Land tenure is not only a means, but its own end in REDD+

Southwest Cameroon. Photo: Michaela Lo/University of Copenhagen
Southwest Cameroon. Photo: Michaela Lo/University of Copenhagen
This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.

The performance of the REDD+ program, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, has been put under the spotlight recently.

It’s celebrity is not only for its progress in reducing deforestation, but also because of the challenges the program faces in ensuring that its benefits are distributed equitably, effectively, and efficiently.

At a special session of the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum, held in Paris alongside UNFCCC COP21 climate negotiations, two REDD+ specialists currently active in the implementation and research of REDD+ in Cameroon shared their insights.

Setting the scene: Cameroon’s landscape tenure mosaic

Emmanuel Nuesiri, a Professor at the University of Illinois, explained that, since the 19th century, Cameroon has had a tumultuous history of land ownership, which persists to this day.

Now, especially in the fertile, resource-rich area around Mount Cameroon, the land is under a complex mosaic of different tenure rights and arrangements. This makes it increasingly difficult for initiatives to successfully form a suitable mechanism that identifies who should be entitled to benefit from REDD+ projects, and how benefits should be allocated.

The enabling conditions: Land tenure rights or land tenure arrangements?

In REDD+ talks, land rights and tenure have been hotly debated: establishing a consistent framework is a crucial hurdle for ensuring a successful distribution of benefits.

However, Peter Akong Minang, Global Coordinator at the Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins (ASB) and the World Agroforestry Centre, does not currently see a critical turning point for the implementation of REDD+ projects. The process of establishing land tenure rights in countries like Cameroon is wrought with difficulties, he says. So rather than solely focusing on giving individual stakeholders their rights, Minang argues, one should ascertain that sustainable land tenure arrangements are in place so that the people who are directly involved in managing forests do receive the carbon benefits.

“We need to move the debate from formal tenure rights, to tenure arrangements – land, tree, carbon, product rights,” said Minang. “If we only wait to get complete formal ownership to land, we may never start action on REDD+ in many places. We need to find the right tenure arrangements configuration to enable a start, and then sort out the other suite of rights progressively.”

According to Minang, land tenure is not just a means for successful REDD+ outcomes to work, but also an end in itself.

REDD+ benefit distribution mechanism: How should it be designed?

One idea Nuesiri brought forward was to look at structures of compensation in other sectors in Cameroon.

“There is a timber fiscal compensation that is being used… and we can draw out some aspects of this mechanism and apply it in the context of REDD+. A further advantage of looking at established mechanisms is that there is an existing compensation structure in place so people are already familiar with the process.”

The panel on the policy and practical successes of REDD+ at the Global Landscapes Forum, also discussed the current frameworks for implementing a benefit sharing mechanism.

William Sunderlin, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), highlighted the importance of having a performance-based benefit-sharing mechanism. This is the idea that people should be compensated based on their direct involvement in preserving forests.

One other fundamental element that needs to be addressed is the robustness and adaptability of mechanisms. “There is no mechanism put in place [which] will have no drawbacks. The key is to use an adaptive management approach,” said Nuesiri. “You need to have a system that evaluates at regular intervals. Make sure that lessons learnt feed back into management processes.”