Rishi Bastakoti is a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Calgary in Canada. He has worked as a policy practitioner in Nepal’s community forestry network for more then 10 years. From December 2013 to September 2014, Bastakoti was in Nepal, observing the REDD readiness process.
He carried out 77 interviews, with government officials, NGOs, civil society representatives, and individuals in local forestry groups.
Bastakoti’s research was published recently in the Journal of Forest and Livelihood. Titled, “Nepal’s REDD+ Readiness Preparation and Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Challenges“, the paper was co-written with Conny Davidsen, also from the University of Calgary.
Nepal’s Readiness Preparation Proposal, produced in 2010, recognises the importance of multi-stakeholder consultation, “to promote a transparent, inclusive, accountable, equitable and ecologically sustainable implementation of REDD in Nepal.”
But Bastakoti and Davidsen found that,
“Nepal’s REDD network is dominated by the entrenched interest of powerful actors especially forestry bureaucrats, consultants, experts and donor agencies, largely excluding the interest of marginalized groups and forest dependent people.”
Nepal’s REDD governance structure
The government of Nepal has set up three levels of REDD governance:
- The Apex Body: Consists of an inter-ministerial, governmental committee, chaired by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MoFSC). In charge of policy-making.
- The REDD+ Working Group: 12 individuals selected by the MoFSC – nine from governmental agencies, one from an aid agency and two from civil society.
- The REDD Implementation Center (REDD-IC): The administrative support body in the MoFSC. REDD-IC coordinates and implements REDD management, consultation and research activities at national and sub-national levels.
Bastakoti and Davidsen found problems in all three institutions.
The Apex Body is supposed to meet twice a year. In fact, the MoFSC reported in 2013 that it had only met twice since it was formed in September 2010. When it does meet, the chairperson and representatives from outside the MoFSC are not always present.
The private sector is not represented in the REDD+ Working Group. “More marginalized and forest dependent groups such as lower-caste dalits, women and landless groups are left out on this process,” Bastakoti and Davidsen write.
The process of inviting observers and hiring consultants is “very ambiguous and non-transparent”. Observers of the meetings tend to be bureaucratic experts, influential aid agencies, international organisations and consulting firms.
The two national forests and indigenous civil society organisations that are in the REDD+ Working Group are “unable to make their voice heard effectively”. In several cases they were not involved in (or even told about) crucial decisions. Bastakoti and Davidsen describe the REDD+ Working Group as “an instrument for legitimizing government’s policy decisions rather than a functional multi-stakeholder forum”.
Meanwhile, they found that the REDD Implementation Center has a “highly bureaucratic composition that usually favors a top-down and technocratic worldview”. The REDD-IC is in a separate wing of the MoFSC, and is isolated within the ministry’s institutional structure.
One of the major programmes of REDD-IC is capacity building of external stakeholders and local forestry staff. But during his field visits, Bastakoti noticed that forestry officials at the district level “showed a lack of basic knowledge and training with respect to REDD+ and its mechanisms”.
Participation and consultation in REDD-readiness?
In its Readiness Preparation Proposal (RPP), the government claims that the consultation process involved a series of workshops,
with participation from a range of stakeholders such as indigenous peoples and local communities, forest dependent people, Dalits, women, civil society organizations, government departments, political parties, the media, universities, international organizations, constitutional assembly members, projects, international development partners, and the private sector.
But Bastakoti and Davidsen note that several studies report that consultation was not effective, and that “stakeholder participation was rather rhetoric than a reality”.
Nepal’s Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment was started in September 2013. It is based on purely hypothetical scenarios, since it was produced before the preparation of the national REDD+ Strategy.
It was “developed under immense time pressure to fulfill donor requirements”, Bastakoti and Davidsen write, and consultation was limited to meetings in Kathmandu and three other nearby districts due to limited budgets.
A representative from the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal (FECOFUN) who took part in the SESA National Workship in March 2014 told Bastakoti and Davidsen that,
The organizers did not respect our rights to have accessed to the information. They invited us for consultation without giving any prior information. We don’t know what to contribute. Are we coming here just to legitimize the consultants’ work?
Disregarding the marginalised
The Government of Nepal has commissioned a team of consultants to develop a REDD+ National Strategy: Face the Future, Arbonaut, Practical Solution Consultancy Nepal, and Nepal Environmental and Scientific Services. In January 2015, they produced a 200-page-long first draft of the Strategy.
Face the Future is a Netherlands-based company that develops its own carbon projects as well as acting as a consulting firm. It used to be called the FACE Foundation. In 2006, I visited the company’s carbon offset project in the Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda. Thousands of people had been evicted from the National Park. Local communities accused the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s rangers of on-going human rights abuses and even murder.
In Nepal, the team of consultants led by Face the Future organised a series of half-day meetings, during which the consultants gave a presentation and asked for feedback and comments. Bastakoti and Davidsen write that,
Interviewees at several workshops reported that they felt overwhelmed and dismissed because insufficient information had been provided to them before the meeting, concerning the general background of Nepal’s REDD+ plans as well as concerning the current status of the process. Some participants added that these meetings were unable to go beyond basic information sharing and capacity building of stakeholders and right-holders.
The meetings were mostly in larger city centres, away from forest communities. Several consultation meetings in Kathmandu were conducted in English. Needless to say, this is not how a process of free, prior and informed consent should be carried out.
Bastakoti and Davidsen conclude that,
Our review of the actor identification and mapping process, a foundation for the recent consultation phase, suggests that the informal, marginalized and less-informed stakeholders have been largely disregarded throughout the process, and systematically been shifted out of sight while the large formal institutional actors and the forest administration were favored and emphasized.
PHOTO credit: Rishi Bastakoti talking to community leaders in Banke district, Nepal.