Community monitoring in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Acre, Brazil
- Community-based forest monitoring in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve is generating valuable information. This can increase understanding of the impact and effectiveness of REDD+ related activities in priority forest areas within Acre, including ways to address socio-environmental safeguards.
- This model is not only fostering dialogue and greater participation in decision-making within the management structure of the reserve itself, but is also having an impact further afield. The model has been incorporated into the REDD+ safeguards system for Acre State, which now has a community monitoring component.
- Balancing community and external monitoring needs has been fundamental to ensure that the monitoring system is relevant to local and government stakeholders, and that both groups are interested in the results.
- In sparsely populated areas like this reserve, community members should undertake monitoring close to their homes to decrease the costs and logistical challenges in accessing remote and uninhabited areas.
- Low social cohesion and contested resource use in the project area have presented challenges for collecting data, especially on deforestation drivers and land-use change.
- Offline local data management software (Smap) was instrumental in facilitating the collection of a variety of georeferenced data (e.g. text, audio and photographs). These are not only more precise and rapidly available for analysis and sharing, but also enable quick feedback to community members on monitoring progress and preliminary results.
- Rigorous data analysis and reporting to other stakeholders require considerable time and effort, which can become a bottleneck for achieving regular and efficient use of information.
This community-based monitoring initiative in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in the state of Acre, Brazil, had the following objectives.
(1) Create learning opportunities and local technical capacity for collecting data, and raise community awareness.
(2) Strengthen and guide the shared management of the Reserve.
(3) Inform the development and implementation of environmental policies and safeguards related to Acre’s Environmental Services Incentives System.
(4) Develop good practice in the use of technological tools in community forest monitoring models.
The project generated detailed information on socio-environmental conditions, and provided independent assessments of the impacts of public policies and programmes that aim to deliver both environmental and livelihood benefits. The collaborative nature of the initiative, working with extractivist communities and associations in the reserve, and with civil society, federal and state institutions, created synergies between different stakeholders and scales. This should strengthen the management of the reserve (which also brings together multiple stakeholders) and the sustainable use of its resources.
Experiences from the project are showing that community-based monitoring can provide independent and detailed information on how local populations are participating in, and impacted by, Acre's subnational REDD+ programme. This information will be important for planning and managing extractive reserves in Brazil more broadly, and for the development of safeguards and information systems in Acre based on REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards (SES). Elements of the model have already been incorporated into the state’s Environmental Services Incentives System (SISA). The final report from Sinal Verde is here.
The project is coordinated by the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) and implemented by the Centre for Amazonian Workers (CTA), a local NGO working within the reserve. A collaboration agreement exists with Acre's Institute of Climate Change and Environmental Services Regulation (IMC) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which is responsible for overseeing federal reserves and is linked to the Ministry of Environment (MMA). The project also works closely with a number of associations and cooperatives, and other relevant governmental and civil society stakeholders acting in the reserve.
The state of Acre has a well-established history of environmental activism within its borders. Since the 1980s, rubber tappers have organised to ensure security for their lands and the forests within them. In 1988, the assassination of Chico Mendes, one of the main leaders of the environmental and workers’ rights movement in the state, raised the profile of environmental activism in Acre. The struggle of the state’s grassroots environmentalists was one of the driving forces that led the Brazilian government to create protected areas under traditional sustainable use, known as Extractive Reserves. The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, established in 1990, was one of the first of these.
Since the end of the 1990s, politicians linked to the environmental movement have governed the state, making several environmental policies central to their government’s agenda. In recent years, at the jurisdictional level, the state of Acre has implemented an array of environmental programmes and policies as part of its Environmental Services Incentives System (SISA). Extractive Reserves are an integral part of the SISA strategy and are also important forest areas for the implementation of REDD+ activities in the state.
Extractive Reserves have dual objectives of social development and environmental protection. They are managed jointly by public bodies and residents, who come together in a Management Council for each reserve (including employees of public bodies, community representatives, and stakeholders from other institutions, such as research groups or service providers). This council, chaired by the reserve manager from ICMBio, administers the reserve in accordance with a Management Plan and Utilisation Plan (covering issues such as the size of rubber extraction areas; residents’ use of fire, timber and forest products; limits on livestock, hunting and fishing; and conditions for researchers).
In a similar way, REDD+ approaches in these areas will also rely on reconciling social development and conservation objectives, and setting up feasible rules, incentivising the sustainable use of forest resources for the enhancement and wellbeing of forest communities. A key challenge will be to understand the potential socio-environmental impacts and effectiveness of policies and activities geared towards sustainable development. Strengthening forest monitoring systems and creating safeguards information systems are fundamental components for tackling that challenge.
