REDD+ can achieve global mitigation and local livelihoods! Evidence from dryland Kenya

Reducing Emissions from avoided Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is globally supported as a cost-effective climate program suitable for developing countries where emissions from deforestation is rampant yet with forest dependent livelihoods and economies. Through private-public funds and institutional support negotiated both within and outside the UNFCCC (decision 1/CP.16; decision 2/CP 17), REDD+ is expected to accomplish global goals of avoided greenhouse gas emissions in developing counties and local expectations of livelihoods and well being (appendix 1/CP.16).


Achieving livelihood expectations alongside delivering payable emission reductions however remains the greatest practical challenge for REDD+ with uncertainties that manifest especially when negotiated projects are subjected to local livelihood and resource realities. Indeed a range of demonstration projects aimed at informing REDD+ negotiations have returned mixed results particularly around resource rights and forest based livelihoods in a manner that sometimes appears to challenge the win-win novelty of REDD+. However, a recent working paper published under the STEPS Center, at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, has yielded some interesting evidence on how a particular REDD+ project works with the community to achieve both global goals of mitigation and local livelihood expectations.

The study explored the governance and feasibility of the Kasigau project in Kenya, Africa’s first REDD+ project accredited under internationally accepted standards (VCS and CCBS).  The Kasigau project was initiated by a US based private company ‘Wildlife Works’ and works with local communities in  a relatively vulnerable area in the Kenyan Coast to conserve about 500,000 acre dryland forest. The dryland forest is made of group ranches and community trust lands that form a wildlife corridor, linking Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, the two largest wildlife protection areas in Kenya.

While the project operates within global guidelines and verification standards, it has initiated local REDD+ institutions and engagement modalities including benefit sharing procedures that appear to be responsive to the local needs.  The project has worked with community groups and other local stakeholders to establish village based REDD+ committees, known as the Locational Carbon Committees that link the wider community to the project activities. Through the carbon committees, individual community members within groups are consulted, supported and educated to establish tree nurseries, plant trees in their farms and work in the project’s eco-charcoal and textile industries in a manner that reduces pressure on the protected dryland forest.

Additionally, the project has embraced a communalised approach to engagement and disseminating carbon benefits.  Carbon revenue is equally allocated between community projects, ranch shareholders and the project administration. The share for community projects is managed through a trust fund named ‘Wildlife Works REDD Project Trust Fund’ (WWRPTF). Through the WWRPTF, a total of Ksh24 million (US$300,000) has been allocated to various community projects including, water, school constructions and bursaries among others but based on proposals by various groups from all villages surrounding the project area.

Most community groups are happy that the community projects and especially water projects will help enhance their livelihood assets. Members of a particular women group working with the project noted that water projects funded by the REDD+ project will give them an opportunity to practice irrigated horticulture and poultry farming and supply the produce to Mombasa city, thereby expanding their financial and human assets. To this group, water has remained a major source of vulnerability for many years and a hindrance to their wellbeing yet the state has never used even revenue from the wildlife tourism in the area to initiate such water projects.

The communal approach to disseminating carbon benefits, amongst other factors, contribute to greater social inclusion, thereby minimising social inequality among various groups in the community. As such there is a general feeling among the local people that they are well included and empowered to manage and benefit from their resources under the REDD+ project compared to past experiences involving long histories of exclusion of local people from their forest/wildlife resources by centralised state-based resource management regimes. The paper indicates that the ‘the better option’ perception of the REDD+ project by the local people appears to be covering up for the local livelihood expectations while delivering emission reductions and this has apparently yielded uncontested acceptance and favourable perception of the project among the Kasigau people.

While the study admits that the Kasigau case is highly contextual, it provides crucial lessons that could be applied in other projects and programmes in their own contexts. Most importantly, it is important to note that responding to local contexts and particularly attending to local livelihood expectations is inevitably a necessity for REDD+ projects to succeed locally. Further, communal approach to REDD+ implementation and benefit sharing appears to promote social inclusion and minimise contestations from different groups within the community.

The paper concludes that if projects can genuinely enable local people to manage and benefit from their forest resources, REDD+ promises to be a multi-governance program that bridges the gap between global, state and local institutions and interests in the sustainable use of forests and climate change mitigation.

Joanes Atela – June 2013