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Featured Project: EcoLogic’s Indigenous Community Engagement in Mexico’s National MRV system gets GCFF and International Spotlight

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Participants in training for forest carbon monitoring that EcoLogic has helped coordinate in Chiapas, Campeche, Jalisco, and Quintana Roo, since 2014

EcoLogic was one of a handful of institutions awarded Governors’ Climate & Forests Fund’s (GCFF) financial support, to continue to make crucial headway in ensuring that rural and indigenous communities in Mexico are involved in and can benefit from emerging REDD+ strategies.

REDD+ strategies have a complicated history where the need for a rights-based approach has been identified and echoed across the international community. We have written a few articles on the past to explain how we approach REDD+ with indigenous communities. We’ve explained how we define and use it, and blogged about the confusion and push for clarity involved in the process. Also, we’ve recently been featured in a beautifully photographed Featured Project section on Governors’ Climate & Forests Fund’s website, which marks a proud milestone in our project due to the recognition of our success. And the publicity gives us another opportunity to direct attention to the important community-based work that we do!

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EcoLogic and its Campeche-base partner, SURverde (surverde.org), were invited to Jalisco by Gabriela Lopez Damian, from the Secretary of the Environment in Jalisco (http://fiprodefo.jalisco.gob.mx/) to lead a community workshop on carbon monitoring and share lessons learned in Campeche and Chiapas

The GFC article—which is republished below—is an interview with REDD+ Senior Program Manager, Andrea Savage, and does an excellent and eloquent job of communicating to the community of international experts on the subject. But we highly recommend heading over to the GCFF website to see the amazing photos that accompany the article.

After the interview, we’ve included a couple of excerpts that did not make the final published version, which focus on the community-based components of our work that we know our readership loves.

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Participants prepare to register for the carbon monitoring workshop in Jalisco.

GCFF Feature Project: EcoLogic Development Fund in Mexico

EcoLogic: Empowering Indigenous Community Engagement in Mexico’s National MRV System

GCF member states and accredited institutions are positioned at a strategic level of governance to address the root causes of deforestation. They serve as the leaders and innovators on the ground, designing and implementing collaborative solutions that yield a global impact by reducing carbon emissions from land-use change. With financial support from the GCFF, GCF member states are empowered to implement projects that contribute to realizing the GCF Task Force’s goals outlined in the Rio Branco Declaration and promote early action in support of the Paris Agreement.

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The participants get their hands dirty during the carbon monitoring workshops to learn how to setup plots for measuring the amount of carbon contained in their forests.

During the second Request for Proposals, the EcoLogic Development Fund (EcoLogic), a conservation non-profit, was one of the institutions awarded the Fund’s financial support to improve monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) implementation in states in Mexico. EcoLogic acted as a coordinator and facilitator, to a multi-state, multi-stakeholder effort that included the technical leadership of Jorge Morfin of the Mexico-Norway Project and in close partnerships with Cooperativa AMBIO, ECOSUR, HC Paisajismo, SURverde (previously, Investigaciones y Soluciones Socioambientales – ISS), University of  Arts and Sciences in Chiapas, and the Secretary of the Environment in Campeche, Chiapas, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco The second Request for Proposals was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of the State and USAID.

Since 1993, EcoLogic has been dedicated to “empower(ring) rural and indigenous peoples to protect and restore tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico,” says EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus Senior Manager Andrea Savage. The Fund interviewed Andrea to find out more about the far-reaching impact that their project has had for its stakeholders.

Fund: Please describe the importance of EcoLogic’s MRV project in Mexico funded by the GCFF.

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To set up a plot someone uses a compass to direct others as they run tape to mark the lines of a plot as precisely as possible. It’s harder than it looks!

EcoLogic: One of the most important aspects of the project was the diversity of actors that it brought to the table and, despite certain challenges, by-and-large there was very engaged dialogue and learning and a true spirit of collaboration amongst the group. This project enabled us to build and strengthen key partnerships between rural communities, civil society organizations, universities, and government institutions so that rural and indigenous people could effectively participate in and benefit from forest conservation and monitoring related to Mexico’s Reduction in Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus Conservation (REDD+) strategy.

EcoLogic’s approach in this project focused on equipping forest communities with the information, technology, resources, and relationships needed to actively have a stake in REDD+ initiatives. Our work builds the local-level technical rigor, accountability, and consensus needed for REDD+ to be effective and beneficial for rural people so that they can lead in forest conservation in the long run.

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“A little more to the left. Wait. Go back half a meter.” Slow and steady wins the race.

