Author: Helen Bellfield
There are many potential synergies between the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, which aims to reduce illegal logging through improving forest governance and promoting the trade of legal timber, and REDD+, the international mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. This provides an opportunity not only to share valuable lessons but also for joint approaches that address both their needs.
One clear example is their common need for appropriate ‘safeguard information systems’ to address their potential negative social impacts. This is especially important for local communities and indigenous peoples who are highly dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods.
This issue was brought home by Marceline Louanga, an indigenous community representative from Cameroon, at a meeting in March in Indonesia. “The forest feeds and takes care of us,” she said. “Our people know how to protect the forest, but the state has taken the forest away by force. We no longer have access to forest land, and without our forest livelihoods, it is far harder to educate our children”.
Engaging and enabling the full participation of forest dependent communities, who own or manage significant areas of tropical forest land, is a matter of wellbeing for forest communities. It is also integral to the success of both REDD+ and FLEGT. Yet in many countries the lack of recognition of customary tenure remains a barrier to the effective participation of forest communities and is a key challenge for realising the full potential of both mechanisms.
FLEGT has made progress in this respect, with customary rights being recognised within each of the six existing legally binding bilateral agreements between timber producing countries and the EU (called Voluntary Partnership Agreements or VPAs). However, these are mainly focussed on access and user rights, rather than property rights, which would be associated with greater community empowerment.
Furthermore, both REDD+ and FLEGT recognise the need for safeguards: the Cancun Agreements, which emerged from the 2010 UN climate conference, outline seven safeguards that countries must address and respect when implementing REDD+. Meanwhile, all existing FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements include language recognising the need to monitor social impacts.
In both cases, the systems to provide information on social and, in the case of REDD+, environmental safeguards are in the very early stages of development, providing an opportunity for forest countries to design a system that meets the needs of both REDD+ and FLEGT.
This is where community based monitoring can play a key role, as it offers one approach for cost-effectively gathering the necessary information on safeguards. At the same time, it can enable the engagement and participation of forest-dependent communities in the two national-scale mechanisms.
Indeed, a number of pilot projects have explored how community-based monitoring can inform national forest monitoring systems. A pilot project led by the Global Canopy Programme in Guyana is currently testing the role of community-based monitoring for REDD+, while pilot projects in Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Liberia have built capacity for participatory mapping and monitoring to enable communities to gather data that can inform FLEGT.
In Congo, this has seen the design of a mobile phone based application that enables illiterate hunter-gatherer communities to record evidence of illegal logging activity and communicate this information to the country’s independent monitor of FLEGT, Cercle d'Appui à la Gestion Durable des Forêts(CAGDF), which supports the monitoring mechanisms framed within the EU-Congo FLEGT VPA.
While these pilots have focussed on monitoring activities, rather than providing information on safeguards, they offer vital insights into the opportunities and challenges of scaling up and integrating community-collected information within national information systems.
FLEGT and REDD+ face similar challenges in building on these projects, including developing the necessary monitoring capacity amongst communities, and securing sustainable funding. However, it is clear that community-collected information on safeguards offers a significant opportunity for countries to empower and fully engage forest-dependent communities in FLEGT and REDD+, and ultimately improve the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of both mechanisms.