Soon: India’s first REDD project

Forest conservation effort in Meghalaya can claim carbon benefits

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

imageINDIA’S first pilot project to be recognised under the UN’s mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) could be in the East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya.

A watershed project, started jointly by a California-based non-profit and a tribal community in 2005 in the northeastern state aims at checking deforestation and has shown potential as the country’s maiden REDD pilot. REDD is a mechanism for encouraging developing nations to preserve their forests by giving an economic value to the carbon saved by stopping deforestation.

For the past six years Community Forestry International (CFI) has been working with the Mawphlang tribal community to preserve a sacred grove. Rich in biodiversity, the grove covers about 75 hectares in the Umiam basin’s watershed area. Umiam Lake is a reservoir in the hills 15 km from Shillong.

At present, the tribal community is looking for funding from agencies like the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility to make the watershed project a REDD pilot.

“These kind of pilot projects help understand the role communities play in influencing carbon stocks at the grassroots level,” says Jagdish Kishwan, additional director general of forests (wildlife) in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. In a meeting organised on April 18 by the World Bank in Delhi, Mark Poffenberg from CFI talked about the challenges and improvements concerning the project.

“Communities require financial support to engage in sustainable practices,” Poffenberg said. The developed world prefers more projects at the grassroots level that bypass bureaucratic structures, enhancing reach and reducing exploitation of funds, he added.

However, many loopholes exist in REDD. The mechanism restricts itself to protecting carbon stocks in trees, and does not address ecosystem services provided by a forest, like timber, other forest produce and protection of threatened species. These services can be given attention once indicators that check biodiversity are developed. “Till then we need carbon as the indicator to move forward,” Poffenberg said, stressing the need for such projects, however, should not be carbon-centric.

The project in Meghalaya meets several REDD criteria. One criterion is that the community has to show deforestation or degradation of forest before it increased green cover. Between 2001 and 2005—the year the project started— the forest cover in East Khasi Hills decreased by 5.6 per cent.

The Mawphlang tribal community has another reason for a higher chance of participation in the REDD process; it has established ownership rights over forest resources. Funding and access to funds for REDD projects has remained controversial because many developing countries do not have well-recognised rights over forest resources. This makes it particularly difficult for forest-dependent communities to share the benefits generated from a REDD project.

Madhu Sarin, a forest rights activist, is skeptical. She asks, “In projects such as this how much control will communities retain when entering a fundamentally complex mechanism with international stakeholders?” She warns that transferring control over project from communities to international entities is against the principle of local empowerment.


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  • Of course, the cynical thing

    Of course, the cynical thing is that the project would not qualify for REDD funding through an official REDD mechanism as there is no additionality: As forest cover was already increasing between 2000 and 2005 the villagers would have to proof that they use any REDD funding for doing something on top of that. This is one of the inherent perversities of the proposal to fund these kind of valuable initiatives through carbon offset markets. Madhu Sarin's comments are well-taken in this respect: sadly, REDD is a bit more complex than " I have a nice project and REDD will pay for it".

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The Meghalaya experiment

    The Meghalaya experiment should be taken as a pilot project which gives recognition to Community efforts. Mark Poffenberg although a US citizen has been working tirelessly in India and Asia, now for many decades.Let us not undermine the joint efforts of local communities of Meghalaya and Community Forestry International. I have been eagerly awaiting that some day the community efforts of protecting and conserving forests will be recognised. These are self initiated community efforts in many parts of India. The State of Tripura in NE India has had large acreage under Bamboo forests of which over 75 % was under Muli( Melocana baccifera) whose shoot and agarbatti making quality is greatly valued. Shoot removal intensity has been increasing at the cost of establishment of regeneration. head of Jamatiya community, created Ashavan in Killa Range and elsewhere to save the regeneration. The communities have been practicing total control on bamboo shoot extraction for 05 years to help fast establishment of Muli bamboo. Such initiatives are many in different parts of India. we neede person like mark to facilitate them getting recognition like the one he got for Meghalaya. Let us appreciate his efforts,

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply