Results-based payments in the Brazilian Amazon: why local participation, creativity and scale are vital

Seven years after it was created, in 2008, the Amazon Fund is now the best example of a national results-based payment mechanism. A high-level panel discussed the main lessons and challenges of the fund during the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris in a session entitled “Amazon Fund – from results-based payments to the experiences on the ground”.

Juliana Santiago, head of the Fund, opened the session emphasizing that new development models are needed for the Amazon. But “development does not take place unless is achieved by the country itself”, she said highlighting the role country ownership plays in creating innovative approaches for integrating forest conservation and development.

Juliana also pointed out that one of the main challenges of the fund was to determine how resources would reach the ground. “We need partner organizations with solid experience in working with local communities”, she said. “With their support, financial resources are more likely to reach local entrepreneurs”.

New development models: a matter of local trust, innovation and money

All the panellists stressed the crucial role of local participation in developing new models for sustainable rural economic development. It was clear from the session that local land users need to be at the heart of decision-making and planning. But participation needs to go beyond solely providing information; it needs to be democratic and interactive. The costs of implementing such processes, however, are high.

“Its simpler to be said than to be done”, emphasized Virgilio Viana, director of Sustainable Amazonas Foundation (FAS).  As crucial as it is, active and frequent participation is many times challenged by logistics and high costs as most of the communities that benefit from the fund live far away in the forest. “Trust is very important in this process”, said Virgilio.

Adriana Ramos, director of the Policy and Law Program of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), on the other hand, affirmed that “to find this new model of development we better learn from who is already doing it”. Indigenous people, she pointed out, “have a large repertory of forest management techniques and practices that help conserve tropical forests”. This transition process would require, though, to go beyond indigenous people participation and allow social learning methods that would lead to innovation and creative solutions. “If we want to find this model we need to be open to new solutions and take risks”, she said. “It is a huge mistake to think that indigenous people live in the past”, she completed.

When asked what can be done to increase financing from private sources – given that so far the vast majority of financial support comes from public rather than private sources – Virgilio explained the recent phenomenon that foreign philanthropy is leaving Brazil because of the current economic crisis in the country and Brazilian philanthropy is not yet moving in at the same rate and at the scale required. “Opportunities to attract private investment would be around the biodiversity of the Amazon in particular for two industries, the pharmaceutical and the cosmetics sectors. Currently we don’t have private investments at the scale yet needed to ensure that forests are worth standing more than cut down”, he completed.

Paying for results, but how to measure and who owns the carbon?

Attribution of results to the fund payments is still challenging to measure. “How much did it cost to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80%, who paid for it and what was the role for the Amazon Fund?” – asked one of the participants in the session. The panellists jointly elaborated that the costs, in terms of financial resources, might not be known. But it certainly took a great deal of political will and a joint effort between the federal level, states, civil society and private sector to integrate policies and render them effective.

Amy Duchelle, scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), highlighted some early positive livelihood and land use outcomes at sites supported by the Amazon Fund and included in CIFOR’s long-term Global Comparative Study on REDD+. She also emphasized the challenges of cross-scale coordination in monitoring and evaluation, and stressed the importance of “engaging farmers and communities in monitoring efforts as local data is really key to understand the effectiveness of any intervention”.

“Who owns the carbon in the Amazon?”- another interesting question raised in the session – was definitely the most controversy point. Answers ranged from “God”, to “if in the indigenous territories the indigenous peoples”, to “its complicated.” Virgilio added: “the holder of carbon rights could be those who own the land or those who do the job, or a combination of both”. For instance, the Brazilian federal government is still regulating legal aspects of REDD+. The state governments have been fighting for getting a slice of the “carbon cake” (which can be worked out through a so called nested approach) but this is currently still rather theoretical and not yet transformed into policies.

Lessons and challenges: Need for land use planning, technological development and integrated value chains

Some important lessons can be gleaned from the first years of fund implementation.  Of critical importance is land use planning, along with scientific and technological development to build lasting capacity and increase knowledge. Challenges arise from the landscape approach on how to better link the practical aspects of implementation on the ground with national and global decision-making processes. The question of how rural economic development can also translate into forest protection is still a central challenge too.

Osvaldo Stella, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), emphasized the importance of creating a “land sharing model with the inclusion of settlers that enables diverse land uses to take place, linking technical assistance to economic incentives and disincentives such as regulating access to rural credits”. He also highlighted the need to create a regional approach that caters for larger changes. For this, according to him, “we need a better integration of public policies and to think along larger value chains in order to reach scale”.

Final messages stressed the importance of connecting the local with the international level. Adriana pointed out that “it is very easy to discuss climate change in Paris – where we can’t really feel it” – affirming that if we were in the Amazon we would reach results easily. Amy completed saying that “we need to value what is happening on the ground, take the lessons learned there and apply them to higher level decision making”.



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