Mexico’s National REDD+ Strategy (ENAREDD+) is currently undergoing consultation, which provided an opportunity for the state-level MRV Technical Working Groups that have been consolidated through the project to fill a need for improved data quality and sharing. The project helped define how states could most effectively participate in the National MRV System—which will quantify the amount of carbon credits for which Mexico and the REDD+ action states will be able to qualify.  Ultimately, credits will be distributed to communities through emission-reducing programs and projects. By strengthening the capacity of state actors and aligning state interests, the project was able to demonstrate to the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) the advantages of involving local governments, research centers, NGOs, and rural communities in the National MRV System. The target stakeholders were primarily from state governments, universities, NGOs, and communities in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco, in the framework of the state MRV Technical Working Groups.

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The metal tags indicate a variety of information:diameter at breast height (DBH), plot number, etc.

Fund: What were some of the main challenges EcoLogic and its partners faced during the project? How did support from the GCFF help EcoLogic overcome these challenges?

EcoLogic: The role of the states in Mexico’s National Forest Monitoring System was extremely uncertain and undefined leading up to the project. In addition, government administration changeover in Campeche and Tabasco led to some delays in activities, and relationships subsequently had to be rebuilt.

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Remember your old buddy Pythagorus from algebra class? His theorem is quite handy when you’re figuring out the height of a tree, but watch out for those sloping forest floors.

Thanks to funding from the GCFF, EcoLogic was able to facilitate a meeting between Ricardo Hernandez, the undersecretary of forestry development in Chiapas, and the new Minister of Environment of Tabasco.  In the state of Campeche, SURverde A.C. (a partner in the project) met with the new environment minister in order to explain the importance of the project and ensure the state government participated in the project activities. This kind of strategic outreach allowed the scope of the project to grow from only Chiapas and Campeche initially, to then add Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco the second year.

Due to the project, communication was improved between CONAFOR and state governments in order define the states’ role in the National Forest Monitoring System. The project conducted an MRV diagnostics and capacity building plan, which helped to organize GCF states, identify key strengths and weaknesses, and also present a united front in order to negotiate increased participation of states in the National Forest Monitoring System. The states’ MRV Technical Working Groups now provide a vital link to communities, through local universities and NGOs, in order to include community brigades in forest monitoring and increase local participation in REDD+ and other land use policies.

Jotting down tree stats is a piece of cake when the sun is shining. EcoLogic’s expert partners have some neat solutions for when it rains.

Fund: Collaboration is the cornerstone of GCF member-led projects. Please describe how collaboration with GCF country coordinators and other stakeholders has helped with project implementation.

EcoLogic: And it is key for EcoLogic, as well! Partnering up with local organizations and communities is essential for increasing local interest and uptake of project activities and ensuring that local capacity is built for the long-run. In addition, collaboration with other organizations with similar project goals, especially projects that have a national reach, is vital in order to increase the reach of the project and overcome barriers to project implementation.

 

The project reaffirmed how absolutely essential collaboration is for project success. In order to meet project goals efficiently, we have learned that project activities must be carried out by the most appropriate stakeholder in the field. Each project partner had a clear role and added value in the project, which was absolutely essential for the project’s success.

 

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“aah, it’s so nice to have a dry piece of paper and pencil today.”

Additionally, EcoLogic and our partners learned valuable lessons related to effective government relations. National governments can be very wary about over-committing to agreements with state governments, especially taking into account personnel and budget issues. We found that the facilitation of state-national roundtables and workshops really helped demonstrate the value and importance of increasing local and state trust and coordination.

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Gabriela Lopez Damiano from FIPRODEFO in Jalisco explains the design of a plot.

Fund: EcoLogic’s project helped strengthen state-level technical capacity, expanded community forest monitoring efforts in four states, and identified measures to further scale-up community monitoring. What were some of the most notable impacts of the project for different stakeholders including indigenous communities?

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Designing a plot that is adapted to local conditions, but is still consistent with national methods is challenging, and is one of the issues our subnational partners are navigating with Mexico’s National Forestry Commission.

EcoLogic:  The workshops not only created an opportunity to increase the technical capacities of local actors and to coordinate alignment of MRV methods with CONAFOR, but also provided an opportunity for state actors and CONAFOR to both see how the MRV Technical Working Groups can play a critical role in strengthening monitoring at the local and national levels. As a result of our project, the GCF states have committed to continue supporting the MRV Technical Working Group network; to ensure the continuation of information and learning exchanges between the states; to coordinate efforts in regard to working with CONAFOR; to prioritize the involvement of communities in forest monitoring; and to share information and knowledge with the Virtual Excellence Centre on Forest Monitoring (CEV).

Carefully recorded tree measurements.

Carefully recorded tree measurements.

The trainings have brought confidence specifically to young indigenous people. Youth have led capacity-building workshops with participants from different states within Mexico as well as from different countries. This has helped empower them to pursue further projects, education and careers, and has led them to acquire more respect from community authorities and elders.

