Sowing the seeds of sustainable rural development?

This new article, in the journal Land Use Policy, is a closure of a five year research action project developed in Tanzania, under the leadership of the local NGO Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) and hosted by the University of East Anglia. MCDI has been promoting Participatory forest management (PFM) for a number of years now in south-eastern Tanzania, aiming to improve local forest governance, enhance resource conservation and to increase rural people’s access to and benefits from forest resources. Recently, MCDI also received climate finance support to enhance the impact of such PFM activities on climate change mitigation.

This action research was thus aimed at analysing governance and livelihood changes in MCDI efforts that have been topped-up through a REDD+ pilot. Based on qualitative governance analysis and quantitative livelihood panel data (2011–2014) that compares villages and households within and outside the project, we find that improvements to forest governance are substantial in project villages compared to control villages, while changes in income have been important but statistically insignificant, and driven by a regional sesame cash crop boom unrelated to enhanced forestry revenues. Focusing on whether PFM had enhanced other wealth indicators including household conditions and durable assets, our analysis shows again no significant differences between participant and control villages, although the participant villages do have, on average, a greater level of durable assets.

Overall, our findings are positive regarding forest governance improvements but inconclusive regarding livelihood effects, which at least in the short term seem to benefit more from agricultural intensification than forestry activities, whose benefits might become more apparent over a longer time period. In conclusion we emphasize the need for moving towards longer term monitoring efforts, improving understandings of local dynamics of change, particularly at a regional rather than community level, and defining the most appropriate outcome variables and cost-effective systems of data collection or optimization of existing datasets if we are to better capture the complex impacts of PFM initiatives worldwide.

This research was funded by NORAD and it also resulted in two other articles published in 2015 and early 2017. If you want to access the full version of these three articles, please contact me at

PES and motivational crowding in Colombia

In a new article, led by UAB-ICTA’s PhD candidate Lina Moros, we adopt an innovative research design to test for motivational crowding effects through a forest conservation game in Colombia’s Amazon Piedmont, using individual, collective and crop-price premium economic incentives. We implement a post-experiment survey on different types of motivations based on Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to test for changes in motivations. Our findings show that all types of PES, except for the crop-price premium payment, increased conservation behavior in the experiment. However, not all types of payments affected motivations equally: collective payments enhanced social motivations to protect forests and the crop-price premium reduced intrinsic and guilt/regret related motivations. These findings contribute to disentangling the interaction between incentives, motivations and behaviors in a context of agricultural expansion and growing concern for forest conservation, commonly manifested through incentive-based conservation policies like REDD+ and local projects of Payments for Ecosystem Services.

Towards a just REDD+: Transforming forest conflicts in Nepal

Is REDD+ causing conflicts in Nepal? If so, which kind of conflicts? How does an environmental justice lens contribute to illuminate and resolve these conflicts? What can be done to transform the conflicts in ways that result in a more “just” REDD+?

In this Policy Brief, led by Hari Dhungana and Gyanu Maskey from the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, we try to provide succinct responses to these questions. The Brief draws from research conducted under the NWO-DFID funded project “Conflict and Cooperation over REDD+ in Mexico, Nepal and Vietnam“, which has investigated REDD+ preparedness and early implementation in these countries over a four-year period.

We argue that achieving just REDD+ in Nepal would require resolving or transforming persisting conflicts in the country’s forest governance and REDD+ implementation processes. This would in turn require action on 6 key domains:

  1. A reform of the forestry sector focusing on tenure issues. The government and international donors should conduct a comprehensive forestry sector policy reform that primarily focuses on forest and land tenure security, including of carbon assets, setting up clear responsibility, resources and accountability for stakeholders.
  2. Harmonization of land-use and forest policies. The government should initiate a process of reviewing discrepancies between existing policies, institutions and instruments including those recommended in the studies carried out as part of REDD+ readiness. These, for instance, concern benefit sharing, translating safeguards principles into operational procedures, and having common institutional structure for REDD+ and existing forestry institutions.
  3. Critical information and knowledge resources. For effective participation, critical information and reports should be in Nepali and/or other local languages to ensure that all stakeholders can participate effectively in discussions at different governance scales. Resources should be made available to improve people’s knowledge and ability, as well as willingness to participate.
  4. Develop workable monitoring systems for benefit distribution at the community level. The government should further refine and develop capacity to monitor community group benefit sharing.
  5. Capacity for facilitating social dialogue and conflict transformation. The government and donors should develop the capacity of government officials, NGO personnel and community leaders on social negotiations and dialogues for conflict transformation.
  6. Build upon existing analysis. REDD+ preparedness and implementation should consider a number of diagnostic studies that have already been published, includingstudies on feedback and grievance redressal mechanisms, benefit sharing, policy and measures and carbon ownership. These studies do not guide concrete action, but have significant value in identifying issues that need to be addressed.

