In order for REDD+ programs to be truly effective, communities must take ownership of the process to address deforestation and forest degradation. Accordingly, it is crucial that these programs involve women and indigenous groups in sustainable forest management efforts. This article will discuss the need to build the capacity of both men and women, in domestication techniques and the use of indigenous knowledge systems, to address climate change and its affect on communities. In doing so, international development organizations can better address the issue of sustainable forest management, and ensure that all community members benefit from the results of these mechanisms.
REDD+ refers to Reducing Emissions on Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries, including the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of carbon stocks as defined by the United Nations. Although the initial focus of REDD was on policy approaches and positive incentives to reducing emissions on deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+ has come to address climate change, poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation and ecosystems services.
Forests contribute to 90% of livelihood for 1.2 billion people, are home to 90% of biodiversity, and provide ecosystems services such as watershed preservation and rainfall control. Amongst the drivers of deforestation are domestic agriculture, fuel wood and charcoal, urbanization, and economic development. The increased need for building materials and public facilities, large-scale agro-industrial projects, and industrial logging companies are just a few examples of why deforestation occurs. As a result, REDD+ strives to address the issue of sustainable forest management (SFM).
Linking REDD+ to indigenous knowledge and gender, as well as the role of capacity building, is important because women are key stakeholders within the forest and land use sector. Forests are crucial to the livelihood of women, as from it they derive substantial benefits from Non-Timber Forest products (NTFPs). Women therefore need to ensure the availability of these products, an important alternative source of income, fuel wood and food. A survey of Cameroonian women by the Limbe Botanical Garden revealed that as NTFPs become scarce, women’s workload increased, since they have to walk longer distances into the forest to gather them. Accordingly, capacity building, particularly in regards to women in sustainable harvesting and management, is important for ensuring the sustainable use of forest resources.
Increasing an individual’s or a community’s capacity to sustainably use forest resources, can result in a win-win situation for REDD+ programs and forest communities. Indigenous knowledge, which is the local knowledge of forest species, their value and uses, can be explored identified and documented to guide propagation efforts. Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) for example, describe local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society, forming the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food, education and natural resource management. By using IKS, existing forests can be maintained or restored by communities themselves using technical support from REDD+ financing bodies to support sustainable development objectives.
REDD+ dialogues and programs will be incomplete if the key stakeholders such as women and indigenous groups are ignored. It is necessary to understand the roles and responsibilities of each social group, their activities and benefits along the value chain, and the drivers of deforestation and degradation. Unfortunately, many REDD+ readiness programs in Africa and Asia are effectively gender blind, due to the neglect of baseline and value chain analysis, contributing to the unsustainable implementation of projects on the ground. This may result in focusing on timber for example, while downplaying the importance of NTFPS as a source of livelihood and alternative income for women. Accordingly, REDD+ programs must integrate gender perspectives into the decision-making process. This would open up the possibility of alternatives, such as the selection of native trees for domestication as tree crops, and the roles and responsibilities of men and women in managing forest resources. In doing so, projects will lay the groundwork for future gender-sensitive REDD+ benefit sharing mechanisms.
Proponents of gender inclusion argue that for future generations to feel empowered and support REDD+ programs, the role of gender in natural resources, knowledge and power relations must be addressed. For example, in a community’s reforestation program, men and women would collect the seed varieties for propagation. The men will prepare the nursery sites, fill the polythene bags and plant the seeds, while women will water and weed the seedlings. In this context, REDD+ projects can benefit both genders, as they will involve forest users as opposed to owners. Focusing on forest users opens a window of opportunity for women to participate in benefit sharing mechanisms, going beyond ownership rights (both statutory and customary tenure), which discriminate against women. In conclusion, connecting capacity building to customary use patterns such as IKS, NTFPs, and other economic growth approaches, can allow for the effective implementation of REDD+ programs, while addressing the livelihoods and concerns of women and other disadvantaged populations.
 Components of livelihood include shelter, food, medicine, energy, recreation, and spiritual needs
 Sustaining Forests: A Development Strategy. Washington, DC: The World Bank. 2002.
 Warren, D. M. 1991 “Using Indigenous Knowledge in Agricultural Development”; World Bank Discussion Paper No.127. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Jane Tarh Takang is Integra’s Spring 2014 Gender and Environment Fellow, and student at the SIT Graduate Institute in Washington, DC. She brings over 15 years of experience designing and implementing natural resource management programs, a passion for women’s empowerment and significant gender-related experience. As part of her fellowship, Ms. Tarh Takang is investigating the implications of REDD+ mechanisms on women, and how they can best be assisted by benefit sharing mechanisms. Prior to joining Integra, she was the Country Manager in Cameroon for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Tree Crop Program. She also served as the Coordinator for Women Organizing Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), West and Central Africa Region. Her gender-related experience includes work with Heifer International Cameroon, Gender Lenses in Cameroon and SNV Netherlands Development Organization. Ms. Tarh Takang holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Yaoundé – Cameroon, and a diploma in Integrated Rural Development from the Pan-African Institute for Development. She expects to complete her Master of Arts in Sustainable Development in 2014.