Examining the local representation of forest dependent communities in REDD+

Start date: 9 November, 2012 End date: 10 January, 2013 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A19492 Countries: Cambodia Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Tania Fredborg Nielsen Total grant: 15,000 DKK



In Cambodia, the first pilot project to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is currently being implemented. The project involves 13 community forestry (CF) sites in Oddar Meanchey province aiming for local forest dependent communities to realise the benefits of selling carbon.

Drawing on theory as well as empirical data, collected from field research in two CF sites and five participating villages, the study aimed to investigate how good governance is currently being implemented in CF, specifically questioning whether local leaders of CF represent forest dependent communities. The study therefore examined the notion of representation by addressing the responsiveness and accountability of leaders i.e. responsiveness through power, and accountability through sanctions (such as elections).

Through a total of 59 interviews, villagers were questioned with regards to their access to, and participation in, community forestry benefits and activities, respectively. In essence, whether leaders are able to affect these activities through power. Further, villagers were questioned on methods used for holding their leaders to account and finally, the study examined the notion of villagers as a ‘community’, and the possible implications this notion bears with it, on how villagers are represented.

It was found that leaders were at both the Community Forestry Management Committee (CFMC) level and village level, including CFMC presidents and CF group presidents, respectively.

The study found that CFMC presidents are, through the implementation of decentralised forest management, given power to implement rules regarding villager’s access to benefits − such as non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Also, they were found to have the power to create rules, such as controlling the payments for these benefits. Further, the CF group presidents at the village level were found to have the power to influence those who participate in CF activities − such as who patrols and participates in meetings, and therefore who does not, ultimately leading to the power of exclusion.

Simultaneously, REDD+ in its most simplistic form defines ‘communities’ as units within which people share common interests and needs, however within and across the villages it was found that there was not homogeneity. Therefore, this disregard for a lack of homogeneity was found to ignore the differences in power between villagers at the local level.

The results found that the system designed for democratic elections of the leaders as a method used to hold leaders to account, which is described under the CF law, is not being implemented or enforced effectively.

Therefore, the findings suggest that the local leaders of community forestry are poorly representing the forest dependent communities. 

This study recommends that if mechanisms are not put in place to strengthen the accountability and transparency of use of funds generated by the CF, as well as improve the avenues for inclusion in CF activities and information sharing, then CF risks further marginalising the groups who are most dependent on the benefits from the CF, particularly women and landless migrants, which ultimately questions the good governance mechanisms designed for the effective implementation of REDD+ within existing CF areas.