9. Synthesis of Key Insights

Submitted by Michael Rastall 16th August 2012 10:19

The baseline assessment shed light on the current vulnerability of villages in the project site, which is essential for the evaluation of future vulnerability and possible adaptation strategies that can be synergistic with REDD+. Using the attributes of vulnerability as the lenses for this analysis, we were able to grasp social and ecological dynamics over the past decades that serve as the basis for further research to explore ways of enhancing adaptive capacity in the project site. The following are insights gained through this assessment and some recommendations provided by the participants to consider in the analysis of future vulnerability and adaptation.

Vulnerability is dynamic in nature. The assessment shows that there have been important social, ecological and economic changes over the past decades, which have shaped the vulnerability of villages in the project site. Three to four decades ago, villages had small production fields and were surrounded by forests with abundant resources. Over time, villagers state that competition for productive land and forest resources has degraded forest ecosystems and increased the fragility of local livelihoods as resources become scarcer and uncertainty about the future increases.

Climate-related disturbances are not the only threat. Villagers recognize a number of threats that can affect their livelihoods. Examining the past, villagers identified many events that affected the village including social, economic, political and ecological shocks and stresses. Climate-related disturbances combine with a myriad of other threats and current conditions to shape the vulnerability of villages in the project site. Among the main climate-related disturbances villagers mentioned intense drought, changing seasons, erratic rain patterns and strong winds.

Vulnerability is different for different groups. Based on the analysis, we are able to appreciate that different groups, natural resources and activities are affected differently by different climatic disturbances. Children and elderly seem to be the most vulnerable social groups in the villages. Agriculture is the most exposed and impacted activity by adverse climate-related disturbances such as drought and changing seasons. Some forest resources are also vulnerable but to less extent and in some cases NTFPs have benefited from changes in weather patterns.
Villages as a whole are highly vulnerable to changing climate. Most of the households in the villages depend on agriculture for their subsistence and economic development. Shifts in the seasons and increased unpredictability of rain patterns have led to adverse impacts on agricultural production and hence food security and the local economy. Increasing the agriculture land to compensate for losses has put more pressure on other natural resources on which the villages depend. Villagers recognize their problems with increased uncertainty in the way seasons behave and their inability to predict wet and dry periods and follow the ‘traditional’ production calendar for their activities as they were used to do. Increased climate variability and uncertainty seems to be one of the main disturbances shaping current vulnerability in the villages.

Livelihood diversification is a current strength. Villages depend on several activities for their subsistence and economic base. Most of these activities relate to the management or extraction of natural resources through agriculture, collection of NTFPs, logging and mining.

Although villagers produce mainly for self-consumption, products such as cacao, manioc and plantain and to less extent bushmeat are important sources of income for the households. Villages are generally well connected to markets where groups of households sell their products jointly. While agriculture is the main base of their economy, NTFPs are also part of the portfolio but their trade and prices are not well organized yet. Rather, NTFPs seem to play as important safety nets in periods of scarcity and stress.

Social capital is weak but needed to enhance adaptive capacity. Social capital in the form of collective action, social infrastructure and social networks was analyzed and helped us to identify weaknesses that could be strengthened to enhance adaptive capacity. In most of the villages, collective action to maintain social infrastructure is lacking, denoting poor management for the common benefit of the village as a whole. In contrast, collective action is very important when specific household groups combine efforts to improve their agricultural practices and trade. External interventions from elites or NGOs differ in the villages, whereas villages more close to Yokadouma seem to have received more external support than distant villages. In terms of social networks, villages could enhance their capacity to better manage forest resources by strengthening links between influential actors and actors that possess a lot of knowledge on the management of these resources.

Based on the insights listed above and the feedback received in the workshop conducted the last day of the fieldwork with village representatives, the following points are important to consider in forthcoming analyses of future vulnerability and possible adaptation strategies. These need to be deliberated in tandem with the findings and suggestions of the Study of REDD+ Feasibility in the TNS Landscape in order to promote synergies with climate mitigation.

  •  Walking distance to find NTFP may increase with population growth, expansion of agriculture land and other pressures on forests. NTFPs constitute an important safety net for villages in times of low agriculture production or income. Among the villagers, many suggested that some sort of cultivation of NTFPs would help improve their availability and the time required to collect them. NTFP plantations or improved agroforestry schemes could offer a solution to the competition over NTFPs in the future.
  • Although NTFPs contribute to cash revenue, they are seasonal, knowledge is required to find them and their commercialization is not well organized. Improving ways of increasing their availability, processing, storage and commercialization could be interesting exploring, particularly given that NTFPs and forests in general seem to show less vulnerability to changes in the seasons as compared to agriculture.
  • Alternative livelihoods could be introduced to diversify even more the economic and livelihood base of villages. Apiculture, aquaculture, production of medicinal plants and livestock were mentioned by villagers as possible activities that could help broaden the livelihood base of the local population in order to prevent dependence on few sources of subsistence and income in times of uncertainty.
  • Improved agricultural practices could help increase the productivity of current products such as cacao, coffee and garden products. Improving the yield would prevent expanding the agriculture land at the expense of forests and it could help compensate for the losses that farmers have faced due to changes in the seasons over the past decade.
  • Strengthening collective action in the villages would not only help maintain social infrastructure that benefits the village as a whole, but also improve practices that promote a more sustainable management of common land and resources such as Community Forests. According to villagers, improving the enforcement of common rules that define practices such as hunting, logging and reforesting would help prevent situations of extreme degradation or risk of forest disappearance as predicted by many households. Common rules could also apply for sharing the benefits of these activities in ways that benefit the village as a whole, as opposed to only the management or decision-making entities.
  • Discussion and survey results show how villagers perceive deforestation and forest degradation has progressed over time. Participatory monitoring could not only create awareness, but also empowerment and commitment to improve the future state of forests managed by the villagers. Information gathered through this monitoring system would be very valuable for entities that are working in the sites for the conservation of forests and wildlife.
  • Villagers suggest that new practices could be introduced through a bottom-up process that will most likely require the support of external interventions. This support will only be sustainable if it respects the local knowledge villagers have on the management of natural resources.
  • Lessons from past ecological and social dynamics will serve as the basis for building adaptive capacity to climate variability. However, effective adaptation to future climate change requires building adaptive capacity to new situations, new distributions of events that are not within the ensemble of events (including extremes) known from the past. In this regard, decisions will require planning for uncertainty, expanding the safety net with a broader livelihood base and access to options, more information on the social and ecological interactions, and more collaboration between actors that have different experiences and knowledge.
  • Pilot actions are paramount for long-term solutions as long as there is a systemic learning that enables reflection and refinement along the way. While adaptive management sounds like a very good option in theory it is complicated to implement in practice. Therefore, it is important to build the necessary mechanisms that will support the learning process and enable experimenting, monitoring and improving over time.

Most of the insights about the current conditions in the project site will serve as a basis for more in-depth research to explore future adaptation options and find synergies with REDD+ pilot actions (component 4 of the project). Results from further analysis will generate recommendations to inform decision making and planning at the local and national levels.