How is REDD+ doing in Africa?

By Kristi Foster and Daisy Ouya

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is a climate-change-mitigation mechanism that seeks to compensate—in hard currency—developing countries for sustainable development that reduces CO2 emissions. REDD+ means REDD in addition to applying conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancing forest carbon stocks. Done right, REDD+ can bring some attractive benefits to developing countries, including finances that can be applied to various areas of development.

According to Dr. Cheikh Mbow, however, poorly implemented REDD+ initiatives could negatively impact the livelihoods of the very communities it was designed to benefit, particularly rural people who depend on forest resources. Mbow is a senior climate change scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and lead author of the recent new report titled ‘Challenges and Prospects for REDD+ in Africa: Desk Review Of REDD+ Implementation in Africa.” The report sought to synthesize the ever-growing number of REDD+ activities under implementation in Africa, including the actors, objectives, means of execution, and outcomes.

“Within the African context, a range of deforestation pressures, financial resources, technical capacity and a diverse array of interest groups present challenges to REDD+ implementation,” he adds.

The report, published by Washington-DC-based International START Secretariat, is the result of a detailed review of projects in Africa to build a database of existing REDD initiatives and their status of implementation. It takes a close look at the current state of forests in Africa; strategies for REDD implementation; political, institutional, technical, social and economic barriers to implementation; performance monitoring/reporting metrics being developed; and future prospects for REDD+ on the continent.

According to Mbow and co-authors, measures for climate change mitigation such as REDD+ need to look beyond forest boundaries. They must recognize the trade-offs between the interests of land occupiers, governments and large commercial players and seek a balance between efforts to avoid deforestation and ensure food security on a continent where over 60% of the populace depends on agriculture.

In Africa, REDD+ goals frequently suffer at the hands of other development aims, with the agriculture, mining, energy and forestry sectors all driving deforestation. In Ghana, for example, the promise of greater foreign income from high-yield sun cocoa and the expansion of mineral extraction into forest reserves both contribute to deforestation.

“Dense forests are giving way to international industrial demand”, states the report. “In recent years, about 70 million hectares in middle and low-income African countries have been grabbed in unsustainable land deals by international investors, resulting in widespread deforestation and loss of benefits for the poor,” says START Director Dr. Hassan Virji.

At the local level, the promotion of forest protection to meet REDD+ targets must compete with the realities of poverty in rural communities, where people rely on activities such as shifting cultivation and resource extraction to survive. Often, REDD+ initiatives simply lead to “leakage”, or the displacement of deforestation to other locations, including non-forest ecosystems, some of which are rich in biodiversity.

One reason for this is that rural people living in poverty have to weigh carbon prices against the opportunity costs associated with avoiding deforestation, e.g. forfeiting resource extraction that supports their livelihoods. If sufficient incentives are not provided to maintain forest cover, poor communities revert to more urgent livelihood concerns, such as collecting firewood or clearing forests for farming, to the detriment of REDD+ goals.

This finding underlines the need to address funding as a barrier to REDD+.

“There is a critical gap between the fundamental aims of REDD+ as elaborated in the international dialogue, and the realities on the ground,” state the authors.

For example, REDD+ recommendations are guided by Western concepts of property rights, a far cry from the land tenure situation in many countries in Africa, where the boundaries are not so clear; it is not unusual for land to be assigned to individuals, communities and the state at the same time. Because carbon payments are typically made to the individuals with secure land tenure, tenure reforms will be necessary for REDD+ incentives to succeed and reach their intended beneficiaries.

According to Mbow and co-authors, REDD+ currently plays host to a wide range of parallel activities, spanning multilateral and bilateral initiatives to NGO and independent projects.

While the dense forests of the Congo Basin have rightfully attracted much international interest for REDD+ projects to date, Mbow and co-authors argue that it is equally important to pay attention to deforestation in other wooded lands, and especially Africa’s savannas where pastoralism, agriculture and human pressures are leading to high deforestation rates. Also important are countries with comparatively low forest cover, such as Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe; the authors say their high deforestation rates could qualify them for REDD+ initiatives and financing in the future.

Download the full report:

Challenges and Prospects for REDD+ in Africa: Desk Review Of REDD+ Implementation in Africa. GLP Report No. 3. GLP-IPO, Copenhagen. by Cheikh Mbow, David Skole, Moussa Dieng, Christopher Justice, Dominick Kwesha, Landing Mane, Mohamed El Gamri, Vincent Von Vordzogbe, Hassan Virji, 2012.


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