UN forest programme reopens in Panama, learns lessons

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 12 December 2013 10:38 GMT

An indigenous kuna woman looks on as she stands by her house window and residents pass by on Nusadup island at the comarca of Kuna Yala, Panama, on September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

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More money will be directed to consultation with forest communities, UN REDD officials say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A U.N. programme aimed at protecting Panama's forests has been reopened after it was suspended earlier this year due to disagreement between indigenous forest communities and the Central American nation's government over how the scheme was being managed.

This week the policy board of the United Nations' Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) Programme said progress had been made towards resolving the conflict in Panama. It approved an extension of its national initiative, which had been due to end this month, until June 2015.

In March, the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) announced it was pulling out of the programme, accusing the government and U.N. agencies of not including indigenous groups in decision-making, nor offering enough funding to support their participation and to gain legal security for their land.

In response, the UN-REDD Programme launched an independent investigation and evaluation, which concluded that clear and appropriate procedures had not been defined for involving COONAPIP, and dialogue failure had led to mistrust.

Over the past few months, Panama's National Environment Authority (ANAM) and COONAPIP have been discussing how to resolve their differences and revise the programme’s results framework, UN-REDD said. COONAPIP then held a general assembly that officially approved the new agreement in late November.


"We feel satisfied that the process followed with ANAM will help us to correct issues," COONAPIP President Candido Mezua said in a statement released by UN-REDD this week. "It is time to trust again."

Mezua emphasised that the REDD programme must be conducted with full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and asked for grievance mechanisms to be made available.

ANAM official Gerardo Gonzalez said the Panama government had learned from the experience. "We better understand the perspectives of indigenous peoples," he said in the statement. "Their participation is now guaranteed and we know they are protectors of the forest."

The $5.3 million national programme in Panama, which began in early 2011, is being extended so it can get back on track and involve more indigenous people and other concerned groups - but its budget will not be increased. Rather the amount of money allocated for public participation will increase by about 30 percent, according to Mirey Atallah, senior officer for national programmes with UN-REDD in Geneva.

There will be more focus on reaching out to a broader set of indigenous people, to make sure their rights are safeguarded and their consent is obtained, and less attention paid to things like the legal aspects of a framework for paying compensation to protect forests, Atallah told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Work to monitor Panama's forests and make an inventory of forest resources will continue, but "we have realised it is more about having conversations", Atallah added.


The UN-REDD Programme - a collaboration between U.N. agencies - supports national efforts to prepare for rolling out REDD+ projects in 48 partner countries, spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

The programme aim to give forest communities a financial incentive to protect forests against threats to them, in an effort to reduce tropical deforestation, a major driver of climate change.

No other UN-REDD programme has suffered from the same level of disruption as in Panama, but the secretariat is nonetheless learning the lessons of what happened there and applying them in other places, Atallah said.

For example, in the programme approved for Bangladesh this week, a higher proportion of funding has been earmarked for outreach to affected communities, with the aim of preventing misunderstandings.

UN-REDD now recognises more time is needed to put in place sound planning processes and institutional arrangements, and to analyse the political economy in each individual country, Atallah said.

"Our responsibility is to see and anticipate when (a situation like Panama) might happen, and bring different perspectives together," she said.

When the international scheme was launched in 2008, there had been "quite a bit of enthusiasm and over-ambitious expectations", Atallah said. But defining a national framework for remunerating forest protection in just three to four years is a tall order, and most national programmes have requested an extension, she noted.

"We have come to realise that the time we gave ourselves was not commensurate with our ambition," she said. "We underestimated what it is, and what it takes."

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