Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is expected to have implications beyond mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions [1
]. As reflected by the “+” after REDD, the scope of this initiative is broadened to also include conservation, sustainable forest management as well as carbon stocks enhancement [2
]. In providing financial incentives for forest emission reductions, it is expected that REDD+ can mobilize billions of dollars in multilateral funding for developing countries—figures that are greater than all current investments in forest conservation [4
]. Additionally, REDD+ is also expected to generate a range of co-benefits such as alleviating poverty, securing rights and equity, improving forest governance, and protecting biodiversity, soil and water quality [1
There are, however, concerns that the implementation of REDD+ may trigger new conflicts or exacerbate old ones [5
] and actually harm forest-dependent populations [2
], especially where their rights, tenure and participation are not ensured [7
]. To this end, it is believed that the success of REDD+ hinges on the ability to address an array of existing challenges to forest management.
Conflict over land and natural resources is among the most pressing challenges in sustainable forest management, particularly in Asia [8
]. Violent conflict has affected roughly 75% of Asia’s forests over the past 20 years [9
]. Increasing competition over scarce forest resources continues to fuel the issue and it is expected that REDD+ will increase these pressures. Given that REDD+ stands to affect hundreds of millions of forest-dependent people in the region [5
], it is essential to accurately identify and anticipate the potential impacts of REDD+ design and implementation on forest and conflict management. The development of REDD+ implicitly addresses the issues of conflict management: in each country REDD+ is being developed in three phases (e.g., readiness phase, phase of development of policies and measures, performance based payments phase), aims of which include ensuring social safeguards are in place, with a great deal of emphasis being placed on the meaningful consultation and participation of stakeholders. While rigorous research into conflict is a cornerstone of successful conflict management [10
], there are few studies to date that focus specifically on the implications of REDD+ for conflict management
In these regards, the primary aim of this study is to build an understanding of the relationship between REDD+ and conflict over forestland and resources, and in particular, to identify existing sources of conflict at study sites in order to predict possible areas of conflict under REDD+ implementation. To this end, this study develops an analytical framework and applies it to three REDD+ pilot sites in Nepal, and in doing so attempts to answer the following questions:
It is hoped that the framework will serve as a preliminary methodological foundation for future research on forest conflict in general, including forest management under REDD+.
2. Material and Methods
2.1. Theoretical Background and Analytical Framework
The analytical framework used in this study is based on Glasl’s definition of conflict [11
], which is further developed by Yasmi and Colfer [12
], as a situation in which one actor or group is impairing the activities of another because of different perceptions, emotions and interests. A conflict situation is one in which the impairing behavior from one actor is experienced by another, while factors or conditions that drive such are considered the sources of impairment [12
]. An extension of the understanding is that the likelihood of conflict can be determined by examining possible sources of impairment.
Earlier work examining forest conflicts in Asia [5
] identified areas of potential conflict for emerging REDD+ initiatives in the region. Yasmi et al.
] categorized the numerous potential sources of impairment as: underlying (e.g., contested and overlapping claims of tenure) and direct (e.g., loss of access by communities). Based on these, an analytical framework consisting of nine possible sources of impairment (Table 1
) was developed for this study as possible sources of conflict in the implementation of REDD+. Similar to Yasmi et al.
] the focus of the framework is on the conflict potential on a sub-national level, which will be based on issues at internal (e.g., decision making within the community), and external levels (e.g., laws and regulations regarding community rights).
Overview of study sites.
Overview of study sites.
|Location||Community Forest area (ha)||No. of Community Forestry User groups (CFUGs)||Total Population||Number of households|
The starting point of the framework is that impairment felt by communities, which relates to forest management and governance, can be in different forms (Table 1
). These sources of impairment were selected based on an extensive review of literature (including relevant academic articles, reports by forestry organizations and civil society groups, as well as national government publications), focusing on communities living in and around forests and the potential social impacts of REDD+. While they are not comprehensive, they represent recurring issues in conflict literature. As such, the framework can be used as a basis to help predict conflict not only in REDD+ (e.g., to ensure that lessons are learned from the “readiness” phase of REDD+ prior to actual implementation phases), but also in other areas of community-outsider relations regarding forest management.
