Local people ‘as accurate as professional foresters’

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  • Tree data collected by local people is comparable to professional foresters
  • REDD+ should involve more local people in monitoring forest-based carbon
  • How to organise communities for forestry tasks could be a challenge

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[JAKARTA] Local communities can be trained to accurately measure carbon stored in their forests, and their involvement would strengthen UN efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, a study has found.
According to research conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), training local people to make these measurements is cheaper than hiring professional foresters from other regions, and helps raise local awareness of the need to protect forests.
Subekti Rahayu, one of the authors from ICRAF, says the finding should be taken into account for projects in 2014 funded by the UN-managed, multi-partner trust fund to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+). Local people participate in only a small proportion of REDD+ pilot projects currently underway.

“Most of the current REDD+ pilot projects only work around the top level of the government and the researcher. Only a few of them involve local people,” she tells SciDev.Net.

In the study, local communities in China, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam were trained to measure the girth of trees using ropes and sticks, and to identify the species by their local names.

The measurements were converted into values for diameter and density, which ICRAF researchers used to calculate each tree’s carbon biomass.

“In our study, the local people used the same methodology as the one used by the professional forester. But what makes our study important is that the accuracy of the local people measurement is close to [that of] a professional forester,” says Rahayu.

Retno Maryani, a REDD+ Indonesia researcher based at Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, admits that current pilot projects are not embracing the local communities very well.

So far they have only been involved in focus group discussions. And while the pilot projects have offered training, it may not be frequent enough, she says.

Maryani tells SciDev.Net that while she welcomes the idea of involving local people in collecting carbon measurements, educating them to increase their awareness to protect their forest is more important, and this process requires the participation of the local government and NGOs.

Margaret Skutsch, an expert in REDD+ community monitoring at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, points out that involving local communities is not always possible in practice.

“What is much more serious is the question of whether the communities can organise themselves for this sort of exercise. In communities that are riven by conflict or lack of trust in their leaders, this exercise may make no sense,” she says.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.