Posts Tagged ‘community conservation’

Community conservation needs to be meaningful for communities

Some good stuff pumped out by CIFOR as part of a big comms effort around the latest round of international climate change talks, that this year took place in Lima. Much of the best stuff has a relevance far beyond just the UNFCCC negotiations bubble. One thing that particularly caught my attention was this story about what conditions are required for the successful involvement of local people in monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of carbon savings achieved through REDD+ activities. Manuel Boissière, a CIFOR researcher, boils it down to four things:

  1. Relevance – “if something about the project is not seen as relevant to their daily lives, local people might not be willing to commit to such a project.”
  2. Skills – not just technical capacity and literacy, but “is it always clear to local people what it is they are measuring?”
  3. Reporting systems – how do you get the data back to HQ? (An important consideration, but the least interesting lesson.)
  4. Quality validation – “the ability to check whether the data that have been collected are correct.”

The 4th is the hardest, Boissière reckons. Just using some remote sensing in the office doesn’t cut it, because it is a one-way street: the scientists can check their data, but it doesn’t provide any useful feedback to communities, and any good quality control system involves rapid feedback. Instead Boissière recommends an approach based around participatory maps that are meaningful to the local communities.

“If you look at academic literature [on community participation in MRV], it’s all about cost-efficiency—how to get local communities participating in tree measurement and what is the cost of it, and are they doing a good job compared to scientists or not? And that has been really the limitation.”

I couldn’t agree more, and it’s not just on the monitoring side. I don’t have a problem with those people who first come to the conclusion that they need to work with communities to deliver conservation goals because the resources just aren’t there to deliver ‘command and control’ conservation. It’s a valid observation, and often critically important in persuading officious bureaucracies to loosen up a little bit.

But if that is your sole basis for doing community conservation you are in trouble. If you want to succeed with community-based conservation you absolutely need to make your work meaningful and relevant to the communities. Providing a steady stream of recognisable benefits is very important, and without which you are likely to struggle, but beyond that communities need to be engaged as full partners. They need to have a basic comprehension of what they are doing and why. If they are truly going to (help) manage their local natural resources they need to be empowered to make informed decisions upon bases that they understand.

In short, community conservation will only work when the communities involved actually care. And how do you persuade anyone to care about something?

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Trust (part 1)

Trust is absolutely fundamental to any community-based work. Whenever I am asked about our own projects, I always cite a good trust relationship with the communities we support as fundamental to our successes, and indeed building that trust relationship is one of the things I am proudest of*, even though it is usually the subsequent achievements which we end up trumpeting more.

Trust is vital if you want to bring about social change, whether it is wearing condoms during sex or looking after your local environment. In particular communities need to be able to trust that:

  • You are there for the long haul. They are, but are you?
  • You will come back when they need help, not just when you decide to plan a visit.
  • You will listen to their concerns, and adapt your plans to fit with them.
  • You are on their side.

It’s not quite unconditional love, but the parallels with good parenting are obvious. Work in the poor, remote rural communities in which we work inevitable has a strong tinge of paternalism, however much one might shy away from the implications of such a relationship. That said, when I come across failed community projects, a common underlying factor is that the relationship with target communities combines all the negative aspects of paternalism without any of the positive elements of a mutual trust relationship listed above. In particular, projects whose primary field staff are government workers often seem to fall into this trap.

In tropical conservation and development work one always starts as an outsider. It is thus critical that before you can really move the dial on any of the issues that brought you to a particular community in the first place, you must first bridge that gap with a solid trust relationship. Where, perhaps for political or religious reasons, that gap is especially hard to bridge, consider finding an appropriate intermediary who can. This is not just about hiring local staff, but presenting an acceptable institutional face, and may require aid organisations to cut back on their usual copious and prominent display of logos.

In my next two posts I will talk about other significant trust relationships in the aid industry: with donors and with local government. These work in substantially different ways, and also contribute to successful project delivery, but fall far behind, in my own estimation, the absolute central importance of the trust relationship with your beneficiaries. If you work on getting one thing absolutely right in your project, make it that one, and you have a good chance of succeeding.

* Most of the credit, however, belongs with our field staff.

REDDoubtable concerns

There’s been a flurry of posts recently on that big new idea in international forest conservation, REDD+, which is struggling to be born, conjoined as it is with all the wrangling over a post-Kyoto settlement.

  • Angela Dewan makes the oft-overlooked point that even if forests make a return for local communities that doesn’t change their own aspirations for development which may not be fully compatible with forest conservation. No noble savages here!
  • James Mayers reminds us that governance is going to be critical in REDD+ implementation (there needs to be more than just trickle down to local communities), but that it’s not all bad news, and that in many countries local civil society is agitating for the sorts of rights that once would have been up to donors to impose.
  • At the heart of these governance concerns is that old chestnut, land tenure: both Indonesia and Mozambique are struggling, and many other countries too I should imagine. Ultimately, I think this is where the REDD+ battle will be won or lost, for it’s over land that REDD+ proponents will face their toughest opponents, few of whom will fight fair.
  • Finally, Isilda Nhantumbo has an eight point list on what would make a ‘good’ REDD+ initiative. All are good ideas, but I would caution against over-complicating things. The most important of these ideas should be regulated by governments; others could perhaps be incentivised by the markets. But let us be in no doubt, if you want to scale REDD+ beyond a few NGO-run project islands, then simplicity is the name of the game, and ‘goodness’ needs to be rewarded in the market for anyone to pay any serious attention.

I leave you with a fascinating but depressing titbit of gossip on the international climate change negotiations: of all the countries with something to gain from REDD+, nobody ranks higher than Brazil, and yet, behind the scenes, I hear Brazil are stymieing concluding discussions over the REDD+ component of UNFCCC which could then be finalised and ratified as a standalone treaty, whilst the rest of the stuff drags on. The reason: Brazil already have enough money from donors pouring into their Amazon fund that right now they do not need an international REDD+ treaty, but they (understandably!) do want a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I have no idea whether this is actually true, but I trust my source.

Whose park is greener?

A quick update on my recent post on the irrelevance of the IUCN classifications of protected areas. Two recent pieces of news courtesy of CIFOR that I should have included in my discussion (I wasn’t quite up to date with my blog reading):

I couldn’t have asked for better or more timely evidence in support of my central argument! What matters is what happens on the ground, and that involves working with local actors. The bureaucrat’s pen at conservation HQ can only accomplish so much, and oft times it can actually get in the way of real achievements.

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