2.2. Case Studies
The framework was applied to three REDD+ pilot sites in Nepal: Kayarkhola (Chitwan District), Ludhikola (Gorkha District) and Charnawati (Dolakha district) watersheds (Table 2
). The project was initiated by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB), and Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN) in 2009. At the time of writing this article, this pilot project is testing community forest-based governance and payment mechanisms for REDD+. The relatively advanced level of REDD+ activity, occurrence of forest conflict in or around the area, accessibility of the sites and presence of local organizations guided the selection of the study sites (the watersheds in general and the specific CFUGs). This kind of information would be useful for using this framework for scoping and developing REDD+ project sites.
2.3. Data Collection
The study employed a qualitative research approach, using various methods of data collection:
Experts’ workshops were held in Kathmandu in April 2011 and February 2012. The workshops involved a total of 30 experts (17 attending April’s workshop and 20 in February (i.e., some participants attended both workshops)). The workshops allowed further development of the impairment framework, as well discussion on current forest conflict issues. Building on this understanding of conflict, participants anticipated the potential impacts of REDD+ implementation on conflict. The workshop participants were selected for their expertise in conflict and forest management, and REDD+ in Nepal. As much as possible, selection aimed to ensure the representation of multiple sectors (e.g., national and sub-national governments (e.g., REDD-Cell, District Forest Office (DFO)), civil society organizations (e.g., Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN)), research institutions (e.g., Forest Action) and community based organizations (e.g., FECOFUN).
To gather more information about the sources of impairment in past and present conflict over forests and land at the local level, a series of focus group discussions (FGD) and key informant interviews were conducted in the study sites. The field work took place in two phases May-June 2011 (prior to distribution of first REDD+ payments) and February-March 2012 (after REDD+ payments distributed). The first phase covered four Community Forest User Groups [CFUGs (Birenchok, Dharapani, Gorkha, Kayarkhola CFUGs )] collecting qualitative data from a total of 74 participants from eight FGDs as well as 14 interviews with key informants (8 from the community (4 of which were women), 4 from REDD+ networks, and 2 from Government forestry officials). The second phase covered 10 CFUGs (Bichaur, Birenchok, Charnawati, Chaturmukhi, Chelibeti, Jamuna, Janapragati, Mahalaxmi, Sitakunda, Thangsadeurali CFUGs). 13 FGDs (total of 145 participants), and 27 key informant interviews (16 from the community (9 men, 7 women), 8 from REDD+ networks, 1 from district committee of FECOFUN, 2 government officials) were conducted. Participants of the FGD and key informant interviews were selected to ensure a diversity of community stakeholders in terms of wealth, social status, gender and livelihoods. The participants were interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires. In addition, the study consulted official project documentation from the project sites. It should be noted, however, that due to the qualitative nature of the study, it is not claimed that the results are representative of all stakeholders in the REDD+ pilot project sites. References to actors that are made in this study refer to the individuals and groups that took part in the workshops, FGDs and interviews.
Template analysis, a technique in which the researchers prepared key themes (codes) prior going to the field [14
] was used for analyzing the data. In this case, the sources of impairments (Table 1
) served as the key themes as well as a template that enabled the researchers to analyze the data [15
Sources of impairment.
Sources of impairment.