Locally, the project and the leadership of three key scientists – Dr. Ligia Esparza Olguín, Dr. Miguel Ángel Castillo, and Sergio López Mendoza Medina – helped to form and train community-level forest monitoring brigades, whose members are now better equipped and informed to actively participate in the monitoring and management of their forests. Opportunities have also been identified for scaling-up community monitoring to the state level. Thanks to the consolidation of the MRV technical groups and trainings, local organizations and universities now have a better working knowledge of the National Forest Monitoring System, and have contributed to bringing together information and knowledge about forests at the state level.

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Figuring out the height of a tree can also be really challenging when it’s cloudy and raining because you can’t see the tops!

Nationally, CONAFOR has identified a greater role for states in the National Forest Monitoring system, and has welcomed the contribution of the states in reviewing and filtering the state forest inventories. This has also led to greater confidence in state-level capacities and delegation of more forest monitoring responsibilities to the state governments (such as carrying out the state forest and soils inventories).

Globally, the project has resulted in the involvement of international stakeholders from Finland, the UK, the US, and Brazil. These stakeholders have gained knowledge about the role of states in Mexico’s National MRV system through their participation in project activities. Subsequently, this has opened the door for opportunities for future collaboration between international stakeholders.

Fund: As an organization with experience in community participation, what recommendations do you have to enhance community participation for similar projects?

EcoLogic: There are countless opportunities and benefits to involving communities in the monitoring of forest carbon. In Mexico the majority of forests are owned and managed by rural communities. Simply for this reason, forest communities must be involved in monitoring and information sharing of emissions data collected from their forests. With greater access to information on carbon stocks and biodiversity from community members involved in monitoring, forest communities can make more informed decisions about land use.

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Local people are much faster at navigating their terrain than us city folk. This is one of the many advantages of hiring local brigades to monitor that can make it a cheaper and more accurate alternative to contracting outside consultants, in addition to keeping communities in engaged in the management of their forests.

More specifically, in order to enhance community participation in projects like this, it is important to include community members that have been involved in previous REDD+ processes or programs to develop continuity and cohesion between previous experiences. Also, reaching out to communities through local organizations and universities helps ensure that project activities are not isolated and can be linked up to monitoring of local payment for environmental services programs and certification schemes, as well provide inputs for thesis and research topics for students and researchers.

Finally, the establishment of community-level forest monitoring brigades provided temporary jobs for community members, which provides an incentive for participation and skill-building for longer-term employment opportunities, such as monitoring of payment for environmental services programs, and collecting of data for state forest inventories and additional emissions factor data.

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61 women have benefitted from trainings implemented by this forest carbon monitoring project in Mexico in 2015-2016.

Fund: Is there anything else you would like to share?

EcoLogic: Support from GCFF has been essential for us to make tangible strides in ensuring that Mexico’s emerging REDD+ Strategy involves and ultimately benefits rural and indigenous people. But beyond these advancements, the project also enabled EcoLogic to forge vibrant new partnerships with so many community, government, and academic institutions from across Mexico. This is the exact type of collaboration — robust, transparent, multi-stakeholder, and multi-level — that has to happen if we are to succeed in reducing tropical deforestation and mitigating climate change.

Fund: Thank you so much Andrea for your time and participation in this interview.

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Once the plots have been set up and the trees have been measured, it’s time to pull out the laptops and start entering data.

The following, are a couple of excerpts that did not make the final published version, which focus on the community-based components of our work.

EcoLogic has made significant efforts and are always improving our still very successful community consultations, workshops, capacity-building efforts, and other community outreach programs. It is difficult to maintain such intricate and delicate processes of both social and ecological monitoring and evaluation. However, we know wholeheartedly that at the end of the day, for communities to recognize themselves as co-owners of any project plan or initiative, they must be actively involved in the design and implementation. Participatory methods present a number of valuable tools for facilitating processes of local analysis, prioritization, and planning. In order to foster co-ownership of project plans, communities must play an active role in their creation. This ensures that the project responds to locally defined needs and priorities, that there is local ownership, while also increasing the likelihood that alternative practices and environmental stewardship are adapted and sustained over the long-term.

This is easier said than done in all project situations, but is particularly difficult when it comes to REDD+ given the different actors, institutions, and organizations involved. EcoLogic knows that by building community knowledge, providing tools and information that can help rural communities advocate for their rights and interests, and shining a light on existing community knowledge about the forest, we can help facilitate authentic and effective participation at the community level. We at EcoLogic, are always dedicated to the communities in which we work and their needs, beliefs, values, ideas, and opinions. We believe, like many others in our field have discovered, that inclusion and participation is integral to building long-term sustainability and lasting impact. For this reason, we are dedicated to reflecting on our processes of community engagement, and identifying as many opportunities and entry points as possible to create space for dialogue so that we can evaluate and build understanding, as well as foster participation throughout entirety of our projects.

As always, we are very proud of our success, and are eager to continue implementing solutions to enhance the sustainability of our endeavors. We thank you for your continued support and confidence. And a special thanks again to GCFF for their support and publicity!

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