CIFOR-Media Advisory: Compensation project pays off for forests and people ‘Forest allowance’ protects Brazilian Amazon by incentivizing sustainable land use
28 March 2014 — A Brazilian program that rewards families for conserving forests shows promise for reducing deforestation and helping small farmers improve their livelihoods, a new study co-sponsored by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) shows.
The Bolsa Floresta — “forest allowance” — program provides direct payments to families in exchange for conservation and other public goods. A study of the program in two Amazonian regions found that most of the participants — mainly small farmers who depend heavily on forest resources — reported that they were better off than before Bolsa Floresta began. Deforestation rates, although low from the outset in the remote forests where the program is implemented, were also slightly lower in those areas than surrounding regions.
Those results point to possibilities for conservation incentives in other parts of the Amazon that may face even greater deforestation pressure from logging and ranching, researchers said — if such programs and the provided incentives are tailored to local situations.
The Bolsa Floresta program reinforces conservation through a combination of community development, payment for environmental services, provision of public services and support for community organizations, said Sven Wunder, senior economist at CIFOR heading the Brazil office, and a co-author of the study. Families agree to comply with the reserve’s management plan and limit the amount of forestland converted for swidden farming. They must also participate in a local association and send their children to school, if there is one nearby.
The program — launched in the Brazilian state of Amazonas in 2007 — targets families living in Brazil’s Sustainable Development Reserves, which were established to enable residents to combine sustainable land and forest uses based on a management plan. By 2012, Bolsa Floresta benefited more than 30,000 people in and around 15 forest reserves covering more than 10 million hectares.
“The program requires that people adhere to the rules and do a little bit more, and compensates them for that additional effort,” Wunder said.
Each family receives a payment of about US$33 a month. Failure to comply with regulations could result in a warning, or even suspension of payments. The local association receives an amount equal to 10 percent of the family stipends for activities benefiting the members. Each community also receives investments in income-producing activities that are in line with the reserve’s management plan, such as the processing of farm products, non-timber forest products, fish farming or ecotourism.
“The cash transfer helped many families to cover basic expenses for food and clothing,” said Jan Börner of CIFOR, who co-authored the study. “Many residents also reported that the reserves are better protected from people from outside who used to fish or log illegally in the reserves.”
One key benefit of Bolsa Floresta is that it supports local conservation efforts that help protect against invasion of the reserves by outsiders, Wunder said. Although many people blame small farmers for clearing forest, “in thinly populated, remote areas that are dominated by smallholders or indigenous people, most of the deforestation is usually done by people who come in from outside to cut timber or clear land for cattle ranching,” he said.
A reserve with people in it provides a buffer against that deforestation, and Bolsa Floresta can reinforce that by providing greater incentive for conservation.
Monetary income levels for families in the reserves are so low that even the small monthly stipend becomes an important cash injection, Wunder said. That might not be true in a place that is more closely connected with markets, or where there is more timber production or cattle ranching. In those places, the size and combination of incentives should be tailored to the particular situation, he said.
The study found that deforestation had decreased about 12 percent more inside the reserves than in the rest of the state of Amazonas since the Bolsa Floresta program began, resulting probably in a modest difference of about 1,500 hectares of additional forests preserved from deforestation.
“It allegedly protects forests from the local people, but at least as much protects them for the local people,” Wunder said. “These people can become better allies of conservation, and one advice to the implementers from our report was to link the rewards more to active local monitoring against external degrading forces.”
The Bolsa Floresta program is managed by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (Fundação Amazonas Sustentável, FAS), which co-sponsored the study with CIFOR and the Center for Development Research (Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung, ZEF) at the University of Bonn in Germany.
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