The Kondoa Irangi REDD+ Project covers an area of 56,291 hectares in Kondoa district in north-central Tanzania. The project was carried out from 2010 to 2014 by the African Wildlife Foundation, with support from the Tanzanian Government and the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
The REDD project aimed to implement a strict conservation regime in forests of the Kondoa-Irangi Hills. The project’s objective was to prepare for carbon trading. In 2015, Plan Vivo approved the project’s project idea note.
In a brochure about the project on its website, the African Wildlife Foundation states, “REDD+ provides an opportunity to help protect this ecologically significant forest, mitigate carbon and improve the lives of forest dependent communities in a remote landscape.” AWF claims that, “Efforts have resulted in big successes for the region.”
But a recent paper published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies challenges these claims of success. The paper is written by Hanne Svarstad and Tor A. Benjaminsen, and is titled, “Nothing succeeds like success narratives: a case of conservation and development in the time of REDD”.
The embassy officials and consultants hired to report on the project based their success stories on short or no field visits. In contrast, Svarstad and Benjaminsen’s research spanned five years and included interviews, discussions, and observations in 14 of the 19 villages included in the project.
The authors argue that this project is a “crucial case” for REDD:
if REDD projects generally tend to alleviate poverty and do no harm, such an outcome should be expected in this particular case as it is repeatedly highlighted as a success story by the Norwegian government that remains the dominant international actor on REDD.
Svarstad and Benjaminsen write that the “success narrative” promoted by the AWF and the Norwegian Embassy, “is in sharp contrast to our findings”. They suggest that the gap between claims and evidence can be explained by taking the interests of the actors involved as a starting point. “In this case,” they write,
Norway was the funder of the project, and as the dominant funder of REDD, the Norwegian government has a particular interest in reproducing REDD success narratives, since the credibility of the country’s climate mitigation policy depends on REDD being a success.
Since the early 20th century, there have been reports about soil erosion in the Kondoa-Irangi Hills and there is a long history of outside interventions. Villagers were opposed to several of these interventions.
The most recent was a Swedish-funded soil conservation scheme that ran from 1973 to 1994. In 1979, all livestock was evicted from the area. Forest use was strictly limited. Villagers resisted the project by setting fire to regenerating vegetation, illegal grazing, and opening up new fields. In 1983, a project official was killed while patrolling against illegal grazing.
After the Swedish-funded project finished, local forest use increased again. Villagers gathered firewood, grazed livestock, and cut down trees for building materials. Some villagers made charcoal.
Under the REDD project, the forest was enclosed. Hunting, farming, extraction of wood for charcoal or timber was forbidden. Collecting dry firewood, cutting grass, collecting fruits, research, tourism, and visiting the forest was allowed on payment of a fee.
Svarstad and Benjaminsen found that the forest enclosure caused extra hardship for villagers:
- People living close to the forest, without access to alternative areas of forest were more seriously affected than others.
- Villagers with small farms or no farmland were more affected than others.
- Women were more affected than men, particularly with collecting firewood.
- Some villagers, out of desperation, still grazed their livestock inside the forest. If they are caught, the fines are very high, in relation to their income.
- Villagers reported increased crop damage by wildlife, especially warthogs.
The authors report that a new district council was elected at the end of 2015. The strict forest conservation regime imposed by the REDD project was an important topic in the election campaign. Svarstad and Benjaminsen write that,
Most representatives who ended up being elected from the area were critical of the REDD project. During our fieldwork in Kondoa in December 2016, we found, as a consequence, that the management of the enclosed forest to a large extent had stopped functioning.
The agricultural component
The project also included an agricultural component. The authors note that this, “has from an early stage of the project been presented as particularly successful and a key to the overall success of the project”. The authors investigate this alleged success and conclude that,
the benefits of the agricultural component have been grossly exaggerated, and that these benefits do not compensate for the negative livelihood effects of the enclosure of the forest. Marginalised villagers whose livelihoods are most at risk were also hardest affected by the forest enclosure, while they are least capable of benefitting from the rather costly and input-intensive agricultural approach introduced.
When Svarstad and Benjaminsen asked for evidence to back up the claims of success, AWF referred them to the Norwegian Embassy. And the Embassy referred them to AWF. “It became clear,” the authors write, “that the success claims were not documented by systematic studies.”
Svarstad and Benjaminsen write that, “the large majority of the villagers we talked to were actually sceptical of the REDD project in general and about its agricultural component in particular.” One villager estimated that in his village only somewhere between five and 10% of the farmers could afford to buy the seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides.
Building a success narrative
The Norwegian Embassy hired Deloitte to carry out a mid-term review of Norway’s REDD pilot projects in Tanzania. Deloitte claimed that the Kondoa Irangi REDD+ Project was “one of the leading projects in the pilot portfolio and is well on its way to completing its goals and objectives”, and that the project was “implementing best practices when it comes to agricultural extension services and has achieved considerable success by targeting individual pilot farmers”.
But Deloitte’s consultants did not carry out any independent assessments of the agricultural component. They did not even visit the project area. They simply reproduced the claims made by AWF. In turn AWF used Deloitte’s mid-term review as evidence that the project was a success.
Danish consulting firm NIRAS produced the final reviews of Norway’s REDD projects in Tanzania. NIRAS described the agricultural component of the Kondoa Irangi REDD+ Project as “effective”. But the NIRAS report found that the pro-poor approach recommended in the baseline study had not been followed. And the project had not accurately monitored adoption rates of the agricultural component.
In 2015, a delegation of Norwegian parliamentarians visited Dar es Salaam. The Embassy organised a meeting about REDD in Tanzania at which the NGOs running the REDD projects gave a series of presentations. When one of the authors asked the Embassy for permission to attend, the request was turned down. “In this way,” Svarstad and Benjaminsen write, “the embassy staff safeguarded its success story and managed to control the information communicated to Norwegian MPs.”
Explaining the success narrative
“An image of success in conservation and development aid depends on successful marketing,” Svarstad and Benjaminsen write. Images of success are important to organisations such as AWF in negotiating funding for new projects.
REDD plays a major part of Norway’s climate change policy. Individuals in the Norwegain Embassy in Dar es Salaam who are concerned about their career path, are unlikely to report critically about a Norwegian-funded REDD project.
Anthropologist Eirik Jansen was programme officer at the Norwegian Embassy from 2003 to 2007. In 2014, after he retired, Jansen wrote about his experience, under the headline “Don’t Rock the Boat”:
The ‘successful’ programme officer would be a person who managed the programmes well in an administrative technical sense, signed agreements and made disbursement on time, reporting back to Norway on progress. There was a strong administrative culture emphasizing the need to ‘do things right’. The main incentives in the system leading to a successful career seemed to be to master and follow the administrative rules laid down.
In an August 2016 paper in World Development, Jens Friis Lund and colleagues argue that REDD is “the latest in a long row of conservation fads”. They write that,
REDD+ resembles longstanding dynamics of the development and conservation industry, where the promise of change becomes a discursive commodity that is constantly reproduced and used to generate value and appropriate financial resources.
In this context, success is measured not in terms of realising goals, Svarstad and Benjamin note, but in terms of policy-making and financial support. In the Kondoa Irangi REDD+ Project, despite the fact that it was a pilot project, it was more important for actors involved to create a success story rather than to learn from experiences.
PHOTO Credit: African Wildlife Foundation.