Sub-theme 9. Conservation, environmental justice and the commons
Restoring commons: opportunities and threats for inclusive restoration from global agreements to local collective action
Ecosystem Restoration has emerged as a global agenda, which revolves around various commons from forests to agrarian lands, yet there has been relatively little research examining how local commons users and owners are interacting with this agenda. We seek papers methodologically and theoretically diverse papers that explore how restoration is enacted through the actions of commons users and owners at the local level around the world, as well as how this interacts with global and national restoration policies. We are particularly interested in four aspects: First, how local action, including direct restoration activity as well as self-organization and governance, are being shaped by global agendas and, national restoration policies, and the broader push for “nature-based solutions. Second, how equity and justice are considered in interventions designed to restore targeted commons. Third, how restoring commons influences local livelihoods and well-being. Fourth, how the conceptualiztion by large-scale actors of nature as a global commons is practiced and shapes program design and understanding.
Panel 9.10. A
1. Resolving land tenure security is essential to deliver forest restoration at scale
1École Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar, 2Natural Justice, Lawyers for Communities and the Environment, Antananarivo, Madagascar, 3Bangor University, UK
Tropical countries are making ambitious commitments to forest restoration with the aim of locking up carbon, conserving biodiversity and benefiting local livelihoods. However, global and national analyses of restoration potential frequently ignore socio-legal complexities which will impact both the effectiveness and equitability of forest restoration. We show that areas with the highest restoration potential are disproportionately found in countries with weak rule of law and frequently in those with significant areas of contested land tenure. Focussing on Madagascar, a country committed to substantial forest restoration, at least 56% of areas with the highest restoration potential have contested tenure and we show how unresolved tenure issues are one of the most important limitations on the restoration of native forest ecosystems. This is likely to be a bigger problem than currently recognized and without significant resources for securing local tenure, opportunities to equitably scale up forest restoration globally are likely to be significantly over-estimated.
2. Seeing the forest for its grass, bushes and trees
King’s College London, United Kingdom
In the 1980s, the government regulation banning tree-felling at over 1000 metres above sea level led to a rupture in the forestry practices in Western Indian Himalayas. This study explores the transformation of ruins left by commercial forestry operations into dense forests in Uttarakhand. It draws on participatory methods, archival research and ethnographic fieldwork to examine the making and unmaking of forest landscapes in a village in Uttarakhand. In the last four decades, everyday practices of environmental care by villagers in the study region led to increased forest cover of mixed broadleaf forests. With the end of commercial forestry operations, the subsequent extension of village commons improved access and availability of forest produce (fuelwood and dry leaves) for the local community. However, despite a high forest cover, state-led afforestation guided by top-down schemes has been implemented multiple times in areas used for cutting grass by the local community. These initiatives overlook the reliance on grass in the local agrosilviopastoral system and consequently fail with annual ground fires and a lack of community support. Both community members and lower government officials recognise the lack of further need to plant trees in the village. We argue for incorporating a place-based understanding of what forest landscapes people want to live with against a general emphasis on tree-centric landscapes in thinking about restoration.
3. Meeting villagers where they are: Toward a more inclusive FLR agenda for Madagascar
1University of Antananarivo (ESSA-Forêts), Madagascar, 2Center for International Forestry Research, USA
Madagascar has a long history of interaction with the global forest landscape restoration (FLR) agenda. It was a pilot site for a major FLR initiative in the early 2000s and an early adopter of a national FLR strategy. Dozens of formal FLR projects are underway in Madagascar, with funding from a diverse array of national and international actors. Globally, tenure rights and security have been identified as factors likely to influence local communities’ interest in engaging in FLR. Tenure incentives for restoring commons in Madagascar, however, are limited because its land law does not recognize customary rights for collectively held forests or pasturelands. And although Madagascar’s FLR strategy calls for a variety of restoration approaches, most FLR practitioners (and villagers) equate FLR with the planting of fuelwood tree species. Drawing on the results of a mixed-methods research project conducted in northern Madagascar, we seek to elucidate how local FLR actions (and non-actions) are shaped by interactions between customary governance systems, differences in villagers’ and FLR practitioners’ views of what FLR is and what its goals should be, FLR actions undertaken by villagers on their commons, and the organizational cultures of government and project bureaucracies. By identifying disjunctures between villagers’ and FLR practitioners’ conceptions of FLR and its goals, as well as points of friction between the realities of village life and the bureaucratic cultures characteristic of FLR practitioners and planners, our research can help inform efforts to re-orient national restoration policies and FLR programming to better meet the needs of villagers.