| ||Source||Examples of impairment ||Justification||References|
|1||Access and use restriction||Regulations limiting local stakeholders’ access to or use of forests due to creation of protected areas and/or granting of land concessions to private companies||Access to natural resources is essential in meeting subsistence needs of local stakeholders. Policies or practices that limit local access and ability to harvest forest products can cause conflict. REDD+ may come with such restrictions that have potential to alter the relationship that people have with forests.||[16,17]|
|2||Benefit distribution||Unclear or inequitable arrangements for distributing benefits from forest management ||The lack of fair and equitable benefit distribution mechanisms may create hostility among stakeholders regarding benefit sharing. The introduction of new resources into the system as well as potential benefits from REDD+ must be factored into this already complex equation of benefit generation and distribution.||[18,19]|
|3||Competing demands||Overlap between economic and development agendas, conservation, and cultural importance of forest areas||Prioritization of conservation or economic development agenda over cultural values as well as local needs and aspirations makes natural resource management (NRM) highly contentious. Alternative land use options might generate more income, making REDD+ the less favorable option to communities.||[10,20,21]|
|4||Conflict management capacity||Lack of capacity, support or resources from local or central government for managing conflict ||The lack of a clear and effective mechanism or process for managing conflict over forest land and resources may escalate conflict. Ongoing tensions can undermine existing institutions, increase the socioeconomic vulnerability of dependent users, and result in environmental degradation. The absence of grievance mechanisms or processes challenging conventional decision-making processes, like Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), could make REDD+ itself a driver for conflict.|||
|5||Leadership ||Leadership is not representative, accountable, or transparent; elite groups dominate decision-making processes and bodies||Community elites often exert disproportionate influence on leadership positions. Their elevated social status enables them to circumvent accountability or transparency, and misuse their leadership roles to engage in corrupt practices. The approach to and content of REDD+ implementation may strengthen these prevalent power imbalances or cause conflict by challenging them.|||
|6||Legal and policy frameworks||Dominance of state law over local and/or customary traditions; multiple, ambiguous and overlapping regulations related to forest management; legislation not well understood or effectively enforced; ||Effective forest management depends on the clarity and consistency of legal and policy frameworks. State regulations often do not explicitly accommodate customary laws or reflect local realities. The resulting legal pluralism can create conflict. Inadequate provisions for implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs likewise contribute to legal instability. The commoditization of carbon through REDD+ will add complexity to existing regulatory frameworks for forest management.|||
|7||Participation and information||Lack of understanding and access to information, limited opportunities for stakeholders to meaningfully participate in forest management ||State forest policies and interventions are sometimes made without active participation of local stakeholders, and thereby fail to account for local rights and practices. Inadequate consultation and communication with stakeholder groups can lead to conflict. Even where REDD+ implementation is equipped with grievance mechanisms and processes to ensure that affected parties understand and agree with the implications, the use of such tools is not fail proof.||[5,22,24,25]|
|8||Quality of resources||Actual and perceived decrease or increase in the condition of forest resources caused by an external actor||Decreases in amount or quality of available forest land and resources can create tensions among stakeholders. The pursuit of REDD+ benefits may lead to intentionally skewed perceptions of forest quality. |||
|9||Tenure security||Overlapping boundaries between state and CF, contested boundaries, lack of recognition of customary rights and traditional uses of the land||The lack of clear and consistent recognition of stakeholders’ claims to forest land and resources can fuel conflict. Such recognition could afford stakeholders rights to manage, control and utilize resources. In practice, however, tenure arrangements are vaguely defined or absent, leading to overlapping claims between state and CF. This is especially true where customary and traditional rights are concerned. REDD+ poses important questions about carbon ownership and benefit entitlements. ||[19,27,28]|
The work demonstrates that the analytical framework can help identify, understand, and to some extent, predict possible sources of impairment and eventual conflict under REDD+ implementation. In effect, the framework can serve as a useful methodological foundation for future research in conflict related to REDD+, as well as being a conflict management tool for REDD+ proponents. Conflict management in this context is not just for resolving a conflict, but for addressing the underlying causes of conflict that may jeopardize the implementation of REDD+ as well as maximizing the positive impacts of any conflict when it does occur.
Although the framework aims to be comprehensive, it has a number of limitations. Firstly, there might be other sources of impairment that are not explicitly included in the framework (e.g., livelihoods is covered in various sources of impairment, but does not have its own classification). Secondly, the case study sites are unique in many ways. Therefore, further testing and refining of the framework in different contexts is desirable.
Despite these limitations, the framework delivers important findings. The presence of most of the sources of impairment at the study sites highlights a high degree of susceptibility to conflict. Though there were differences between sites on some issues, generally speaking similar problems were found. For example, in all three watersheds perceived failures regarding participation and information were found, this was within CFUGs (e.g., apparent failure to consider Dalits and IPs in all watersheds) or between CFUGs (e.g., where one CFUG (Sitakunda CFUG) felt that other CFUGs were being favored.
Yasmi et al.
] identifies some of these sources of impairment (e.g., contested tenure and overlapping claims over forest and land, exclusion of local communities in land use decisions) as common causes of forest conflict in Asia. In addition, multiple sources of impairment in one site were not surprising because the sources are fundamentally interrelated. For instance, tenure security is defined by legal and policy frameworks, but where ambiguous, can lead to inequitable benefit sharing and loss of access to resources [7
]. Other works on conflict predictors in NRM [42
] use conflict predictors for recreational forest use in the John Muir Wilderness, USA focused on stakeholders’ perspectives as a predictor, with the key being the ability to tolerate restrictions on the ability to enjoy recreational activities. Though in the REDD+ sites the feelings of impairment will tend to move beyond a sense of frustration, perception of the situation is fundamental as to whether a conflict will manifest, and therefore must be given due weight by the REDD+ proponents.
