A soon-to-be published study of the much-lauded REDD+-protected Keo Seima forest has found there’s little that can be done to convince the majority of locals to stop clearing protected areas, findings that observers say raise important questions about the forest’s viability.
Keo Seima – often pointed to as a role model for conservation projects across Cambodia – was granted much sought-after REDD+ status by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 in response to conservation strategies put in place by the government in collaboration with NGOs.
However, the recent study, to be published in scientific journal Biological Conservation, found that despite the protections, locals were likely to continue their forest clearing unabated. Researchers conducted interviews with heads of households across the protected area, presenting them with a selection of scenarios and asking them to say whether each would prompt a reduction in their forest clearance activities.
In all but two scenarios, almost all of the respondents answered that their forest clearance activities would either continue as before or increase.
In one of the more promising scenarios – one in which the whole community would hypothetically receive payment for reducing forest clearing – more than half of respondents said they would reduce their clearing. In the other, slightly less than half said they would do so if village development funds were offered in return for reduced clearances.
Despite the seeming lack of effective options, the study’s authors insisted that their findings should give Keo Seima’s administrators reason to be hopeful that the number of households clearing forests can be “dramatically” reduced.
However, the study clashes with research by geographer Tim Frewer, whose work focuses on Cambodia. In interviews he conducted across five villages in the REDD+ area, Frewer found that not only were most respondents – including a commune chief – unaware of the REDD+ program, he also found that logging was rampant among residents.
In an email yesterday, Frewer disagreed with the other researchers’ rosy outlook, accusing the authors of having “employed sophisticated modelling” to obscure “some of the more fundamental problems with REDD+”.
“The problem is that REDD+ has proved itself unable to deliver any substantial livelihood gains,” Frewer wrote.
Marcus Hardtke – who has worked on conservation issues in Cambodia, including in Keo Seima, for over a decade – said the residents’ answers did not come as a surprise to him, adding that “there are no economic answers” to conservation problems without meaningful enforcement of the laws on the books.