Large-scale irrigation as maladaptation?

Agricultural landscapes are dynamic environments which change in response to cropping and trade opportunities, available technologies and climatic conditions. In this article, led by McGill University researcher Amaia Albizua, we investigate farmers’ vulnerability to climate-related stressors and crop price volatility in rural Navarre, Spain. Specifically, we analyse the extent to which livelihood differences and vulnerability can be partly explained by the development of a large-scale irrigation project promoted by the Spanish and regional governments. Grounded on qualitative and quantitative data gathered across 22 villages, we demonstrate that small-scale diversified farmers appear the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to climate-related stressors and crop price volatility. In contrast, more market-driven, large-scale intensive farmers, who participate in the irrigation project, are the least vulnerable to these stressors. We argue that the irrigation project has increased the short-term adaptive capacity of irrigation adopters while establishing the institutional conditions for the displacement of small-scale farming. Therefore, we suggest that farmers’ vulnerability in Navarre can be explained by maladaptive irrigation policies designed to favour large-scale and market-driven agriculture. To access the article, click on link above or contact me at esteve.corbera@uab.cat. Picture copyright Amaia Albizua.

Conflict in REDD+ – Insights from the CoCooR project

Climate change policies need to become conflict sensitive in order to be effective in its environmental and social-economic goals. In this video, developed by The Netherlands Research Agency (NWO) in the context of the Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change (CCMCC) programme, I reflect on the main results of the programme’s funded project “Conflict and cooperation over REDD+ in Mexico, Nepal and Vietnam”, co-led by myself and Dr. Poshendra Satyal at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. The video complements a longer video developed by the project consortium and available here.

A forest transition in central Mexico?

In this new article, published in Restoration Ecology and led by Jordi Honey-Rosés (University of British Columbia), we examine land-use change in central Mexico and we relate such change to agricultural and socio-economic patterns. Recent land cover analysis reveals significant forest recovery around the world, suggesting that some countries may be in a forest transition. However, remotely sensed imagery does not reveal the driving causes of forest recovery, which may be due to active reforestation efforts or natural successional processes (passive reforestation).

Through fieldwork research conducted by ICTA-UAB former MSc student, Marlene Maurer, we aimed to distinguish these two processes in the priority temperate forests surrounding the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (342,773 ha) in the state of Michoacán. We combined an analysis of remotely sensed imagery with field interviews to examine the mechanisms and drivers of observed forest recovery.

Our analysis of the satellite imagery reveals a net increase of 3,798 ha of forest between 1986 and 2012, yet the rate of recovery is slowing. Interview data suggests that the vast majority of the recovered forests are the result of natural regrowth (passive reforestation), with most of this regrowth observed on previously degraded forest lands. Therefore, we estimate that between 58 and 429 ha have been recovered from active reforestation efforts in the 1986–2012 period. We find that reduced logging and grazing pressures are important drivers of forest recovery, while agricultural abandonment may be less influential than often believed.

These results speak to conservation policy and reforestation programs in different ways. First, they suggest that the cost-effectiveness may be a major constraint to scaling up active reforestation, particularly if the latter represents a small contribution to observed forest regrowth. Second, the findings indicate that previously degraded forest lands should be considered environmental assets in forest restoration programs, given its significant contribution to forest recovery. Last, and most importantly, we think that whenever site, landscape, and social environments allow for passive restoration, forest restoration programs should consider supporting, facilitating, or accelerating natural regrowth instead of active reforestation. Reforestation investments might be wisely spent supporting and maintaining the natural resilience of forests rather than on costly reforestation programs.

Photo copyright: Marlene Maurer.

REDD+ in the spotlight

The CoCooR research project has produced a 17-min video where we disseminate some of the project’s findings and where some other scholars, practitioners and funders share their views about REDD+. Specifically, the video defines REDD+, highlights its main funding sources to date, and a number of experts reflect on the challenges of REDD+ policy design in the global South, and of early action implementation initiatives, as well as the framework’s main achivements to date and its likely future.

We think that the video can be very useful to teach about REDD+, or to foster a discussion about this policy framework with university students and other audiences outside high education and academia. Therefore, if you are interested in REDD+, forest conservation, or in environmental governance and policy more generally, please watch the video and help us disseminate it. Feel free to post comments about it in this blog, or to use the social media to spread the word. The video can be watched in You Tube.

Image copyright: SIAS, Nepal

REDD+ Crossroads Post Paris: Politics, Lessons and Interplays

Red goes well with Xmas, or so they say. So I’m pleased to share with you today, the outcome of a new special issue, guest edited with my former colleague at the University of East Anglia, Heike Schroeder. Over the past two years, we have put together a large collection of articles exploring the politics, the early lessons and the institutional interplays of REDD+ preparedness in developing countries. The collection is freely available through open access, and you can download all the contributions here.

The contributions to the special issue suggest, first, that REDD+ design in the studied countries has generally lacked social legitimacy and sidelined key actors who can considerably influence land-use sector dynamics. Second, they show that REDD+ early actions have tended to oversimplify local realities and have been misaligned and local needs. Third, REDD+ efforts have remained constrained to the forestry or climate mitigation policy sectors and have thus suffered from a lack of policy harmonization.

As REDD+ moves from its preparedness to its implementation phase, Heike and myself argue that more research efforts should be aimed at analysing the power relations that underpin and determine the design and implementation of REDD+ policies and actions, the potential for and limits to the vertical and horizontal coordination of land-use policies and management, and the processes of resistance to or accommodation of REDD+ practices on the ground. In doing so, we advocate for multi- and transdisciplinary research that does not take for granted the benefits of REDD+ and which critically scrutinizes the multiple goals of this ambitious international policy framework, and where it sits within the broader Paris Agreement implementation agenda.

Picture: Women in Chiapas, Mexico, carrying fuelwood. Their community participates in a carbon forestry project. © Esteve Corbera