Indigenous Involvement in REDD+ in Costa Rica

As a forerunner in the REDD+ preparation process and the first country accepted into the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s Carbon Fund, Costa Rica has the potential to set important precedents and serve as an example for other countries pursing REDD+. Costa Rica’s initial stages of participation and early dialogue for REDD+ have strengthened collaboration between the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) and indigenous peoples, while building capacity in indigenous organizations and providing an opportunity to promote the agenda of the country’s indigenous peoples.

Countries throughout the world are immersed in the process of preparation for REDD+. They are entering the uncharted territory of REDD+ strategy development and facilitation of stakeholder engagement, and are confronting the enormous challenges that accompany these efforts. To date, there are few documented cases of stakeholder participation in REDD+ strategy development to guide processes in other countries or offer lessons learned. Costa Rica, in particular, is one of the countries that has advanced farthest in the REDD+ preparation process, and consequently has the potential to set precedents and serve as an important example for other countries—particularly those initiating REDD+ in Mesoamerica. This webpage, and itscorresponding case study, documents the REDD+ early engagement process in Costa Rica in order to share recommendations and lessons learned from the country’s experience thus far.

REDD+ stands for countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Forest Carbon Partnership Facility

The indigenous peoples of Costa Rica have successfully created a national indigenous consultation plan, which establishes an organizational and operational framework to implement a national consultation of the future National REDD+ Strategy. This national indigenous consultation plan has been supported and backed by FONAFIFO, and the territories will receive US$1.1 million through theForest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF)for its implementation. Indigenous leaders have developed pre-consultation and consultation plans in four territorial blocks, which describe pre-consultation and consultation methodology, institutional arrangements, and training and information components. A particularly innovative aspect of the indigenous consultation plan is the design and implementation of anational cultural mediators program, which integrates indigenous culture with the technical and scientific components of climate change in order to achieve a better understanding of the implications of REDD+ in indigenous territories, and subsequently transmit this information to local communities.

Costa Rica’s REDD+ Process Schematic. (Adapted from FONAFIFO, July 5, 2013).

At the global level, Costa Rica has long been considered a pioneering country in environmental policy and forest conservation. Although cattle ranching and population growth drove the country’s deforestation rates to the highest in the world during the 1980s, the federal government generated new, targeted national policy interventions, which succeeded in decreasing deforestation rates after 1985. Costa Rica has achieved net annual gain in forest cover since 2000. The remarkable reversal in deforestation trends was achieved in large degree through reform of national forest law, creation of innovative environmental programs, and proactive conservation efforts. Prominent among Costa Rica’s environmental initiatives is its national Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program, established by the Forestry Law 7575in 1996. The PES program incentivizes conservation and forest management by awarding payments to small landholders for the environmental services that their land and management provides. Costa Rica’s long record of conservation and management of forest resources, including the creation of National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) as a national government ministry to offer financing for small and medium producers, provides a strong enabling framework for development of a national strategy for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).

Costa Rica’s REDD+ Process Schematic. (Adapted from FONAFIFO, July 5, 2013).

The total cost expected for REDD+ preparation activities in Costa Rica is US$7.5 million. TheForest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a trust fund administered by theWorld Bank, is the primary source of finance for the REDD+ preparation process in Costa Rica. Currently, the Costa Rican government receives multilateral and bilateral funding for REDD+ preparation from the FCPF,GIZ, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD), and theUnited States Department of State. Current REDD+ preparation activities in Costa Rica include early dialogue and engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities, design of an MRV system and permanent national forest inventory, development of a Safeguards Information System to respond toUnited Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) safeguards, the SESA process, and finalization of the National REDD+ Strategy. Although Costa Rica does not yet have an approved National REDD+ Strategy document (Estrategia Nacional REDD+, ENA-REDD+), theReadiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP)outlines eight primary strategic actions.

What are the primary strategies identified by Costa Rica’s Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP)?

  1. Strengthen the National System of Conservation Areas to control illegal timber harvesting and forest fires
  2. Integrate carbon capture of national parks and biological reserves
  3. Registry and Regularization of “Special Territories,” including indigenous territories
  4. Maintain long-term coverage of the PES Program
  5. Expand the coverage of the PES Program
  6. Production and consumption of sustainable wood under certification schemes
  7. Strengthen development of the College of Agricultural Engineers
  8. Create sources of finance to support the implementation of the Strategy

Indigenous Territories in Costa Rica. (From the 2011 INEC Census.)