Understanding these sources of impairment not only helps to flag issues that require greater attention in REDD+ planning, but also provides crucial information for conflict management. The more practitioners know and understand about the conflict situations (e.g., triggers), the more effectively they can address the conflict [11
]. Identifying sources of impairment preemptively helps create a deep understanding before conflict emerges. Indeed, conflicts often take shape at a very low intensity before they manifest themselves and intensify [18
]. Paradoxically, however, they are given attention only when they reach a higher intensity, making conflict management efforts significantly more difficult [43
]. This makes the development of adequate capabilities in conflict management, such as the ability to deal with conflict constructively, including ensuring that effective and equitable governance is embedded within the CFUGs, all the more essential.
The findings have several implications for the REDD+ initiatives in the study sites and beyond. The fundamental ties between local forest management and REDD+ development suggest that various sources of impairment may increasingly emerge with the added social, economic, political and environmental pressures of REDD+. These concerns have also been flagged in the work of Bushleyand Khanal [45
] in their examination of REDD+ and CF in Nepal, that weak tenurial arrangements, as well as weak policy frameworks, low capacity of communities and officials, as well as restricted market access create a challenging environment for REDD+.
In light of the findings–that many sources of impairment are already in place at the study sites–it seems likely that full-scale implementation of REDD+ may only intensify them if the status quo remains unchanged. At the local level, identifying sources of impairment can provide important clues about which types of actions can minimize the negative impacts of conflict while enhancing the positive ones. At the policy level, the framework can be used to critically assess forest and REDD+ policies and regulations that might lead to conflict [46
]. It may also help clarify and detail safeguards for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities–which do not exist in the international level texts and which are expected to be articulated in national strategies [47
]. Additionally, consideration of internal governance of CFUGs is also fundamental as this underpins a number of the sources of impairment (e.g., benefit sharing, leadership). Though the REDD+ implementation process facilitates this somewhat, the results of the study show that there is some way to go. Examples of measures that could be taken include further addressing issues of participation, different methods have been already advocated for CF in Nepal including adaptive and collaborative management (ACM) whereby a conducive environment is created for addressing the different interests and values of the stakeholders, allowing the forming of collaborative, and therefore more equitable relationships among them [48
Without adequate protection, the rights of local communities and indigenous people related to livelihoods, resource access, culture, benefit sharing and participation in decision-making around REDD+ initiatives may be threatened [47
]. Many studies found that forest conflicts arose when local people experience or feel injustice because their rights to access forest resources and benefits are restricted [50
]. Ensuring the clarity of resource tenure–the systems of rights, rules, institutions and processes regulating ownership, access and use–in legal and policy frameworks as well as in implementation is fundamental to shaping distribution of risk, cost and benefits arising from resources. Where tenure is secure in both policy and practice, local people have more power in their relations with the government and private sector. Where tenure is insecure, conversely, local people are vulnerable to dispossession and exclusion [7
]. In places where REDD+ is perceived to increase forest resource values, this will be particularly true. Furthermore, REDD+ underscores pressing questions regarding the ownership over and ensuing responsibility for carbon stock. Tenure issues should therefore be addressed at the onset of any REDD+ project. Similarly, Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the local communities is also considered to be one of the important tools to secure communities’ rights and dignity [51
Additionally, the case studies have shown that the lack of information regarding the REDD+ implementation passed on to the local communities, particularly the poor, marginalized and isolated groups has caused lack of understanding and participation of local communities in the REDD+ pilot projects. Some misunderstandings and confusions were even experienced by the CFUG leaders. This should be a concern as participation of and information for local communities, in addition to tenure security are the most prominent concerns in REDD+ implementation [1
]. In this regards, this paper would suggest the further improvement of capacity building and information sharing activities for all stakeholders, with particular emphasis on the poor forest dependent and marginalized communities who are the most affected by the REDD+ implementation.
Future research may include applying the framework to other REDD+ pilot sites in order to generate lessons and enable comparison. This would help strengthen the framework, particularly in terms of evaluating its applicability and comprehensiveness. It would also allow weighting the sources of impairment (currently equally weighted) to identify which sources require greater attention than others.