14 December 2007

Communities must benefit for forest carbon schemes to be effective

Rezal Kusumaatmadja and Gabriel Thoumi
December 13, 2007

This editorial was originally published in the Jakarta Post. It has been posted at the request of the authors

Land dictates the rules and rural communities are the gatekeepers

Much has been promised by what avoided deforestation (AD) carbon credits can do to support forest protection, increase tax revenues, and develop sustainable rural economies in our Zamrud Khatulistiwa — Emerald on the Equator.

In the wake up of the COP 13 meeting in Bali, the focus of media attention has been on how much money rainforest countries can receive for protecting their forests.

Yet, what we see as a potentially more important issue — and an issue that hasn’t received much attention — is how AD projects will be implemented locally to maximize benefits. What the market tells us, is that a better implemented AD project receives more funding, so what we hope to discuss here is how to implement, successfully, AD at the regency level in a transparent, effective, and sustainable manner so that the benefits are properly distributed to rural communities while protecting our environment.

In our experience, developing an effective AD project requires a complex understanding that ‘land dictates the rules’ in an AD carbon deal, because this is where the carbon exists, and the rural communities are the gatekeepers because they live and work on the land.
Since ‘the land dictates the rules’, we encourage local project developers to screen their projects for an area with the following characteristics: The land needs to have a minimum perimeter — while size is relative, the smaller the more manageable since it will be easier to monitor threats (e.g., logging, forest fires, etc.) effectively. Also local communities need to be involved in the project development process. This means that positive impact is sustainable — their communities get stable jobs that decrease destruction of their local natural resources. This could be encouraging the use of stoves that consume less charcoal and can be locally produced.

This means encouraging sustainable community development at the local level — improving water quality, nutrition level, and small business development opportunities. In fact, the discussion of carbon credits at the local level may not be very relevant in the beginning.

Therefore, effective protection and sustainable community development depends on developing trust between all rural stakeholders. Trust requires understanding and it may mean that international carbon-credit investors and scientists spend time sipping coffee until late at night with village elders from Malinau in Kalimantan and Ulu Masen in Aceh and learn about each other’s families. This means projects need to be designed from the bottom-up. The AD projects in Ulu Masen and Malinau have shown serious intention to do this even though they are large at 750,000 and 325,000 hectares respectively.

Let’s take fire as an example. Using as a template for discussion Dolcemascolo’s PhD dissertation on the fires of 1997/ 98 in Central Kalimantan, we can start to understand how an effective project can develop over time by reframing the question within the local context to see how risks, such as fire, are managed from the Dayak cultural perspective. Within this framework, we have found that understanding cultural autonomy is important because this encourages stakeholder equity. Another key to fire risk management understands how the local communities use and appreciate fire. Essentially, by reframing the fire question, we have found that project developers can decrease their fire risk by increasing their communication with the local communities.

Furthermore, a project developer needs to ensure local communities that it pays to protect forests not only in the long run but also immediately. This can be done by creating incentive mechanisms such as a community-based forest monitoring program, a sustainable business development program with links to the market for non-timber forest products, along with micro-financing facilities as part of the project design.

Land conflicts related to the forestry sector in Indonesia are well documented. Since decentralization, incidents of conflict in the logging, plantation, and protected area forests have risen from causes ranging from land boundaries and access to use forests as compensation payments and distribution of benefits (Source: CIFOR, 2004). An AD project should facilitate conflict resolution hectare by hectare, community by community. The Ulu Masen project is an excellent example of this. In some areas this process may take weeks, while in others years. With a solid foundation for consensus building, a project may survive for many years.

Having a common framework at the start of the AD project allows the project developer and the local community to work together for a successful community sustainability development plan that has a carbon flavor. Local communities can define incentives to protect their local natural resources on their terms, while the project developer can assist all stakeholders by providing advice, capacity building and advocacy. The Ulu Masen and Malinau projects currently proposed are based on transparent and honest communication between stakeholders. It is because these projects have had substantial local dialogue and patience that we hope they may succeed.

Taking the time to plan and implement the winning combination of a host of solutions is what experts have called best practices in natural resource management. Elements of these best practices have occurred in projects in Singkarak, West Sumatra (Source: CIFOR 2006), Krui, Lampung (Source: ICRAF 2006), Ulu Masen (Carbon Conservation), and Malinau (Borneo Tropical Rainforest Foundation). Indonesia needs more of these and this is where the exciting opportunities exist.

Rezal Kusumaatmadja is the managing director of Starling Resources, a sustainable business consulting firm, and can be reached at rezal@starlingresources.com.

Gabriel Thoumi is writing his thesis on avoided deforestation and the carbon markets. He can be reached at thoumi@umich.edu.

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