The Policy Brief has been widely publicized across REDD+ actors in the country, and was recently presented at the stakeholder workshop “Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change (CCMCC) Programme Journey in Nepal: Transforming conflict into cooperation for climate change interventions” (01/11/2007), which involved policy makers, practitioners and researchers involved in the design and implementation of climate change policies in Nepal.

Picture copyright: SIAS.

Climate change policies and agrarian-environmental transformations

Routledge Development Studies launched two special issues together from the Journal of Peasant Studies and Canadian Journal of Development StudiesBoth collections are on the broad themes of climate change mitigation/adaptation and agrarian-environmental transformations. Both collections are open access for a limited period of time.

I had the honour of guest editing the collection published in CJDS, with colleagues Carol Hunsberger (University of Western Ontario) and Chayan Vaddhanaphuti (University of Chiang Mai). The articles in the collection explore a range of themes in the intersection of climate change policy, land grabbing and social conflict, and include cross-scalar and case study analyses of different kinds.

In the Introductory article, we contextualise the special issue and lay out the key contributions made by each contribution. Hunsberger et al. propose a research agenda to explore the interconnections between climate change policies, land grabbing and conflict; these interconnections, they argue, can only be meaningfully understood if one transcends the territorial boundaries of land grabs themselves. Claeys and Delgado Pugley’s contribution (2017) offers a neat account of how two key transnational social movements – the agrarian movement La Via Campesina (LVC) and the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) – have developed distinctive climate justice framings to advance rights-based considerations under the UNFCCC. Franco et al. shed light onto the often problematic translation of well-intended policy into practice, by problematising an array of international regulatory instruments, including state- and corporate-led, that are available to respond to conflicts arising from agrarian transformations driven by agricultural development and climate change policies.

The second half of the special issue concentrates on specific case studies. Work and Thuon explore the intersection of change mitigation policies and economic land concessions in Prey Lang, Cambodia, demonstrating how these two processes facilitate each other physically, discursively and economically. Pye et al. focus on the interactions between different types of resource extraction endeavours along the Kapuas River, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors document a number of land-use transformations based on differing appropriation and accumulation strategies according to resource (minerals, lumber, oil palm, fish), scale of operations (smallholders, transnational firms) and the relationships among the economic and political actors. Lamb and Dao explore how Chinese investment has facilitated hydropower projects in Myanmar and Vietnam, and with what consequences. They make evident that governments from both countries need to develop more effective, transparent and robust systems of hydropower governance, while scholars and activists need to understand critiques of Chinese investment from a broader historical, cultural and political economy perspective. Finally, Uson interrogates a post-disaster intervention on a small island of the Philippines, after the typhoon Haiyan devastated the country in 2013. She unveils how a humanitarian intervention, coupled with climate change adaptation policy and discourse, changed the direction of an existing land rights struggle between landowners, a private tourist operator and fisherfolk communities.

This special issue described above, together with the JPS special issue, have deserved a very kind praise by Nancy Lee Peluso, University of California, Berkeley, who has suggested that ‘the authors bring new theoretical approaches, collaborative sensibilities, and hybrid perspectives on socio-natural histories and resource politics together with long-held concerns with the fates of smallholders, commodity productions under varied and opposing regimes, and a panoply of agrarian resources and activities including and beyond agriculture’.

I hope you enjoy reading them all!

Payments for Environmental Services: a theory-informed review

Building on a theory-based approach to synthesize research on the effectiveness of PES in achieving environmental objectives and socio-economic co-benefits, this article led by Jan Börner and published in World Development highlights the role of (1) contextual dimensions (e.g., political, institutional, and socio-economic conditions, spatial heterogeneity in environmental service values and provision costs, and interactions with pre-existing policies), and (2) scheme design (e.g., payment type and level, contract length, targeting, and differentiation of payments) in determining environmental and socio-economic outcomes. We also review counterfactual-based empirical evaluations, comparative analyses of case-studies, and meta-analyses. Our review suggests that program effectiveness often lags behind the expectations of early theorists. However, we also find that theory has advanced sufficiently to identify common reasons for why payment schemes fail or succeed. Moreover, payment schemes are often rolled out along with other policy instruments in so-called policy mixes. Advances in theory and evaluation research are needed to improve our understanding of how such policy mixes interact with the targeted social-ecological systems.

The full article can be found here, or requested by email if you don’t have access to the publishing journal.