Conflict transformation in REDD+ – Gyanu Maskey
“I have the legal contract with the government to carry out the logging activity in this area, so no one has the right to stop me!” I was raising my voice and had my hands on the table firmly; I needed to make my position known in the argument that was taking place between government representatives, NGOs, competing logging companies and local stakeholders…or, at least my colleague who had been assigned the roles in a simulated conflict common to forested areas.
I was assigned the role of the logging company. I had the contract, but had not made good of promises made during the agreements with the indigenous people of the area. Representing my company, I took the legal contract as one of the strong base for my argument and was quite reluctant towards the benefit of the local people. My motive was profit.
Our simulation included a mediation process during which I realised that I might replaced by the new company. The locals were unhappy as we had not acted on agreements made. I soften as I heard these arguments; by fighting, I was putting my company at risk. Perhaps the best way forward was one of collaboration that included more stakeholders; my colleagues agreed.
The roleplay was part of a week of training on ‘Transforming Forest Landscape for Better Governance,’ was organised by RECOFTC – The Centre for People and Forest in Bangkok, Thailand. It brought together a number of researchers from different projects of the DFID-funded, NWO-managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme, which recently drew to a close.
The exercise helped me realise that there are spaces of mutual interest amongst the conflicting parties even when these might not visible at the peak of the conflicting situation. Conflict is not always as negative as it may sound and if the areas of mutual interest can be identified by realising the major interests (what we really want) and the need (what we must have), rather than the positions (what we say we want) the actors take, there are chances of resolving the conflict or moving towards transforming them.
Forests Conflicts in Nepal
Conflicts over forest as a natural resource in Nepal has predominantly been a result of the heterogenous nature of Nepalese society in terms of class, caste, ethnicity, gender. The Nepal Community Forestry programme includes 19,361 community user groups managing 18,13,478 hectares of national forest and involving about 1.45 million households or 35% of Nepal’s population. Conflict in community forestry takes place at a variety of levels: from within the households to within the group; between two or more groups; and at the policy level for example between policy maker and policy implementer. Conflicts within groups can take place over benefit distribution, leadership, and external support; communities may also compete against each other over forest boundary, user rights and conservation issues.
Conflicts also arise when the demand of the timber exceeds the allowable annual cut stipulated in the operational plan and the supply cannot satisfy the ever-growing demand. Conflict is induced and aggravated due to the forest governance modalities introduced by the government. Shifting cultivation, which is popularly known as Khoria Phadani in Nepal, has been a major problem for the conservation and management of forest resources. In addition, Chepang activists claimed that their traditional rights over the forest were neglected and means of their livelihoods ignored.
Possible conflicts in REDD+ implementation:
While intended to be a positive mechanism, conflict might arise from the implementation of REDD+. The creation of new zoning regimes can result in more restrictions to forest access, overlap with other land uses, and competing claims over land, forest, and carbon.
REDD+ raises many important questions regarding the ownership of the trees, carbon and decision-making power. There are different issues of conflict in different place and at different scales. Nature and intensity of conflict depends on the availability and access to resources, types of resources, pattern of benefits distribution, context of social system, location of forest resources, demarcation of forest boundary, forest management regime, and traditional use.
The matter of who can or should benefit from REDD in Nepal is of critical importance. Most pilot programmes and dialogues on REDD in Nepal have focused on the roles of community-based forest management, and community forestry outside of protected areas in particular, neglecting other potential contributors to forest carbon conservation and enhancement, such as leasehold forest user groups, buffer zone community forest user groups, collaborative forest user groups, religious forest users/managers, private landholders, or government administrators (for protected areas and national forest areas under government management). A comprehensive, nationwide system for REDD must include a majority of these users in order to be effective, and therefore be brought into discussions and piloting activities.
And although the indigenous peoples’ representatives and local communities’ representatives are engaged in the REDD+ policy process, their voices are seen, but not properly addressed. The implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is demanded by Nepalese Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) but there are no clear guidelines for its implementation and it is unfeasible for its full implementation. Likewise, limited consultation programmes without prior notice, use of English language and sophisticated terms, the exclusion of the CSOs in national decision-making forums, and paper participation are some of the barriers to inclusion.
The issue regarding the uncertainty about the forest tenure and allocation of rights of access and control will remain regarding carbon ownership and benefit sharing in REDD+. The conflicting policies on schemes by Department of Forests and REDD Implementation Centre with different categories of beneficiaries and different ratios of entitlements pose challenges in fund allocation. Formulaic distribution of benefit sharing is also not well-accepted by the people due to possibilities of double heading share and unclear on identification of the poor communities.
Towards conflict transformation
Many of these conflicts have existed for a long time in the country’s forestry sector, while some have become more pronounced with the adoption and unfolding of REDD+ policy. There will be a need for increased conflict-management capacity and mechanisms at different levels of resources governance both within and beyond the watershed level. Cooperation is possible if REDD+ implementation can address the array of existing forest management issues, including clarification of land tenure and rights.
Existing and new policy frameworks and a strong well organised civil society present an opportunity towards conflict transformation. Several diagnostic studies by REDD Implementation Centre as part of Nepal’s REDD+ Readiness activities, include studies on feedback and grievance redressal mechanisms, benefit sharing, policy and measures and carbon ownership to provide specific indications on reform needs. These have significant value in identifying issues that need to be addressed.
Additionally, forest and land tenure security including carbon assets, specifying clear rights, roles and accountability for stakeholders, clear policies with guidelines of implementation are required. For effective participation, critical information and reports should be in Nepali and/or other local languages to ensure that all stakeholders can participate effectively in discussions at different governance scales. The government and donors should develop the capacity of government officials, NGO personnel and community leaders on social negotiations and dialogues for conflict transformation. It is believed that the success of REDD+ hinges on its ability to address these existing challenges.
Gyanu wrote this blog following a training given by The Centre For People and Forests in Bangkok, Thailand on Transforming forest landscape conflicts for better governance”. CALCNR was one of seven research projects that formed part of the DFID-funded, NWO-WOTRO managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme, which concluded in September 2018.