Landscape-based certification scheme aims to lift poverty by engaging communities

Landscape labelling offers payments to community-based organisations to manage unique and diverse rural landscapes.

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BOGOR, Indonesia (21 December, 2011)_Conservation scientists are hoping to foster conservation outside protected areas and in production landscapes, such as India’s Kodagu district, by proposing changes to certification schemes that currently favour large landowners, reports a recent study by ETH Zürich, CIRAD and CIFOR.

Landscape labelling is a new take on established land-based systems, which merges Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), Geographical Indications and community participation. It awards payments to unique and diverse rural landscapes managed by community-based organisations, allowing for a variety of goods and services to be recognised and maintained. Most of the funds are then invested into social and community projects or initiatives, said Claude Garcia, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.

“While these benefits are indirect, equitable poverty alleviation might be achieved by improved access to markets, better education and healthcare, micro-insurance, etc.,” says Jaboury Ghazoul of ETH Zurich and lead author of Landscape labelling approaches to PES: Bundling services, products and stewards.

One of landscape labelling’s biggest appeals is that transaction costs (e.g. start-up and running) are made more affordable by spreading them across a community. This is unlike schemes such as PES where, the authors said, “land-based criteria … could exclude billions of poor people worldwide.” At the same time, the diversity of landscapes means communities are better placed to meet changing market trends, and the involvement of the community can provide social pressure to relieve “free-riders”.

The idea has precursors, such as the Parc Naturel Regional from France, or when the Man and Biosphere label is used for products originating from particular Biosphere Reserves, but it has not yet been put into practice. But the authors may have found a prime candidate for its maiden run: Kodagu, India.

According to Garcia, the coffee-growing district of Kodagu (informally known as ‘Coorg’) benefits from high levels of biodiversity, as well as reputable products and even existing protected names, including Coorg oranges and Coorg green cardamom. Access to a minimal level of social capital is also key, such as internet and accounts experience, both of which Kodagu has.

“Kodagu is perfect [for landscape labelling] … they have everything,” Garcia said, adding that the district already benefits from an active tourism market and non-government organisation presence — two factors which could help the scheme succeed.

Even so, for years scientists have struggled to get local communities on board due to a lack of political consensus and some firmly entrenched opposition. Garcia explained that many stakeholders believe that conservation hinders development (and vice versa). “They don’t want any more ‘reserves’,” he said.

However, the scheme is not without its flaws.

Its reliance on social politics has the potential to cause huge controversy, while governance and corruption also present big challenges. With landscape labelling reliant on the equitable distribution of funds, farmer and employees must agree together the terms by which rewards are shared. This has the potential to upset traditional social hierarchies and cause internal disagreement. Nevertheless, it lays the foundation for the emergence of local institutions and management systems.

Both Ghazoul and Garcia remain upbeat, suggesting that possibly more than conservation and commerce could be developed.

By forcing different groups to the negotiation table, he said, “it comes down to fostering democracy at a very basic level”.

But Garcia stressed that this was not always going to be the case, adding that landscape labelling was a flexible concept designed to cope with the individual needs of an area.

“Learn by doing … if the rules are set in stone then it’s doomed,” Garcia said.

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Topic(s) :   Timber legality Community forestry Landscapes Rights