This is the sixth in a seven-part series highlighting the recent publication of a special issue of the International Forestry Review focused on CIFOR research.
Although it became one of the largest environmental multi-stakeholder forums in Brazil, a program designed to reduce deforestation in the Brazilian state of Pará ran contrary to the perceived participatory nature of MSFs by prioritizing large and medium-scale land owners over historically excluded stakeholders, according to a new study published in the International Forestry Review.
The Green Municipalities Program’s (PMV) approach to addressing deforestation also put the preferences of the state’s large-scale agrarian operators over the needs of small-scale producers, Indigenous and local communities, research from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) demonstrates.
As an MSF, the PMV steering committee was made up of representatives from the state’s top political and economic sectors. It excluded Indigenous groups, grassroots organizations, and other organizations representing social movements and land rights defenders.
This was detrimental in a context that has historically included land dispossession and conflicts over resources. Marginalized groups such as Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and small-scale producers have diverse knowledge systems and have the potential to contribute to low environmental impact solutions. And in conditions of historic inequality, the failure to include groups in such important environmental processes is likely to deepen inequalilty.
The inequality of the PMV’s processes and outcomes makes it an unfair solution to deforestation,” said the study’s lead author Marina Londres, a researcher at CIFOR.
The study involved interviews with participants and non-participants in the PMV’s steering committee and analyzed factors influencing the effectiveness of the MSF.It also examined how the MSF addressed issues of power and inequity in its decision-making processes.
Brazil’s deforestation blacklist
In 2004, of Brazil’s 26 states, Pará – the second biggest — had the country’s highest deforestation rate. That same year, Brazil responded to international pressure to reduce deforestation, establishing the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm).
PPCDAm used real-time satellite monitoring, federal police operations, as well as political and legal mechanisms to reduce deforestation. By 2008, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment had also created a blacklist of municipalities with the highest rates of deforestation. Blacklisted areas were subjected to administrative and economic sanctions until they reduced deforestation and were removed from the list. These efforts proved effective.
“As a consequence of PPCDAm’s measures and its successive phases since 2004, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon declined by 79 percent between 2005 and 2013,” the study authors wrote.
Additionally, Pará established and implemented the PMV in 2011 to address the state’s deforestation woes. The PMV also aimed to increase enlistment to the state’s Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and strengthen environmental management in its local districts. The more salient goals were to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by the year 2020 and to get the state’s municipalities off the blacklist.
CAR’s blind side
Over time, the PMV increased the number of registered properties in Pará, and by March 2021, 76.9 percent of the state’s registrable area had been listed. However, interviewees said this largely benefitted middle and large-scale soybean and cattle producers. Registration with the CAR secured their hold over land and supported their .
“CAR was conceived as a condition for environmental licensing to reassert federal control over the chaos of the agrarian sector in the Brazilian Amazon, making registration mandatory for all rural properties and setting a cap on the proportion of natural vegetation that could legally be cleared on each property,” Londres said. “It did not address the challenge of overlapping registered areas and conflicting claims on unregistered areas and vacant lands . ”
The study revealed that CAR enabled Pará’s government to avoid implementing a land redistribution scheme that would have benefitted grassroots stakeholders and also address current and historical incidents of land dispossession.
“Since the CAR system is self-declaratory, those who have access to more information and greater capacity to engage can register first,” the authors wrote. This left a wide-open window for potential corruption. Interviewees said that the government failed to widely disseminate information on CAR sign ups, and wealthy and powerful sectors organized separately to sign up. Cases of agrarian speculators using the CAR to intimidate and displace communities and small producers from their territories arose.
Decreasing and increasing rates of deforestation
After the establishment of the PMV deforestation started to decrease in 2005 but this is partly attributed to the enforcement of PPCDAm. Deforestation trended upwards again beginning in 2013, two years after the PMV began.
Some interviewees noted that Pará’s pattern of deforestation was similar to the patterns found throughout the Brazilian Amazon, expressing doubt that any decrease in Pará’s deforestation was a result of the PMV’s actions. Notwithstanding the decreases in deforestation from 2004 to 2012, the PMV failed to reach its goal of reducing deforestation by 80 percent by the year 2020.
“In the first half of 2020, Pará once again had the highest deforestation rate among Brazil’s Amazonian states,” Londres said.
A lopsided MSF
Finally, stakeholders interviewed for this research questioned the PMV steering committee’s legitimacy, citing its partiality to rural elites and agribusiness stakeholders. In essence, Indigenous and local participants, grassroots movements as well as some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and grassroots groups that were excluded from the process perceived that the PMV empowered these elite sectors and helped them meet their demands, the study authors said.
“The PMV is restricted to an interest group that already had access to the government,” said a non-participant interviewee from a university. “No one sees the PMV as an effort to involve a range of more diverse organizations in addressing the land issue in Pará, or as a platform that favors the principle of public policy equity.”
Research findings on Pará’s PMV reaffirm criticism by scholars and practitioners that the dominance of powerful elites can limit any meaningful participation by underrepresented groups in participatory forums such as MSFs, the study said.
The study recommends addressing differences in power in MSF platforms, paying attention to the forum’s composition and political realities, and prioritizing meaningful participation by under-represented groups.
“Under such conditions of high inequality, MSFs need to incorporate fairer participation by local and indigenous communities and pay attention to their needs and demands,” Londres said.
The research supported by this work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) led by CIFOR. Both are supported by the CGIAR Fund Donors. It was carried out as part of a comparative study of subnational MSFs in Brazil,
Ethiopia, Indonesia and Peru, part of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+.
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