4. Rethinking forest restoration in cattle country: Local tenure innovation in Madagascar
1Center for International Forestry Research, USA, 2University of Antananarivo (ESSA-Forêts), Madagascar
Forest landscape restoration (FLR) has emerged as an important strategy for reversing deforestation and land degradation on a global scale. In northwestern Madagascar, FLR and tenure security enhancement initiatives have become tightly linked through projects that assist villagers with obtaining individualized land certificates for parcels on which they plant trees. Many of the parcels targeted for reforestation are on lands currently managed collectively as grazing areas for extensive cattle production. Madagascar’s land law categorizes these lands as “unoccupied” and therefore does not recognize collective customary claims to them. Drawing on key informant interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, our research explores the negative impacts on cattle producers of these top-down restoration initiatives. We document how cattle producers have organized to resist pastureland encroachment by future restoration projects and crafted an endogenous tenure intervention aimed at securing their claims in the face of exogenous pressures to convert wooded savannas to eucalyptus and acacia plantations in the name of forest restoration. Our case study highlights the need for land law reforms that recognize customary rights to grazing lands in wooded savannas. It also points to the need for tenure reforms that encourage endogenous tenure innovations adapted to specific contexts. Finally, our research suggests the need for FLR practitioners to integrate forest restoration practices that are compatible with extensive livestock production into their programming.
5. Rethinking Restoring the Commons with evidence from India
University of Minnesota, USA
As the UN decade on restoration unfolds, ecological restoration has emerged as both an opportunity and a threat throughout the globe. In this talk I will draw on recent research in India, including large-scale remote sensing and survey research as well as more focused qualitative inquiry to illustrate three trends. First, restoration can pose a threat by supporting efforts to reconfigure the governance of the commons in ways that benefit powerful actors and harm the rural poor and ecosystems they depend on. For example, tree planting programs tend to displace pastoral livelihoods while providing limited benefits. Second, restoration often fails because it fails to account for the interests and needs of those actually living in and managing ecosystems. For example, government tree planting programs in India often fail to change land cover because people either do not want trees or have alternative uses for the land. As such, restoration often presents technological and ecological solutions to complex social problems. Finally, I present evidence that restoration succeeds when it directly involves people in long-term management decision-making and/or when specific relationships that contribute to restoration are altered by, for example, providing people effective and appealing alternatives to using local forests, such as subsidized gas stoves, incentives for stall-feeding cattle, or access to concrete rather than wood houses. Notably, some of these tools may simply displace environmental damage elsewhere. I conclude that rather than a beneficial biophysical intervention, successful restoration revolves reconfiguring relationships between people and nature in complex ways with often unpredictable impacts.
Panel 9.10. B
1. Grassland conservation and restoration in India: A governance crisis
1University of Minnesota, USA, 2Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India
Grasslands are one of the contested ecosystems due not just to our scant understanding of their ecological and socio-economic roles, but also to the ambiguity in understanding what exactly constitutes them. This problem escalates in the absence of proper governance at various levels. In this paper, we delve into the historical accounts of Indian grasslands to trace how it has shaped the contemporary grassland conservation and restoration policies. The paper derives from the concept of Biome Awareness Disparity (BAD) and links it to grassland degradation due to misleading nomenclature and flawed interventions rooted in misplaced governance. We found that Indian grasslands are largely affected by India’s commitment to global goals (with quantified targets of green cover) and the involvement of multiple government bodies in grassland management. This conundrum is fueled by the strong forest bias within the engaging stakeholders (government bodies and NGOs) with a lack of consensus on governance decisions. Based on the findings, we propose that India needs a more cohesive national policy framework and a robust ecosystem classification system to successfully conserve and restore grasslands.
