 water pumps, 12 tractors, and hundreds of tons of timber.

Here’s a video of Peter Jenkins and the ATF in action:

In the video, Tunji Olatndun of Jenkins’ Pandrillus Foundation says “This is a war”, as if to emphasise the militarisation of conservation in Cross River State.

In February 2014, a mobile court was established to deal with the numerous cases of “forest offenders”. Yet reports of corruption in the ATF are common in state and national newspapers. The ATF has also been accused of carrying out its own illegal logging activities. The ATF’s legal adviser estimates that as much as 40% of ATF’s transactions were illegal timber deals.

As Asiyanbi points out, despite the logging ban, and REDD funds, “there is still sufficient incentive for the illegal timber economy under the ATF’s control to continue”. The timber royalties, which previously went to communities has been diverted to ATF.

Of course, this thriving illegal timber economy results in deforestation. Asiyanbi uses data from Global Forest Watch to show that since REDD arrived in Cross River State, tree cover loss has increased dramatically:

Movement of timber on roads and rivers is a frequent sight in Cross River. Small-scale loggers and timber dealers who have lost their livelihoods to the logging ban have cleared forest for farming.

Asiyanbi concludes that measures such as intensified law enforcement, the logging ban, and increased militarisation far from addressing tenure complexities actually make the situation more complicated.

Specifically, a totalizing moratorium together with the militarisation of the forest is driving greater levels of illegality, with adverse impacts on both the forest sustainability and local forest access and governance. As such, emergent complexities in REDD+, as exemplified by carbonised exclusion analysed in this paper cannot be understood outside of these alternative REDD+ policy measures, which in Nigeria as elsewhere, efface the reality of rural poverty, weak institutions, historical conditions, and entrenched self-interest among the varieties of actors summoned by REDD+.


PHOTO Credit: Illegal timber in Cross River State.

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  1. Hi Peter, this is Thomas. I have been in ranger-based forest protection in Philippines (7 years) and in Cambodia (1 year) – I know what the problems are. Stay strong in your fight. You are doing what needs to be done if we want to maintain the forests. All talk about decentralization of power over forests from Government to villagers will result in a total forest loss over the yars – because every villager want to make money by logging to get a bike, a TV, to send kids to school etc. E.g. if you take hungry dog to watch over a plate full with meet you should not wonder when the meet is gone in shortest time thinkable. To hand over responsibility over forest to villagers (decentralization) is the same ashanding over the watch over the said plate to the hungry dog.
    Keep up the good job you are doing. All the ebst, Thomas from Philippines.

  2. @Thomas Kuenzel – There are (at least) three problems with your argument. First, research that shows that deforestation is significantly lower in community-managed forests than in strictly protected forests. See, for example, reports by the Centre for International Forestry Research and the World Bank.

    Second, as the graph in the post above shows, tree cover loss has increased dramatically in recent years in Cross River State – illegal logging is thriving as militarised conservation has increased.

    Third, as Adeniyi P. Asiyanbi writes in his paper (and as noted in the post above), “the Legal Secretary who is also the Chief Prosecutor of the ATF confirms that up to 40% of the activities of the ATF itself is in illegal timber dealings and corrupt practices.”

    Your comparison of villagers to dogs is deeply offensive. The government of Cross River State is planning to build a 260-kilometre highway through the forest. Ekuri villagers are campaigning against the destruction – the same villagers whose livelihoods depend on their community forests.

  3. To Chris Lang and all others who felt uncomfortable/offended with my example of hungry dogs being in charge of a plate of meat within the context of power over forests handed over to villagers. This is indeed inappropriate and I apologize for that.

    My deep regret to have used that example I would like especially to express to any villager living in any forest around the world – again, sorry for that.

    The point I thought I should make is that during my time as enforcer of environmental laws in Philippines (2002-2009) and in Cambodia (2012) all experience/facts show that only strong forest ranger-based activities can save the forest NOW. And by the term “NOW” I mean a time were many “entrepreneurs” are out in the forests to make use of it as a free access source to satisfy their material needs NOW – they do not mind what is happen with the coming generations.

    Very unfortunately, the growing populations (doubling time of Philippine population is 40 years only) make it obviously impossible for communities which were traditionally forest-depending to drive within this tradition. In some areas the traditional way might be able to be followed another 2 or 3 decades. But as the populations are growing the forests are no more strong enough to give all of them a reasonable income – and this has to be seen with special fear regarding the growing appetite for modern world utilities also among traditionally forest-depending villagers.

    One short word to statistics Chris mentioned. We should be very careful about – these statistics might show the present time situation but they show us nothing about the future when population sizes have risen over carrying capacity, which situation very probably becomes fact in our near future.

    Again sorry for using offending statements, and with my very best regards, to ALL being out to maintain the worlds tropical forests which are the property of all people living now and for coming generations.

  4. Dear Thomas Kuenzel

    Thank you for your response.

    When we say states should recognize the right of communities to own, control and manage their own forests, we are not asking for anything extraordinary. We are only saying these states should abandon policies and thinking inherited from colonial administration which, through various means – not least conquest and larceny – wrest control over forests from communities.

    In Cross River, REDD+ focuses on community forests partly because the state forest reserves have almost completely disappeared – an impact of the state policy of revenue generation from forests and poor forest management. Communities report how even before REDD+, the state forestry department had persistently persuaded them to allow state-licensed timber loggers into their forests. Under REDD+ the state Task Force continue to facilitate illegal logging. And the recent rise in deforestation rate is also partly due to state concessions for agriculture and mining — some in community forests, as mentioned in my paper. And there are struggles ongoing between commercial agricultural companies and local communities over land. The state is clearly the major facilitator of forest decline in Cross River – and this is true for many other countries.

    My research in Cross River and elsewhere shows community differently from the picture you painted. In Cross River I have seen many communities contribute part of their farm and NTFP income for projects like road construction, hospital, schools etc – facilities that governments should be providing in the first place. Many of these communities have laws and governance systems that at least limit unsanctioned exploitation of the forest.

    Are we supposed to be shocked that communities desire a bicycle when NGOs drive in four-wheel-drive trucks to visit them? No! Those desires are legitimate. The only part you missed out on is that communities have greater desires than those you mentioned. Many want their children to go to school and become researchers and NGO staff. And many spend their little resources on these future-oriented aspiration which are needed to limit community dependence over forests in the long term.