Seeing carbon as the “co-benefit” in REDD+ benefit sharing

Preliminary results from IUCN’s ongoing nature dependency studies in Ghana, Mexico and Peru underscore why REDD+ benefit sharing first needs to understand how communities rely on forests before setting up the right incentives for implementing REDD+ strategies

Fruit and vegetable market in Peru

IUCN & REDD+ series: On the road to Paris and beyond

In the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Conference in December (UNFCCC COP21), IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme is publishing a series of articles highlighting the innovative steps developing countries are taking to equitably share the benefits from reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks – activities commonly known as ‘REDD+’. Beyond COP21, this article series will continue to highlight the challenges and opportunities of setting up equitable REDD+ benefit sharing arrangements in tropical countries.


For many forest-dependent communities around the world, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) is about more than sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change. The food, water, medicine, fuel and spiritual value derived from forests are often the primary motivation to protect natural resources and use them in sustainable ways. The fact that sustainable forestry, along with other sustainable land uses, can also help mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions is considered by many communities to be the “co-benefit”, rather than the principle advantage of reducing deforestation.

Moreover, the ways in which forests and other natural resources are used and valued may vary greatly even within a single community – according to gender, age or wealth level. Understanding these realities and how communities rely on forests is a critical first step in setting up successful REDD+ benefit sharing mechanisms that provide the right incentives to communities to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.

Over the past year, IUCN has conducted studies in specific communities in Ghana, Mexico and Peru to understand the implications of nature dependency for REDD+ benefit sharing. Using household surveys and PROFOR and IUCN’s Poverty-Forests Linkages Toolkit, the results of these studies provide important insights into how REDD+ benefit sharing should be structured in order to improve the livelihoods of local communities and mitigate climate change.

In Ghana

IUCN surveys in Ghana’s Mole National Park (the country’s largest protected ecosystem) reveal that the main livelihood activities in the area are farming, wild resource harvesting and livestock rearing. Households derive 35-50 per cent of their income from agricultural production; 20-30 per cent from wild resource harvests (e.g. honey, dawa dawa beans, shea nuts); and 10-31 per cent from livestock production.

Farmers in the area have adopted diversified livelihood strategies, relying significantly on non-timber forest products to complement their agricultural income. Further south, in Ghana’s Wassa Amenfi district, two-thirds of total annual household income comes from cocoa, indicating a high degree of dependency in this area on a single type of harvest.

These realities suggest that strategies to reduce deforestation and improve the sustainability of farming systems should focus on capacity building among farmers, and the provision of high-quality farm inputs to increase agricultural productivity and reduce pressures on land clearing. For example, the study found that increasing the number of shade trees in the national park is improving the health and productivity of soils, while sequestering substantial amounts of carbon. Furthermore, carefully selected tree species, such as dawa dawa and shea, can provide additional income to smallholders during the slack season.

In Mexico

Fuelwood is far and away the most important forest product for households that IUCN surveyed in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Next in importance are forest foods for household consumption (e.g. wild birds, animals, and forest fruits), which help improve the carbohydrate-based farm diet by adding protein, vitamins and minerals. Villages with a lake or pond also rely on fish, snails and turtles, and some villages mentioned the importance of edible insects found in forests (especially communities with Mayan traditions). Roofing and house-building materials are vital too, and though some are sold, most are collected for the construction of villagers’ own homes.

IUCN surveys show a greater reliance on forests and much greater protection of them in smaller, remote villages compared to larger villages along main roads. Also, the consumption of forest products by poorer villagers is modest compared to wealthier community members who have caused most deforestation and degradation.

To help community members use forest products more sustainably, REDD+ benefit sharing should be set up to incentivise a range of conservation activities including fire control and silvicultural practices to improve the growth, composition, health, and quality of forests. At a subnational and state level, a landscape approach for REDD+ could be used to direct benefits to remote forested villages for forest conservation and to larger roadside settlements for the restoration of degraded forest and the regeneration of deforested areas. This approach offers opportunities for all to contribute to and benefit from the application of REDD+ in the Yucatan Peninsula.

In Peru

IUCN surveys in the Awajún community of Shampuyacu in San Martin, Peru show that a little over 40 per cent of income (cash and non-cash) is derived from agricultural practices (rice, coffee, bananas and yellow corn production), and a little less than 40 per cent from forests. Forest products for subsistence consumption – which are on average three times more important to households than cash income from forests – include fuelwood, forest protein such as fish and bushmeat, and forest fruits, vegetables and medicinals.

In the late 20th century, the region saw a rapid increase in deforestation rates, caused by several factors: road building, increase in population rates and agricultural expansion, which have contributed to the loss of about 1.6 million hectares of primary forest in the region over the past 50 years. If this trend continues, the San Martin region could lose most of its forests by 2050, with untold negative impacts on the livelihoods of local communities.

Deforestation and forest degradation also threatens a unique spiritual connection between forests and the Awajún people. For them, forests are full of the souls of humans who have passed away and transformed into trees or animals. This belief gives the human-forest link a much deeper value than that normally assigned by Western culture.

As in Mexico, a landscape approach is essential for setting up equitable REDD+ benefit sharing in the San Martin region. It will be difficult to foster forest conservation without simultaneously addressing farm and agriculture issues. Conservation International has been working with villagers in converting coffee plots to agroforestry systems, conserving community forests, enriching biodiversity with non-timber forest product species, and riverine restoration, as initiatives for enhancing tree cover. For smallholders with limited space for shade trees, there are other types of on-farm tree planting which may be attractive. Fruit trees, especially grafted fruit trees, can be planted in small numbers, but still help to improve diet and offer some substitution for forest fruit trees.

Overarching lessons from Ghana, Mexico and Peru

Villagers with limited land will still need to supplement their income in other ways. Some may be able to find off-farm employment, but others will continue to look for ways of generating cash from the forest. In light of this, REDD+ benefit-sharing arrangements will need to be keenly aware of forest subsistence dependence, and factor in the livelihood needs of those who have to fall back on forest to supplement their other sources of food and income.

Benefit sharing in a forest context should also recognise and address the needs of each category of villager, even though these can diverge considerably. It will be important to try to work towards enhancing the capacity of the forest to provide forest foods, medicines and handicraft materials. This will require a management plan that identifies remaining forest areas, and tries to enrich them.

An active community forestry approach could include such activities as: closing some areas for a year or two while they regenerate; building in closed and open seasons for hunting animals and harvesting fruits; and gradually creating local knowledge about what sustainable forest use entails.

This article is based on preliminary results from a participatory assessment of people-nature interrelations in Ghana, Mexico and Peru in the framework of ongoing initiatives implemented by IUCN and partners to support national and subnational REDD+ design. Contact us for further details.

Share your thoughts on Twitter @IUCN_forests #IUCNREDD or contact us at [email protected].

The REDD+ benefit sharing examples and lessons featured in this article series come from country experiences of two ongoing IUCN projects: the REDD+ Benefit Sharing Project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB); and the Toward Pro-Poor REDD+ (Phase II) project, promoting rights-based approaches to strengthen the conservation, governance and sustainable management of landscapes in Cameroon, Ghana, Guatemala, Papua Province of Indonesia, and Uganda, funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

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