The livelihoods and land-use patterns of forest peoples in the Amazon region are changing as a result of market pressures and agricultural expansion. The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve provides an important case study for understanding the dynamics of agricultural frontiers and the impact of sustainable resource use strategies and incentives.
The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve follows a co-management model, representing residents, civil society and government stakeholders. This has in turn influenced the level of community participation in the monitoring system developed through this project. Efforts have been made to balance the monitoring needs of federal and state institutions responsible for overseeing protected areas and implementing environmental policies, with the needs and demands of the local associations that represent reserve residents. The process has been largely participatory, although the level of local control and ownership has been held back by low institutional capacity and the lack of communal structures within the Reserve. The implementation schedule of the project is displayed in the table below.
The monitoring framework (shown in the indicator tabs above, and described in the next section) was developed through consultation with community members, especially those in the Management Council of the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, and representatives from government and civil society. Community members also collaborated in the development of the questionnaires for data collection.
The use of innovative technological tools drew in the younger population, and increased their interest in conservation-related activities. A team of 40 community monitors (30 men and 10 women, aged between 18 and 38) was selected. They received a monthly incentive of R$ 300 for ten days of monitoring work.
Each community monitor participated in 11 training workshops, covering interview and communication techniques. They conducted household surveys or interviewed individuals within agreed monitoring areas, as well as raising awareness of the project in their communities, and answering residents’ questions. They were also consulted on the questions and methodologies for monitoring, verifying and reporting the results to the communities. Data collection was by community members, for community members, though external data interests were also incorporated. Training also covered the use of smartphones for data collection. Open Data Kit (ODK) forms and the Smap offline local data management software (both described in the ‘Digital technology’ section below) were uploaded onto the phones used by the monitors.
GCP and the local management team fed back monitoring results to the community monitors, who shared them with fellow residents, local associations, the association presidents, and community representatives on the Reserve’s Management Council. The results were also presented to ICMBio and the reserve manager. As a result, public bodies and residents were well-informed and discussed the results at Management Council meetings, using these to guide their decisions.
Using the classification system for the relative involvement of actors in forest monitoring proposed by Danielsen et al. (2009), this project sits between the two categories ‘externally driven monitoring with local data collectors’ and ‘collaborative monitoring with external data interpretation’.
Households in the reserve are mainly concentrated along watercourses and access roads, as well as being dispersed in remote rubber areas, scattered across the reserve area of nearly 1 million hectares (roughly the size of Lebanon). Despite this logistical challenge, between March 2014 and February 2015, community monitors visited 56 rubber-extracting areas (seringais), reaching around 25% of the total number of families resident in the Reserve. The monitors filled 6,169 forms in that period. The map below shows that the coverage of the Reserve was very extensive.
The implementation of the project was based on the participatory monitoring framework, as shown in the indicators tabs above. This comprised three main thematic areas and 12 sets of indicators, covering economic development (e.g. extraction of nuts, timber and fibre, agriculture and market access), community wellbeing (e.g. access and perception of public services, health and infrastructure) and forest governance (e.g. reserve management, land conflicts, access and perception of policies and programmes).
The management team was based in the Centre for Amazonian Workers (CTA), a local NGO in the state capital, Rio Branco. They created the ODK forms used to gather data, with support from external facilitators (GCP). The management team also carried out parts of the analysis and reporting of data, coordinated workshops and carried out monthly visits to the reserve.
Training workshops prior to each monitoring cycle enabled all the questionnaires to be developed, adjusted and tested in consultation with community members, to maximise their relevance and accuracy. In addition, each interview was geo-referenced to understand spatial distribution and progress.
The project in Acre builds on experience and lessons learnt from its sister project in the North Rupununi, Guyana, which used Android Galaxy X Cover phones and ODK (a free-access, user-friendly application developed by Google) for data capture. The Acre project is using a newer version of the phone (Samsung Galaxy X Cover 2) and has continued to rely on ODK for digital questionnaires, but has adopted an offline local data management software called Smap, which allows instant data processing, analysis and visualisation options.
Using smartphones had several advantages, such as the production of varied types of information (e.g. text, audio and photographs) and the possibility of having georeferenced data points, all with more precision (fewer data entry mistakes) and speed for analysis and sharing. Forms were created in Microsoft Excel and then transferred to Smap, which was used for the management of the forms. Data upload and download from the cellphones to the computer used a local wi-fi connection.
The initial visualisation and processing of data also used Smap, which also allows results to be downloaded in different forms, such as spreadsheets and shape files. Such versatility permits deeper analysis and visualisation using Microsoft Excel, ArcGIS and Google Maps Engine. Copies of the data were stored in a local hard drive and in a cloud storage application (Dropbox), with multiple access based on the computer installed Smap and offline accessibility.