Eight distinct indigenous groups are present in Costa Rica: Bribri, Cabécar, Terraba, Brunca, Gnäbe, Chorotega, Huetar, and Malecu. These indigenous peoples compromise 2.4% of the country’s population, according to the 2011 census. Despite the low percentage of the country’s population identified as indigenous relative to other countries in the region, indigenous peoples possess 7% of Costa Rica’s national territory. The Indigenous Law of 1977 officially created Costa Rica’s first indigenous territories. The law prohibits non-indigenous people from owning property in indigenous territories, and provides legal means to expropriate and compensate non-indigenous landowners with property or possession within indigenous territories. However, such legal means have not been broadly implemented, and the presence of non-indigenous people in indigenous territories is still a widespread, serious problem.

The Indigenous Law also established the creation of Integral Development Associations (Asociaciones de Desarrollo Integral, ADIs) as the officially recognized internal governance system for each territory. The ADI administers the collective land title, and has an executive committee composed of local leaders elected by ADI members. Membership in ADIs is voluntary; generally, 15–50% of community members are ADI members. ADIs are often criticized as a non-traditional organizational system imposed upon indigenous peoples, and it is suggested that the ADIs are not always representative of the entire population of the territories or their traditional governance structure. However, many indigenous peoples identify with the ADIs due to the loss of traditional indigenous decision-making structures that occurred though acculturation processes. Some territories have effectively created a complementarity between the legal structure and the traditional governance structure.

National REDD+ Strategy Development

FCPF procedures require Costa Rica to comply with the safeguard policies of the World Bank, its delivery partner, to implement REDD+ activities financed by the FCPF. For example, activities that impact indigenous peoples are governed by the World Bank’sOperational Policy 4.10 on Indigenous Peoples, which seeks to ensure that the “development process fully respects the dignity, human rights, economies, and cultures of Indigenous Peoples,” and requires free, prior, and informed consultation resulting in broad community support.

Beyond World Bank requirements, the FCPF delineates procedures and principles that are more demanding than the World Bank’s policies. The FCPF and UN-REDD Programme’s “Guidelines on Stakeholder Engagement in REDD+ Readiness” provide an important resource for carrying out effective consultations. The guiding principles emphasize consideration of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities, and describe a highly participatory process.

Consultation Steps from FCPF and UN-REDD “Guidelines on Stakeholder Engagement in REDD+ Readiness

  1. Define the desired outcomes of the consultation
  2. Identify stakeholders
  3. Identify the issues to consult on
  4. Define the terms of the consultation
  5. Select the consultation and outreach methods
  6. Ensure that stakeholders have sufficient capacity to engage fully and effectively in consultations
  7. Conduct the consultation
  8. Analyze and disseminate results

The Indigenous Consultation Plan

A unique aspect of the REDD+ readiness process in Costa Rica is the consultation plan for the ENA-REDD+ proposed by the country’s indigenous territories. The “Indigenous Consultation Plan in the Process of the Elaboration of the National REDD+ Strategy of Costa Rica” was proposed in late 2011 by the Red Indígena Bribri y Cabecar (RIBCA)—an indigenous organization which coordinates the eight Bribri and Cabecar territories of the Atlantic region of Costa Rica. Following several months of preparation, a draft of the plan was presented to national indigenous leaders in January 2012. During 2012, the construction of the plan continued during four workshops, of which FONAFIFO participated in the final two. After revisions by territorial leaders in September 2012, the plan was approved in December 2012 by 19 indigenous territories and the Association of Indigenous Women of Talamanca (ACOMUITA)—the only non-territorial organization to sign the plan and be officially integrated into the national indigenous consultation process. The document was subsequently presented to FONAFIFO, which agreed to provide financial and technical assistance to execute the plan.

Organizational Structure of the Indigenous Consultation. (Adapted from figure courtesy of RIBCA.)

Procedurally, the consultation plan establishes a five-tiered organizational structure and four chronological phases. The first organizational level consists of the territorial indigenous organizations (ADIs), which are grouped into four Regional Territorial Blocks (BTRs) according to their sociocultural characteristics and geographic location. The BTRs form the second level of organization. ACOMUITA is incorporated into BTR Atlántico, led by RIBCA, toward the goal of strengthening the gender component of the consultation process. The third level of organization is a national assembly comprised of approximately 48 leaders from the four BTRs. The fourth level is a National Indigenous Technical Secretariat, with one technical specialist selected from each BTR. Finally, the fifth level is an elected indigenous delegate who serves on the national REDD+ Executive Committee coordinated by FONAFIFO.

The document identifies three principal objectives that it seeks to achieve through the consultation plan:

  1. Design a process of consultation which permits the accumulation of more social capital.
  2. Design a process of consultation that improves governance in favor of the representation of stakeholders in the REDD+ decision-making process.
  3. Design a process of consultation that allows for the construction of a REDD+ preparation phase with a shared vision of all stakeholders.

