REDD+ : If communities are the solution, what is the problem?

Skutsch, Margaret; Turnhout, Esther


While mainstream academic literature over the past ten years has tended to identify commercial and industrialized agriculture as the primary driver of deforestation, national plans for REDD+ (as exemplified by proposals to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility for funding) focus strongly on ‘communities’ and local actors. This is partly to ensure that communities are not harmed by the program, and may benefit from it; but the documents show that in most cases they are in fact envisaged as the primary actors in the REDD+ implementation. In concordance with this, most of the national proposals identify small scale local actors as the agents behind deforestation much more often than large scale outside actors. Moreover, most assign more weight to REDD+ activities directed to small scale actors than even their own analysis of drivers would imply, quite apart from global understanding about who is responsible for forest loss. We suggest that this seeming policy inconsistency can be explained through an understanding of problem framing. We show that the ‘communities’ narrative may implicitly rest on earlier, now largely discredited explanations of the causes of deforestation (shifting cultivation and other traditional practices). However this narrative is attractive today from a variety of other positions, and we suggest that it represents a policy case of a solution looking for a problem.