Source of funding
This project received NOK 2 million funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) for 16 months ending in March 2015.
*1 NOK = US$0.14 in December 2014
Key findings and their wider implications
Detailed results can be found in the project’s final report. Based on the three thematic areas of the monitoring framework, we present below some of the key findings of the monitoring activities carried out by the project. We also link these to policy implications, especially for REDD+.
- The main water sources are wells and secondary creeks (igarapés)
- 39% of families do not perform any type of water treatment before consumption
- 66% do not consider water as a factor related to health problems
- 58% use water for raising small livestock, 27% for agriculture, 14% for cattle-raising and 1% for fish farming
This shows that community-based monitoring can shed light on the changing welfare of forest residents – a key objective of many public policies and programmes. For example, the well-being of indigenous peoples and communities is one of the main criteria for the Acre SISA safeguards system.
- The main forest products extracted in the Reserve are Brazil nuts and rubber latex
- 60% of the families extract Brazil nuts
- The average amount of Brazil nuts extracted by each family is 172 cans per harvest, with an average value of R$ 29.50 per can. Prices vary sharply (between R$ 16,50 and R$ 43,25 per can), depending on the municipality.
- 22% of families extract latex
- 18% have participated or participate in the Rubber Subsidy program in 2014
The project generated data on aspects of the reserve’s forest economy, including access to and awareness of existing incentives for environmentally sustainable use of the forest (namely, the rubber subsidy and Bolsa Verde programme). Similar methodologies could be used to assess the degree to which local people access benefits from a REDD+ programme. Also, Acre’s environmental agenda aims to promote a “green” economic model, including encouraging supply chains of sustainable forest products that reduce the incentives to clear forest. Information on the economic impacts of these forest products, and access to markets and support programmes, will help to understand progress towards this aim.
- 63% know of the Management Plan for the reserve, though only 21% of these believe it is working
- 67% feel properly represented by the Management Council
- 30% know of the Community Development Plan, of which 74% said that they participated in its elaboration
- 33% are linked to a residents’ association
- 75 rubber work areas (colocações) with conflicts over their boundaries were identified, as well as 172 invasion complaints
This type of data – on perceptions and involvement with management instruments and local associations – will be very relevant to understand the reach and impact of other public policies, such as REDD+. The project also found that the level of conflicts over rights to forest resources and the low levels of social cohesion make it particularly difficult to implement community monitoring of certain topics, such as drivers of deforestation and land use. This highlights the importance of addressing conflict as a key component of policies to reduce deforestation.
Achievements and challenges
This initiative generated insights into how community-based monitoring using technology can benefit forest populations and support policy development in the Amazon region. It demonstrates the value of engaging community members in data collection and reporting.
The specific monitoring results shed light on socio-environmental conditions in the reserve, such as low awareness of water-related health issues, diverse economic livelihood activities, and tenure instability. For the local population, this can inform decision making processes. For external agents, especially governments, this can guide interventions in the Reserve. These different governance scales come together in Management Council meetings, where the monitoring results catalysed discussion and decisions on conservation and reserve management. Lessons learnt and the capacity built through this project have also been shared with other community monitoring initiatives in the state of Acre.
The training of community members in the use of technology for systematic data collection has created a specialised labour category in the Reserve: the forest monitor. They have the access, the traditional knowledge and the credibility to carry out data collection, which many external actors lack. This group of mainly young environmental agents could support monitoring of other programmes, and have already become key focal points for local and external information exchange, for example sharing videos and documents on climate change, REDD+ and state policies including SISA.
More broadly, the initiative demonstrates the potential of this model to generate local data on management effectiveness, perceptions of public policies, social participation, and benefit generation and sharing. It underlines the importance of community data for the management of protected areas and the development of public policies, and to monitor the impact and effectiveness of these. The model can be adapted and incorporated into the SISA framework, and communities can be involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of REDD+ and its safeguards in Acre.
Challenges, however, remain. The historical relations that exist between local and external actors in the Reserve posed considerable challenges for data collection. Mistrust of federal institutions, coupled with inadequate interventions in the reserve in the past, have generated suspicion of monitoring activities. Collecting data on deforestation was sensitive and problematic in many parts of the Reserve, because it is normally associated with fines and other types of enforcement, and because of the local conflicts over land rights.
The vast area across which the Reserve’s residents are dispersed posed logistical challenges for data collection and information dissemination. The high travel costs and distances between interviewees meant that stipends for the community monitors were of marginal benefit, as the opportunity cost was high compared with other productive activities. This made it harder to retain the monitoring team.
Although the initiative has demonstrated the value of community-based forest monitoring for Acre, the methodology used in this short term initiative would have to be refined and adapted to fit new objectives, in order for the model to be replicable and long lasting.