To include local people in REDD+ activities, four conditions required, study finds

We need to focus on the P in PMRV: Participatory Monitoring, Reporting and Verification.
With participatory mapping techniques, land use and land cover maps are developed together with local communities.

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BOGOR, Indonesia—This month in Lima, experts are debating how to safeguard the rights of local communities in global forest-carbon initiatives.

Half a world away, a new study has drawn lessons from such initiatives on the ground in Indonesia—and are painting a more nuanced picture of the conditions for enabling local people to help carry out, and benefit from, efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+).

The literature on active participation among rural people in REDD+ projects has largely revolved around local involvement in measuring and reporting the carbon stocks held in forests—known as participatory measurement, reporting and verification (or PMRV).

But the literature has been narrowly focused on only one part of the “MRV,” experts say.

“When we are talking about PMRV, most of the research so far has been really focusing on the measurement aspect,” said Manuel Boissière, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD).

“If you look at academic literature, it’s all about cost-efficiency—how to get local communities participating in tree measurement and what is the cost of it, and are they doing a good job compared to scientists or not? And that has been really the limitation.

“In MRV there is also reporting and verification, and very few studies about participatory MRV address these two parts,” he continued.


Boissière and his team investigated three sites in Indonesia (Central Java, West Kalimantan and Papua); their study, Estimating carbon emissions for REDD+: the conditions for involving local people, lays out four crucial conditions under which to involve communities in PMRV.

The first is relevance to the local people in the community: Put simply, if something about the project is not seen as relevant to their daily lives, local people might not be willing to commit to such a project. According to Boissière, just because a rural community in Indonesia lives near a forest doesn’t mean they have strong links to that forest or have the intention to protect it.

“Even if a community lives next to a forest you want to monitor, but most of the villagers are working in the city,” he said, “they have no link anymore with and little knowledge of the forest, therefore no interest to participate to MRV.” Even when they do have a strong link with the forest, they might be not interested in participating if they perceived the monitoring activities as a threat to their forest-related livelihoods. Finding a balance between community development and forest protection is difficult; working together communities is therefore essential.

A remote sensing expert can see what is changing but will have more difficulty to say, is it because of logging, because of people harvesting a certain kind of tree, agriculture expansion, because of informal gold mining, or for some other reasons?

Manuel Boissière

The second condition comes down to skills: Measuring and reporting carbon data require technical capacity and literacy. Beyond formal education, this also includes traditional ecological knowledge (which is learned within a community), and the skill to the use of technology for reporting (skills that can be obtained through training). Also, is it always clear to local people what it is they are measuring? This question in particular caused some challenges for Boissière’s team.

The third involves what sort of reporting system can be used to track and send the data. For this, Boissière and his team urge using existing structures.

“We suggest that instead of re-inventing the wheel, we look at what exists already,” he said. “And we try to compare and learn from existing reporting systems in Indonesia to develop a robust participatory reporting system.”

They found a useful existing MRV system in a field quite different from forestry: health care.

“In Indonesia you have health-care posts at the village level, with villagers meeting every month almost on a voluntary basis; there is very little money involved,” Boissière said. “There is monitoring of pregnant women [and] of babies until the age of 4 or 5. The information is sent by villagers to upper levels and reaches the national level. It’s not perfect, but it works—it has been working for 30 years.”

The fourth enabling condition, Boissière says, is the trickiest: quality validation—the ability to check whether the data that have been collected are correct. “We have to see if the collected and reported data are representing the field reality,” Boissière said.


One way of doing that, via remote sensing, is not enough on its own. “We thought that, if you want a community to be engaged in MRV, and you have a one-way validation process – us at a higher level seeing if you have done the work correctly – is not building trust,” Boissière said. “To engage people, you need to build trust. It should be a two-way process.”

To do this, the team has conducted what is called “participatory mapping,” that is, land use and land cover maps developed together with local communities.

“If you overlay maps from remote sensing and maps from participatory mapping, you can look at where the inconsistencies are,” Boissière said. “You can see where you need to send people maybe to do an on-the-ground check. Combining these different maps can be cost-effective, because it reduces the area that you need to check, to survey. It engages local communities closer, because they provide information not only on land cover but also on what caused the observed changes in forest cover.”

All told, these conditions are site-specific, Boissière says. “Each of the sites has a different situation; there are different ways to engage with local communities, and maybe in some areas it’s not possible,” he said. “Maybe in some areas, it’s limited to one particular aspect and so a part of the work has to be done by more technical experts. There is not one recipe, not one solution.”

“So this is why we need to try this in different contexts, different situations, and different landscapes.”


The study is the first of several papers that Boissière’s team plans to publish about their fieldwork—others will cover in more details such topics as land tenure, local perceptions of the drivers of change, participatory mapping for remote sensing, and local communities’ institutional experiences.

As technical talks continue in Lima, it is important to remember that MRV is not just about measuring carbon, Boissière notes. It’s also to help explain why it is changing related to different land uses. This is why on-the-ground trust-building is so important.

“There’s all this non-carbon information that the community can provide, and we need that. And scientists alone cannot do it. A remote sensing expert can see what is changing but will have more difficulty to say, is it because of logging, because of people harvesting a certain kind of tree, agriculture expansion, because of informal gold mining, or for some other reasons? To get that information, you need to go to the field to talk to people.”

For more information about the topics of this research, please contact Manuel Boissière at

This research was supported in part by Norad, USAID and the CGIAR Fund, and forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Community forestry Landscapes Rights