REDD and Poverty in Cambodia

Transportation of charcoal. Photo: Robin Biddulph.

REDD and Poverty in Cambodia

Focali Report 2012:03 by Robin Biddulph

Read the full report here 

In modern Cambodia, forests have sheltered revolutionary guerrilla movements, been cleared for security reasons, and then logged commercially by parties to the conflict to finance their struggles. Following the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 and the UN sponsored elections in 1993 deforestation and forest degradation have been continued as opposing factions continued at first to struggle for power and then a new elite sought to consolidate its dominance.
While figures for forest degradation are not available, deforestation has been long-term and rapid. During the last quarter of the twentieth century it proceeded at 0.7% per annum and despite a logging ban in 2002 it continued at 0.5% per annum during 2000-2005. While central political struggles and deforestation and degradation have been closely linked, the direct local agents of deforestation have been top down in the form of logging, then agricultural and mining concessions issued to national and international companies, and bottom up in the form of migration of smallholders into forest areas. 
Ranking 139 (of 187) in the 2011 Human Development Index, Cambodia remains one of the poorer countries in the world. Many of Cambodia’s poorer rural population are directly dependent on forests for a small but often important element of their livelihoods. If Reduced Emissions from avoided Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) are to be implemented on any meaningful scale in Cambodia they therefore carry important opportunities and threats for poor people in the country. 
During the 1990s forest policy and official development assistance focused on achieving poverty reduction aims by increasing revenues from forest through the effective management of a forest concession system. More recently, culminating in the National Forest Programme 2010-2029, focus has shifted to supporting a broadly defined sustainable forest management and specifically to supporting the rapidly expanding community forestry sector in Cambodia. 
In 2010 a national taskforce with inputs from government, donors and NGOs was established to develop a REDD roadmap. The completion of the roadmap led to the securing of financing from UN-REDD and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), as well as from bilateral sources, particularly the Government of Japan, for preparing for REDD with the aim of enabling Cambodia to be able to qualify for emissions payments from REDD by 2015. 
Meanwhile, pilot activities are also in process. These have thus far been initiated through collaborations between international NGOs with existing projects and the government. These have sought to link the existing activities to the voluntary carbon market thereby securing long-term funding for the community participants and generating ‘demonstration’ effects for REDD. The most advanced of these are the Oddar Meanchey Community Forest REDD pilot and the Seima Protected Forest REDD pilot. 
Notwithstanding progress both nationally and locally, there is not yet evidence of sufficient support either internationally or nationally for REDD to effectively neutralise either the top-down or the bottom-up drivers of deforestation in Cambodia. This report reviews official documents and research reports over the 2009-2012 period, supplemented by field visits in 2010 and 2011, in order to summarise lessons learned from Cambodia’s early engagement with REDD from the viewpoint of poverty reduction. 
The report’s analysis is organised under four headings, with key findings summarised below: 
Key Findings: 

1. Financial Benefits to the Poor 
Preparations for the Oddar Meanchey pilot have seen the government commit in principle to sharing the benefits of REDD payments with local communities. The pilot has established the noteworthy precedent of 50% of net REDD payments being shared with the local communities. Projections indicate that this might be the equivalent of approximately 100 USD per household per annum (or 17 USD per person), unevenly distributed over time and between households. This scale of funding will not in itself either reduce poverty or incentivise avoided deforestation and degradation. Depending on how it is used it may nevertheless be significant for example by directly rewarding forest management activities or by financing public infrastructure. 
2. Relationship between REDD and Poor People’s Livelihoods 
In Cambodia, even amongst forest people, agriculture is a more significant element of livelihoods than forest resources. Many members of community forestry communities where REDD is being piloted are new migrants in search of agricultural land. Even while they protect their community forests they are clearing forests outside the pilot sites. The full extent of the conflict between local livelihood imperatives and avoided deforestation and degradation will not be realised until pilot activities are scaled up, at which point effective REDD may threaten the livelihoods of the poor. 
3. Impact of REDD on Tenure Security for the Poor 
The threat that REDD itself might become a driver of displacement as state authorities take direct control of forest lands and evict communities has not emerged. However, the continued use of large-scale concessions as a development strategy means that people living in settlements in or near forests are under more or less constant threat of losing their access to forest land. Communities in the REDD pilot sites cannot be confident of retaining their forests, and neither are authorities able to guarantee their security. Attempts have been made to secure individual farmers tenure for their agricultural plots in the forest using mapping techniques and informal agreements with the Forest Administration. If this could be linked to formal processes of land registration under the auspices of the Ministry of Land Management this could be a valuable pro-poor contribution generated by REDD-related activities. 
4. Rights and Power of Forest People within and beyond REDD 
Within the demonstration activities community benefits have been negotiated on behalf of the people rather than by the people. Given uncertainty about either funds from the carbon market, or international commitment to significantly fund REDD pilots, the absence of intensive processes of consultation and negotiation about benefit sharing is perhaps reasonable. Some, but by no means all, forest-dwelling communities in Cambodia are also members of indigenous ethnic minority groups. REDD preparations have included specific consultations with these minority groups. While this inclusiveness is seen as a positive, there is no evidence yet that REDD will either improve or worsen the position of these or other forest communities in their attempts to realise goals within or beyond REDD.


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