Community-based forest monitoring effective for tracking deforestation in Peru

Government and Indigenous Peoples collaborate
El Sira protected forest, Peru. CIFOR/Juan Carlos Huayllapuma

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For hundreds of years, colonizing states have systematically dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of their lands, forcing them off their traditional territories to allow resource extraction activities, agricultural expansion, and the establishment of natural conservation areas.  A number of national governments, however, encourage the engagement of local communities in conservation efforts.

Despite the inevitable related tensions and conflicts, community-based monitoring (CBM) has gained significant traction in Peru through its Conditional Direct Transfer program (TDC is its abbreviation in Spanish), which compensates Indigenous communities for protecting and monitoring their communal forests. This model is expected to allow for greater efficiency for tracking deforestation through Peru’s National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) given communities’ proximity to forests.

In some respects, it is unclear why Indigenous and local communities would agree to work with the government to monitor their traditionally-held forests, particularly when their activities could come under increased scrutiny and they could potentially face sanctions based on the data they gather. Not much research has been done on this subject.

Bearing in mind that community monitoring takes place in a particular historical, sociopolitical and cultural context shaped by past relations between communities and the state, working with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), we conducted research to learn more about what was behind the apparent success of this model.

We also wanted to determine what it would take to make CBM programs sustainable. To do this we explored the drivers of deforestation and how they relate to the motivation and obstacles for communities to participate in the scheme. More generally, we wanted to understand the conditions under which communities support CBM and wish to engage in it.

In this project, we studied three communities involved in Peru’s TDC program. The research coincided with the introduction of and training on the use of smartphones to facilitate local data collection that would eventually contribute to the NFMS.

Current conservation agreements prohibit communities from clearing forest for agricultural purposes in  conservation areas, and the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) can suspend or terminate communities’ participation in the program if they fail to uphold their end of the agreement. Although livelihood activities vary across indigenous communities, agricultural production is an important source of income in the communities we studied.

We used workshops, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews in three communities involved in the TDC program to learn about the existing governance arrangements for forest monitoring at the national and local levels, as well as the challenges facing CBM and its integration into a multilevel monitoring system.

Interviews in communities which were selected by MINAM because they were considered “best performing,” were conducted primarily with CV members, but also included several community members involved in groups that were previously formed to protect the community and forests referred to as “self-defense committees.”

We also conducted semi-structured interviews with PNCB staff, indigenous organizations, and local and regional government representatives to gauge their knowledge of forest monitoring issues, the TDC program and the CV’s role in the program.

We took a multilevel governance approach, which takes into consideration the increased role of non-state actors in decision making, the coordination among actors, the transparency of information, and the capacities necessary to engage in multilevel processes.

This method aims to test the assumption that cross-level coordination or vertical integration is expected to result in locally appropriate and effective actions that improve the fit between local institutions and environmental conditions. It also considers that the actual engagement of actors across levels, especially local actors, may increase the legitimacy and, subsequently, the environmental effectiveness of policies.

A community-based approach to monitoring is considered more sustainable when local benefits outweigh the costs of local participation and when community monitoring is already embedded in the local community and serves the interests of that community.

As well, engaging communities in the design and implementation phases of incentive-based conservation programs is critical to their overall legitimacy, as these decisions may affect livelihoods, rights, or territory.

What we learned about support for CBM

We found that the three study communities continue to maintain a high level of motivation and commitment to the TDC program. Local interest and commitment to the program are demonstrated by monitors’ level of involvement and the value they place on the local and national recognition of their work. Their high degree of motivation relates to their enhanced expectations about how they could benefit from partnering with the state.

Overall, the benefits appear to outweigh the burdens as the program provides important support for communities to confront external deforestation threats and serves to empower them to protect their territories.  Thus, participants perceive the PNCB as an ally in protecting their territories from external threats, which include illegal logging, invasions, and overlapping titles.

Evidence suggests that despite not receiving monetary compensation for their efforts, capacity building for monitoring and the funds received to support productive activities provide an important incentive for participation. CV members also learned how to use smartphone devices for data collection and expressed interest in continuing to learn more. In one community, monitors were even offered work by other community members for their newly acquired GPS skills.

We also found that monitors are motivated by local and national recognition of their work and thus a sense of belonging. Monitors are required to wear vests to denote their role in the program, and most monitors said they were a source of

If CBM is to contribute to a large-scale national forest monitoring system in Peru, the current situation, of multiple and sometimes overlapping monitoring entities and the introduction of new monitoring arrangements that do not coordinate with existing ones, should be resolved. Unless local structures and power arrangements within the community are reshaped, misunderstandings and conflicts associated with local enforcement could arise.

Coordination among state institutions is essential to standardize the involvement of multiple actors at different levels in forest monitoring. This could be achieved through greater regional government participation to institutionalize the system – a step that is being taken now – and the use of data collected in regional and local decision making.

As the global scenario evolves on climate change issues, multilevel forms of governance are being incorporated into planning and policymaking. Opportunities exist for the integration of CBM into a multilevel monitoring system that will support the NFMS and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions caused by Deforestation and forest Degradation) Monitoring, Reporting and Verification systems under development to create reliable and accurate sources of data.

What is clear is that community-based monitoring systems provide an effective platform for stronger engagement in national-level data collection systems, ultimately reducing threats of deforestation. Coordination across relevant entities and groups at different levels of governance is essential to an effective multi-level monitoring system.

In addition, integrating appropriate incentives, such as alternative livelihood options for local communities that have set aside conservation areas, would help ensure a viable approach to a more sustainable and equitable monitoring system.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Peruvian Amazon