Leave Forest Communities alone to manage the Ecology of Forests.

 Alarm bells rang over REDD even before the Copenhagen climate summit. “There is a real fear that REDD will lead to dispossession of local communities [as] governments stake their claim on emissions reduction credits – says Ashwini Chhatre”.

Authors : Ashwini Chhatre and Arun Agrawal.

Abstract :

Forests provide multiple benefits at local to global scales. These include the global public good of carbon sequestration and local and national level contributions to livelihoods for more than half a billion users. Forest commons are a particularly important class of forests generating these multiple benefits. Institutional arrangements to govern forest commons are believed to substantially influence carbon storage and livelihood contributions, especially when they incorporate local knowledge and decentralized decision making. However, hypothesized relationships between institutional factors and multiple benefits have never been tested on data from multiple countries. By using original data on 80 forest commons in 10 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, we show that larger forest size and greater rule-making autonomy at the local level are associated with high carbon storage and livelihood benefits; differences in ownership of forest commons are associated with trade-offs between livelihood benefits and carbon storage. We argue that local communities restrict their consumption of forest products when they own forest commons, thereby increasing carbon storage. In showing rule-making autonomy and ownership as distinct and important institutional influences on forest outcomes, our results are directly relevant to international climate change mitigation initiatives such as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and avoided deforestation. Transfer of ownership over larger forest commons patches to local communities, coupled with payments for improved carbon storage can contribute to climate change mitigation without adversely affecting local livelihoods.

Give forests back to local people to save them

Give tropical forests back to the people who live in them – and the trees will soak up your carbon for you. Above all, keep the forests out of the hands of government. So concludes a study that has tracked the fate of 80 forests worldwide over 15 years. Most tropical forests – from Himalayan hill forests to the Madagascan jungle – are controlled by local and national governments. Forest communities own and manage little more than a tenth. They have a reputation for trashing their trees – cutting them for timber or burning them to clear land for farming. In reality the opposite is true, according to Ashwini Chhatre of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the first study of its kind, Chhatre and Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor compared forest ownership with data on carbon sequestration, which is estimated from the size and number of trees in a forest. Hectare-for-hectare, they found that tropical forest under local management stored more carbon than government-owned forests. There are exceptions, says Chhatre, “but our findings show that we can increase carbon sequestration simply by transferring ownership of forests from governments to communities”. One reason may be that locals protect forests best if they own them, because they have a long-term interest in ensuring the forests’ survival. While governments, whatever their intentions, usually license destructive logging, or preside over a free-for-all in which everyone grabs what they can because nobody believes the forest will last. The authors suggest that locals would also make a better job of managing common pastures, coastal fisheries and water supplies. They argue that their findings contradict a long-standing environmental idea, called the “tragedy of the commons”, which says that natural resources left to communal control get trashed. In fact, says Agrawal, “communities are perfectly capable of managing their resources sustainably”.
The research calls into question UN plans to pay governments to protect forests. The climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December is likely to agree on a formula for a programme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. “There is a real fear that REDD will lead to dispossession of local communities [as] governments stake their claim on emissions reduction credits,” says Chhatre. Simon Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation UK is not surprised by the findings. “In Brazil and elsewhere, we know the most enduring forests are in indigenous reserves, like that run by the Kayapo in the eastern Amazon – the largest protected forest in the world.”

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