Investing in LCF

Forest management

Now is an opportune time to clarify how to invest in locally controlled forestry. Numerous REDD+ strategies and readiness plans have identified issues that must be tackled to avoid deforestation, but climate change funding organisations show little understanding of how to marshal investments to make that happen. Similarly, a UN report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food recognises that continued investment in industrial agriculture is unlikely to ensure global food security. Instead, investing in ‘agroecology’, with biodiverse and biomass rich agro-forest production systems, may be key in an ever more variable climate. Understanding the benefits of ILCF could strengthen global initiatives such as REDD+, as well as improve planning for increased food production.

 A first step towards mobilising investment in trees and landscape restoration is to recognise that almost all forests and landscapes are inhabited by people with some form of land rights, of varying degrees of formality. Investors are increasingly aware they must respect these rights through some form of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process, although the practicalities have received less attention. The output of a FPIC process, although it may be scrupulously fair, is often simple compensation for loss of access to land or resources, rather than a genuine shared enterprise. This may even become more likely as REDD+ projects proliferate, if they are designed to merely pay communities to ‘avoid deforestation’, rather than find ways to invest in locally-controlled rural economies.

Failure to benefit rights-holders, even after an FPIC process, is usually because investment follows a conventional ‘resource-led’ paradigm; in which capital seeks natural resources and, as a side effect, needs some labour. But job creation may be limited for local rights-holders – indeed, such projects often attract migrant labour.

In this paradigm, undeveloped land is ‘empty’ and has no value, and any informal customary rights over the land are subordinate to the wider national interest. Indeed, governments and investors see such traditional rights as pre-modern, inscrutable and an impediment to development. There is also an assumption that because forests are often sparsely populated, the land must be unclaimed wilderness. It seems corporations and conservation NGOs alike often share this assumption. It is this view of an extensive, virtually limitless expanse of land, unfettered by formal boundaries and seemingly devoid of people, which drives this approach to land use and natural resource extraction, and generally brings poor outcomes for forests, landscapes and local people.

In contrast, a rights-based system places local control at the heart of the process, as rights holders seek investors and partnerships for managing their natural resource assets. This approach recognises local people’s autonomy and their rights to determine the land’s destiny and to gain income from its effective management.

Epiphyte of Borneo