Types of activities involved

At the global level, REDD+ finance has largely been allocated for REDD+ institution- and capacity-building activities, development of national REDD+ strategies and, to a lesser extent, for policy reforms. Many REDD+ pilot initiatives have focused on forest conservation activities involving poor smallholders with up-front livelihood and social welfare activities (Sills et al. 2014[1]), but the targeting of poor smallholders and forest communities raises the question of effectiveness, if these are the actors driving deforestation and forest degradation.

A review of REDD+ country strategies highlights that most tend to focus on activities to reduce forest degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks, rather than on tackling deforestation typically caused by large commercial actors (Salvini et al. 2014[2]). Proposed interventions should focus not only on activities to reduce deforestation, but also on other forest-related REDD+ activities such as sustainable forest management, which reduce forest degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks (Wong et al. 2019[3]).

Swidden agriculture, also known as shifting cultivation with fire, has historically been one of the most widespread land uses in upland Southeast Asia. In two villages in Berau district, East Kalimantan province, Indonesia, where a jurisdictional REDD+ programme called the Berau Forest Carbon Program (BFCP) has been launched, villagers feel pressured by competing land uses driven directly and indirectly by the plantation and mining sector. As rapid expansion of mining and oil palm concessions heightens perceptions of tenure insecurity among villagers, there has been speculative and contentious land clearing.

At the village and district levels, control of swidden agriculture has become a focus for the development of forest governance by external stakeholders, such as governments, companies and conservation groups, which have sought to control or eliminate shifting cultivation. Efforts by these actors to limit swidden clearing and promote alternative livelihoods aim to define and minimize community agricultural area and eliminate contentious land change. Community initiatives and sustainable logging initiatives are present, such as as the provision of support for logging companies to adopt reduced-impact logging methods and achieve sustainability certification. Yet, the limitation of swidden agriculture plays an instrumental role in clearing space for industrial land uses (logging and oil palm concessions). The REDD+ project has so far failed to engage the major corporate actors involved in deforestation and has struggled with lukewarm commitment from the government. There is virtually no participation in BFCP by oil palm or tree fibre plantation companies or the mining sector. The omission of these industrial land uses from the forest governance regime undercuts efforts to limit contentious clearing and results in the failure to reduce district-level deforestation. Preventing and reducing contentious land change and deforestation will not be possible until plantation and mining expansion are addressed. This case highlights that targeting local communities is perhaps politically easier than tackling powerful large-scale drivers of deforestation that are often tied to national growth ambitions (Thaler and Anandi 2017[4]).

Further readings

[1] Lin, L., Sills, E., Cheshire, H., 2014. Targeting areas for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) projects in Tanzania. Global Environmental Change 24, 277–286.

[2] Salvini, G., Herold, M., De Sy, V., Kissinger, G., Brockhaus, M., Skutsch, M., 2014. How countries link REDD+ interventions to drivers in their readiness plans: implications for monitoring systems. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 074004.

[3] Wong, G.Y., Luttrel, C., Loft, L., Yang, A., Pham, T.T., Naito, D., 2019. Narratives in REDD+ benefit sharing: examining evidence within and beyond the forest sector. Climate Policy 19, 8.

[4] Thaler, G.M., Anandi, C.A.M., 2017. Shifting cultivation, contentious land change and forest governance: the politics of swidden in East Kalimantan. The Journal of Peasant Studies 44, 1066–1087.