2. Recognizing the equity implications of restoration priority maps
1Florida State University, USA, 2ICTA-UAB, Spain, 3Penn State University, USA, 4Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden, 5University of Minnesota, USA, 6Brandeis University, USA, 7Newcastle University, UK, 8University of Manchester, UK
A growing number of studies seek to identify global priority areas for conservation and restoration. These studies often produce maps that highlight the benefits of concentrating such activity in the tropics. However, the potential equity implications of using these prioritization exercises to guide global policy are less often explored and articulated. We highlight those equity issues by examining a widely publicized restoration priority map as an illustrative case. This map is based on a prioritization analysis that sought to identify places where restoration of agricultural land might provide the greatest biodiversity and carbon sequestration benefits at the lowest cost. First, we calculate the proportion of agricultural land in countries around the world that the map classifies as a top 15% restoration priority. A regression analysis shows that this map prioritizes restoration in countries where displacing agriculture may be most detrimental to livelihoods: countries that are poorer, more populated, more economically unequal, less food secure, and that employ more people in agriculture. Second, we show through another regression analysis that a similar pattern appears sub-nationally within the tropics: 5 km × 5 km parcels of land in the tropics that are less economically developed or more populated are more likely to be top 15% restoration priorities. In other words, equity concerns persist at a subnational scale even after putting aside comparisons between the tropics and the Global North. Restorative activity may be beneficial or harmful to local livelihoods depending on its conceptualization, implementation, and management. Our findings underline a need for prioritization exercises to better attend to the risks of concentrating potentially negative livelihood imp
3. Social outcomes of restoring a dry tropical forest in India
Columbia University, USA
Although reduced in extent due to historic clearing, tropical dry forests (TDFs) provide critical ecosystem functions, support endemic biodiversity, and millions of people around the world. A predominant cause of degradation of TDFs in India is the spread of invasive species, in particular, the shrub, Lantana camara, which has ecological impacts such as evidence of changes in forest structure and diversity and bird assemblages in TDFs. However, there are few studies that measure the social outcomes of Lantana invasion and TDF restoration. We quantified the impact of Lantana invasion and subsequent restoration in a Central Indian TDF on people’s livelihoods and perceptions of forest health. We surveyed 656 households across study villages near 55 locations in restored, unrestored, and Low Lantana Density (LLD) forest sites. These sites are considered as the surveyed villages’ commons despite the lack of official community forest rights. We found that a higher proportion of respondents in villages near unrestored sites use Lantana as firewood and farm boundaries than the proportion of respondents in villages near restored and LLD sites. We found a significant negative association between LLD sites and a social indicator – the distance travelled for grazing cattle. Restoration did not increase the ease of forest use, such as lesser time spent collecting firewood, which we postulate is because of small spatial scales of restoration and slow regeneration in TDFs. Our results could assist policy makers with the future direction of TDF restoration efforts at larger spatial scales in the Central Indian landscape.
4. The relationship between biodiversity narratives and decision-makers’ priorities: A case study of Kalomo, Zambia
Pennsylvania State University, USA
Biodiversity conservation is needed to balance the competing interests of actors across spatiotemporal scales. Biodiversity narratives that call people and institutions to action construct dominant ideologies about actors and their practices and determine biodiversity conservation outcomes. Narratives are normative because they capture social imaginaries, limiting biodiversity conservation priorities and practices. In most African countries such as Zambia, normative ideas are perpetuated when international-level policy infiltrates domestic policy. In that way, international agendas influence African policy even as African decision-makers try to decolonize conservation practices. Justice for African communities in biodiversity conservation policy and practice is at stake. Using a critical discourse analysis framework and text coding software NVivo, biodiversity narratives were characterized in Zambian policy, multigovernmental, and international conservation organization reports. We compared the narratives from the documents with interviews and participant observation of government decision-makers. We found that despite the acknowledgment of the importance of local communities in biodiversity conservation, their rights to agency in biodiversity management were unclear. The biodiversity narratives were alarmist and poorly reflected the complexity of biodiversity loss. Structural drivers of biodiversity loss reduced while blame on local communities increased from international to local narratives. Our findings suggest that a decolonized biodiversity conservation needs to understand the deeper meanings in biodiversity narratives to develop equitable biodiversity conservation strategies and outcomes for local communities.