According to the National Indigenous Agreement that accompanies the consultation plan, the indigenous pre-consultation and consultation process will be carried out through the following phases:

  1. Dissemination of information to the indigenous population.
  2. Consultation of the National REDD+ Strategy proposal.
  3. Systematization of the distinct perspectives in each BTR resulting from consultation.
  4. Integration of all four BTR perspectives at the national level.

The Cultural Mediators Program

An innovative component of the indigenous consultation plan is the implementation of a national “cultural mediators” program, which seeks to strengthen indigenous knowledge of climate change and REDD+ while facilitating the dissemination of information necessary for REDD+ pre-consultation and consultation processes. The cultural mediators program was developed jointly by RIBCA and CATIE, and began with a pilot project carried out in the Talamanca region in 2012 with the support of the ClimateWorks Foundation. The project was subsequently scaled-up to the national level for implementation with six of Costa Rica’s eight indigenous groups, and was adapted to the contexts of the distinct indigenous territories. The program seeks to provide technical assistance to the indigenous communities in the themes of climate change and REDD+ by integrating scientific elements with cultural and cosmological elements in order to reflect the indigenous cultural reality and territorial context. The desired outcome of the program is for cultural mediators to be able understand and communicate highly complex concepts, such as REDD+, in a manner that is comprehensible and approachable for local communities. Such a mechanism will promote participation and discussion during the REDD+ consultation process and in the national indigenous agenda, ensuring that proposals from the indigenous sector to reflect respect for rights and equitable distribution of benefits.

Design of the Cultural Mediators Program. (Created with input from Levi Sucre and Elena Florian.)

Regional Consultation Plans

In order to implement the pre-consultation and consultation processes at the national level, each BTR has developed its own regional consultation plan. The BTR consultation plans expand upon the framework established in the national consultation plan, to include a methodology for the consultation, locations and numbers of workshops to be held in each territory, required technical support, a board of directors within each BTR to guide the process, a schedule of activities, and an itemized budget. The document delineates two phases corresponding to pre-consultation and consultation. The objective of the first phase is to facilitate broad participation throughout the territories, comprehension of information, and discussion of this information. This phase will be supported by the cultural mediators, who will convey information about climate change and REDD+ in a comprehensible manner. However, the responsibility for carrying out the consultations remains with FONAFIFO. The pre-consultation serves to promote discussion among community members, and will be an important first opportunity for indigenous peoples to consider the risks of REDD+ and decide whether to give their consent to the ENA-REDD+.

REDD+ in Practice & Participant Perspectives

The REDD+ process in Costa Rica is currently in the six-month phase of information and early dialogue. During this phase, FONAFIFO has coordinated periodic meetings with indigenous leaders to inform, coordinate, and build capacity on REDD+; share information; seek feedback from indigenous peoples on aspects of the national REDD+ process; and provide a space for indigenous leaders to solidify their organizational structure and plan territorial consultation processes. As an example of such a meeting, FONAFIFO organized a two-day event in San Jose in May 2013, entitled “The First Indigenous Workshop in the framework of REDD+,” which was attended by ADI leaders and some cultural mediators. By agreeing to assist in implementation of the Indigenous Consultation Plan, FONAFIFO has transferred both financial and logistical responsibility for the consultation process to the BTRs. FONAFIFO views the early engagement and consultation processes as a collaborative process with indigenous peoples, in which responsibility for information dissemination and coordination of territorial-level consultations is shared.

Five of Costa Rica’s indigenous territories, led by the Asociación Regional Aborigen de la Dikes (ARADIKES), have elected not to participate in the early engagement process described above. Although all 24 territories were invited to attend workshops and incorporate themselves into the organizational structure established by the Indigenous Consultation Plan, only 19 of the territories did so; five territories in the southwest of the country have declined to participate thus far. These five territories have indicated that they would prefer a separate dialogue and a different organizational structure, due to the distinct realities and issues they face. FONAFIFO is engaged in a separate dialogue with these territories to define their involvement and participation in the National REDD+ Strategy.

The indigenous peoples participating in Costa Rica’s REDD+ dialogue clearly perceive REDD+ as an opportunity to advance an indigenous agenda with the government based on the indigenous cosmovision: territorial governance, rights to land, and rights to natural resources. In particular, the development of a differentiated indigenous mode of PES has taken priority among Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples. This differentiated PES would be designed specifically to respond to indigenous concerns and priorities, and would incorporate indigenous cultural values.

Key Lessons Learned from REDD+ in Costa Rica:

Allowing Stakeholders to Define their Participation

The most important lesson offered by Costa Rica’s experience is the value of allowing indigenous peoples and other stakeholders to define their involvement and run their own processes. The best way to establish meaningful, long-term collaboration is to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to propose their own plans and indicate how they prefer to be consulted and involved. The experience of Costa Rica also demonstrates, however, the necessity for accompanying capacity building and technical and political support from other actors. Capacity building provided by FONAFIFO and CATIE has been instrumental to the early engagement process.

