Understanding the vulnerability of forest-dependent communities is a point of departure for building more effective climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, a study has found.
Among its findings, the study reported that mitigation activities might make communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other factors. It also argued that positive outcomes from conservation depend on the willingness and motivation of communities to engage and participate in mitigation activities.
The study, published in the International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation, was written principally by Eugene Chia who conducted the research as part of a graduate thesis at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
MITIGATION MAY CREATE MORE VULNERABILITY
The research focused on two villages in the rainforests of southern Cameroon that are involved in payments for ecosystem services (PES) pilot projects.
Through PES, communities receive financial or in-kind payment for preserving “services” such as water, carbon storage and biodiversity. The pilot projects in Cameroon are designed to maintain carbon stocks and biodiversity through such activities as protecting and regenerating forests, and sustainable agriculture.
In addition, the projects include components to strengthen local health and education as they relate to infrastructure.
Financed through the Congo Basin Forest Fund, the projects, which relate only to infrastructure, are implemented by the Centre for Environment and Development with support from Bioclimate, Econometrica and Rainforest Foundation UK.
The pilot projects were focused on reducing deforestation and conserving biodiversity, but did not necessarily consider how to help communities adapt to a changing climate, researchers found.
In fact, the study found that conditions imposed by the PES projects had major implications for livelihood activities in the village of Nkolenyeng, predominately a farming community.
For example, in light of the projects’ ban on rotational slash-and-burn crop farming – also known as swidden – the study found some older farmers are opting to clear less land rather than take up more labor-intensive clearing methods.
These decisions may ultimately affect food security and income in the village, creating more vulnerability, the study suggested.
“At my age, I have little energy to prepare my fields without burning, so for now with the project conditions I’ll prepare only a small portion,” said one 62-year-old farmer during a focus group.
“If you’re asking farmers not to slash and burn, then you need to make sure they can earn the same income and grow the same amount of food on a smaller unit of land,” said Denis Sonwa, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the paper’s co-authors.
The two communities were found to be vulnerable to both climatic and non-climatic stresses.
In what they called “climatic accidents,” villagers reported variations in temperature and sunshine, rainfall and the traditional sowing and harvesting periods. “Rain comes unexpectedly during the dry season and is delayed when it’s supposed to arrive,” said one villager during a focus group discussion.
Researchers and villagers brainstormed on adaptation strategies that could lead to sustained income and food security. Some ideas included more mixed cropping, new and improved crop varieties, garden farming and agroforestry. Potential income-generating activities ranged from better collection and marketing of forest fruits to beekeeping, fish farming and mushroom growing.
“Some activities are already in place through the PES mitigation project,” said Sonwa. “For example, they are planting trees, promoting sustainable agriculture and building capacity for beekeeping. What’s important is for mitigation activities to be planned with adaptation in mind to build synergy between the two approaches.”
Such activities as urban forestry, sustainable forest management and agroforestry can not only mitigate the impacts of climate change, Sonwa said, but they can also reduce the vulnerability of forest communities to climatic and non-climatic stresses — if they are planned properly.
“A holistic, cross-sectoral approach that engages communities, governments and scientists is necessary to ensure projects promote both mitigation and adaptation,” he said. “Otherwise, projects may miss out on the benefits of synergy, or worse, include elements that undermine overall impact.”
ROLE OF TENURE AND EQUITABLE BENEFITS
Other findings reaffirmed earlier research that suggests clear land tenure – or land management rights – motivates communities to get involved in forest conservation.
Community members were willing to undertake mitigation activities, for example, because they believed any benefits would flow back to them rather than to the state. In addition, the paper echoed other studies about the importance of equitable distribution of resources and forest benefits.
In Nomedjoh, 93 percent of respondents said they believed benefits would be shared equally. This is an indication the community would adhere to the ban on slash-and-burn and other conditions, the researchers said.
In Nkolenyeng, however, where respondents said they were still frustrated with mismanagement and embezzlement in an earlier forestry project, only 87 percent had faith the current project would be equitable to all. This feeling of distrust, researchers said, has implications for the willingness of villagers to participate and adhere to project conditions.
“This is a pilot project so it’s a learning process,” said Sonwa. “As scientists, we are trying to assess the vulnerability of communities, and offer some lessons that may be helpful. The key message is that we need to ensure livelihood activities are resilient, and don’t leave communities more vulnerable.”
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This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by the Congo Basin Forest and Climate Change Adaptation (CoFCCA) project, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DfID); and the Congo Basin Forest and Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation (COBAM) project within the Congo Basin Ecosystems Conservation Support Program (PACEBCO) funded by the African Development Bank and the Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale.