Mucahid Mustafa Bayrak (Department of Geography, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note from Editor: The full article written by Dr. Bayrak and Dr. Lawal Mohammed Marafa (Department of Geography and Resource Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong) was published by Small-scale Forestry on 19 January, 2020. Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11842-020-09432-x
The ways how the world’s forests are governed have seen two significant trends over the past two decades. First of all, decentralization and devolution allowed communities and households to manage forests through so-called community-based forest management (CBFM). Governments realized that bottom-up ways of managing the forests were often more effective than top-down ways. Hence, CBFM initiatives were becoming more and more abundant in countries with a sizeable forest cover (Agrawal et al. 2008). Secondly, forests were also seen as a way to mitigate global climate change as trees store carbon, and can therefore serve as important carbon stocks. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (or REDD+ in short) is a multilateral initiative in which developed countries pay developing countries to store carbon in their forests in exchange for carbon credits. The main assumption of REDD+ is that if you pay people to protect the forest, they will have a financial incentive to conserve and sustainably manage the forest (Phelps et al. 2010).
REDD+ has sometimes been criticized for being a neoliberal approach to conservation which rather recentralizes forest management than allowing (indigenous) communities to exploit and manage their forests. Other scholars, on the other hand, are more positive about REDD+ as they see it as a way for communities to generate alternative livelihoods from the carbon credits they receive (Bayrak and Marafa, 2016). The study we recently published in the Journal Small-scale forestry (Bayrak and Marafa, 2020) explored whether REDD+ can be compatible with CBFM, and it developed a forest governance typology on different types of CBFM in a post-REDD+ era. This was done in four research communes (sub-district level units) in Vietnam.
We conducted our research in the summers of 2012-2015 and we visited several sites involved in CBFM and REDD+ (Figure 1). The research communes primarily consisted of indigenous communities, and they were dependent on the surrounding forests in various degrees. We interviewed various households, commune officials, village headmen, and patriarchs, and we conducted household surveys (n=187) and several focus group discussions. We explored to what extent households were engaged in CBFM and/or REDD+ and we analyzed how and whether both programs were compatible.
In terms of livelihood impacts, both CBFM and REDD+ provided little income, and households were only paid a small amount to monitor the community forest. Upon asking why households continued to monitor the forest, they answered that they primarily saw CBFM and REDD+ as an investment. CBFM allowed the forestland to be allocated to the community. This protected the community from outsiders encroaching or laying claims on their forests. Communities expected that if they invested in reforestation or afforestation activities that they were eventually able to exploit their community forests. Some households even expected to be able to grow coffee or rubber trees in their community forests, which is an anti-thesis to REDD+. In terms of involvement in CBFM and REDD+, we found out that it were especially the poor farmers, depending on swidden agriculture, who were involved in forest monitoring. Even though swiddeners were often blamed for deforestation and forest degradation in Vietnam (Fox et al. 2000), they showed to be most willing to be involved in both programs.
In terms of whether REDD+ and CBFM were compatible really depended on the type of REDD+ program and CBFM system. Multilateral REDD+ programs (such as UN-REDD – see Figure 2) primarily focused on carbon credits and were implemented in a pre-existing institutional landscape, hardly affecting local institutions and arrangements. Other REDD+ programs focused, besides carbon credits, also on poverty alleviation, forestland allocation and developing CBFM schemes. A REDD+ project of Fauna and Flora International (FFI) implemented a pro-poor REDD+ program. In their case, REDD+ contributed to forestland allocation to communities and the development of a functional CBFM system. FFI, faced, however, some obstacles as many stakeholders in Vietnam’s forest governance (such as forest management boards, state-forest enterprises and governmental agencies) were sometimes reluctant to transfer their forestland to local communities. Hence, the political economy of forest governance is a very important theme to be explored.
Based on our findings we developed a typology on CBFM in a post-REDD+ era on a spectrum from customary CBFM to formal CBFM (Figure 3). Our findings reveal that even though many indigenous communities have customary and traditional institutions, laws and taboos, they are hardly involved in both CBFM and REDD+. Customary CBFM does not exist in Vietnam anymore as indigenous communities are affected by mainstream society in one way or another. In parallel customary and formal CBFM systems, customary and formal institutions operate parallel from each other. Mixed-customary and formal systems consist of customary and formal institutions cooperating with each other. Lastly, in formal CBFM systems, customary institutions play a strictly ceremonial role. In our research, we found various examples of these systems. Hence, we argue that REDD+ can only be compatible with CBFM if its implementers understand what type of CBFM system they are dealing with. We furthermore argue that REDD+ needs adapt to the individual livelihood trajectories of local households. Smallholders have different needs and livelihood goals than swiddeners. A one-size-fits-all approach to REDD+ will be deemed to fail considering the complexity of forest governance landscapes and stakeholders at macro, meso, and micro-levels.
Considering the many indigenous communities and forest management systems in Taiwan, I would like to encourage researchers and students to apply our framework to local Taiwanese contexts. Would a program such as REDD+ succeed in Taiwan? What types of CBFM systems can we find in Taiwan? Can we revive customary forest management and institutions? All of these questions can provide a foundation for many interesting discussions for the times to come.