Unique conditions in Costa Rica have facilitated the effective participation of indigenous peoples and their close collaboration with FONAFIFO as the REDD+ implementing agency. First, the presence of a strong, politically savvy indigenous organization to coordinate indigenous territories at the national level is indispensable. RIBCA has played this role by constructing an initial consultation proposal, building a coalition of indigenous territories, providing indigenous leaders with basic capacity building on REDD+, creating an organizational structure for the consultation process, and articulating a joint indigenous position on REDD+. In contrast to the indigenous peoples, lack of a cohesive organizational structure has hindered the unified participation of campesinos.

Second, the existing arrangement between indigenous peoples and FONAFIFO was made possible by the political will and interest of FONAFIFO. FONAFIFO has already developed positive relationships and trust with the indigenous territories over the course of many years of collaboration in implementation of the PES program. FONAFIFO’s willingness to support the indigenous peoples, both financially and technically, has made the early engagement process possible.

Consultation Methodology

The experience of indigenous peoples in Costa Rica’s REDD+ process also demonstrates the value of a creating a methodology for consultation. Consultation cannot be successfully and meaningfully carried out without a methodology, and the indigenous consultation plan proposed by the 19 territories endeavors to establish such a methodology. Rather than exclusively making demands on REDD+ activities or the role of indigenous peoples in a REDD+ strategy, the consultation plan focuses on establishing the indigenous worldview and describing how the input of indigenous territories should be obtained; it is more process-oriented than outcome-oriented. Notably, one of the desired outcomes articulated in the plan is strengthening indigenous capacities, social capital, and governance. Particularly interesting is the plan’s hierarchical structure, which facilitates input from indigenous peoples from the territorial level to the national level. Although the national consultation plan lacks specific details on the mechanisms of undertaking consultations, regional plans describe the process with more specificity.

However, more clarity from FONAFIFO regarding the relationship between the indigenous consultation process and other REDD+ readiness processes, as well as clarity on FONAFIFO’s consultation methodology, will be necessary. Several of the components described in the FCPF Guidelines on Stakeholder Engagement in REDD+ Readinesshave not been clearly articulated by FONAFIFO, including defining the desired outcomes of the consultation and defining the terms of the consultation. Although indigenous peoples have described these aspects for the consultations in their territories, FONAFIFO does have a comprehensive consultation plan, which clearly articulates this information. According to FONAFIFO, such a consultation plan is under construction and will be available in the beginning of 2014.

Proactive Involvement

When indigenous representatives were asked to what they attribute the strong indigenous involvement in the REDD+ early engagement process and their success thus far, three aspects were mentioned: RIBCA’s leadership, the high organizational capacity of Costa Rica’s indigenous territories, and indigenous peoples’ willingness to engage in REDD+. Indigenous representatives feel strongly that as key actors of the management of Costa Rica’s forests, it is necessary that indigenous peoples be actively involved in REDD+. They reportedly saw “many open windows,” and created their own consultation plan as a counterproposal. One representative observed that “many things can be achieved when one speaks frankly.” It is important to note that although speaking frankly is integral to achieving robust participation, it is only half the battle; a government willing to listen is equally important.

REDD+ Indígena

The Indigenous Payment for Environmental Services (PES) scheme under discussion in Costa Rica is an example of the “REDD Indígena” movements emerging elsewhere in Latin America. Both the Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA) and the Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP)  have developed proposals and models for REDD+ Indígena which focus on the same holistic ecosystem management proposed in Costa Rica—namely the valuation of goods and services provided by the forest beyond carbon sequestration. With the assistance of WWF and NORAD, COICA is seeking funds to initiate REDD+ Indígena pilot projects. Particularly encouraging progress has been achieved in Peru, where AIDESEP is promoting inclusion of REDD+ Indígena components in its Forest Investment Program (FIP) Investment Plan. In October 2013, AIDESEP achieved the inclusion of content in the FIP Investment Plan which emphasizes the participation of indigenous technician in project formulation, and direct involvement of the community in project implementation.

The positive response and good will of the Costa Rican government in establishing an Indigenous PES program provides more evidence for the feasibility of including such initiatives in a national REDD+ strategy. Generally speaking, REDD+ Indígena would provide a viable non-market mechanism to support forest conservation and maintenance of forest carbon stocks, while simultaneously addressing concerns of indigenous peoples and providing payments for non-carbon benefits. Key themes that could be incorporated into REDD+ Indígena include territorial management, community forestry, land titling, and sustainable forest management. Collaboration of the national governments, civil society organizations, and indigenous peoples proposing REDD Indígena mechanisms would help advance this agenda.